Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Crater Lake in Winter

Before you read any further, click to enlarge the photo below.  Go ahead, click on it.  Then gasp in wonder.

Crater Lake Pan-o-rama

This, my friends, is Crater Lake.  At 1,943 feet, the deepest lake in the United States, and Oregon's lone National Park.  Visiting Crater Lake in the wintertime has long been on my bucket list.  And in late February, I was able to realize my dream.  Not only did I get two days to explore this incredible natural wonder, I was lucky enough to hit the good weather jackpot.

A bucket list item realized!

Crater Lake rests inside an ancient caldera, formed 7,700 years ago when a 12,000-foot-tall volcano (Mt. Mazama) collapsed during a major eruption.  It's thought this eruption was the largest in North America in the past 640,000 years.  The lake, fed only by rain and snow, is considered to be the cleanest and clearest large body of water in the world.  Due to it's depth and purity, Crater Lake is often a very bright shade of blue.

Frosty trees bow down to the lake

Summertime is busy season at Crater Lake National Park.  Visitors stream in from all over.  Although half a million people visit each year, the bulk of these arrive between May and September. 

My hubby is happy too

But winter is quiet season at Crater Lake.  The park is known for it's wet winters, which dump an average of 44 feet of snow per year.  Due to the extreme difficulty of removing such a large snow volume, most of the park roads and trails are closed November to June.  Only the South Entrance and the road to Rim Village stay open.

Crater Lake Lodge, shuttered for the winter

Winter weather here is unpredictable.  Roughly 50% of the time in winter and early spring, storms completely hide the lake from view.  On many winter days, strong winds gust across the water, creating whitecaps.  Calm winter days are few and far between.  Although cold temperatures are common, due to it's extreme depth, Crater Lake rarely freezes.  During extreme cold snaps, ice may form around the shore, but the last time this lake totally froze over was in 1949.

Nothin' but blue and white

If you're a snowsports enthusiast, winter at Crater Lake is amazing.  The unplowed 31-mile Rim Road, which circles the entire lake, is open for skiers and snowshoers.  And although the lake is plenty beautiful in summer months, with a coating of glittering white snow it's absolutely stunning.

Calm waters mean great reflections

After a week of continuous snowstorms, Friday dawned dry and clear.  My hubby and I rose at o-dark-thirty and made the long drive from Portland to Southern Oregon.  We arrived at Crater Lake by noon, just as blue sky was taking over.  Talk about perfect timing!  The newly fallen snow and white frosted trees made a nice contrast to the blues of the lake and sky.  Jaw-dropping beautiful!

West Rim Ski Route trailhead

Up until late February, the entire West Coast had endured an extremely dry winter.  When picking dates for our visit, I was unsure if we'd have sufficient snow for winter touring.  But boy, did hubby and I hit absolute perfect conditions!  The sky was blue, the snow was deep and powdery, and the lake calm enough for killer reflections.

Time to explore!

Our plan was to follow snow-covered West Rim Drive clockwise.  I'd heard the best viewpoints were in the first few miles.  Due to our noon arrival, the first day was more of a shakedown cruise.  We'd follow the road as far as daylight and stamina allowed before turning around.  Roger brought snowshoes, but I chose cross country skis as my method of travel.

Peak reflections

Oh - views were magnificent from the very beginning!  A short walk from the parking lot takes visitors to the first overlook.  Crater Lake spreads out before you, it's waters an eerie deep blue.  The steep lakeshore rises up from water's edge, punctuated by tall peaks.  Tall trees, covered with thick icy coatings, added terrific accents to an already lovely place.

A most lovely day

As mentioned earlier, on Friday, Crater Lake's waters were so still, picture perfect reflections could be found everywhere.  The steep snowy sides of the caldera shimmered in duplicate at water's edge. Adjacent mountain peaks, and Wizard Island formed twins in the still blueness.

Discovery Point

Continuing from our first viewpoint, Roger and I followed a well-trod path through glittering fluffy snow.  Even when the lake wasn't in sight, the white snow-flocked forest, blue sky, and thick blanket of snow were absolutely gorgeous.

Wizard Island

Crater Lake has a small island located near it's southwestern shore.  Wizard Island is a cinder cone that was formed by later eruptions, spewing lava out sporadically, until it rose above water level.  The island got it's name because it was thought to resemble a sorcerer's hat.

Hiking through the snowdrifts

In the summer, the park offers boat rides to this island.  There's a short hiking trail on Wizard Island, and visitors are allowed to disembark and explore.  But you don't dare miss the last boat of the day!  There's a stiff fine if the park has to send someone to get you.  I'm hoping to return in the summer and check out the hiking trail here (Crater Lake bucket list item No. 2!)

More great views around every corner

About 1.2 miles of tromping and sliding brought Roger and I to Discovery Point.  Here we found more great views of the lake's steep rim and Wizard Island.

I did a lot of this

And, as you can guess, I was doing a lot of this!  Roger had his point and shoot camera too, and it took some great photos.  With scenery like this, you can't go wrong.

The icy trees were amazing

The frost-crusted trees were amazing!  The wind blown snow and ice made fantastic patterns on their trunks and branches.  I took almost as many photos of the trees as I did the lake.

Wizard Island overlook

Beyond Discovery Point, the road snaked through a narrow canyon.  The wind had blown snow into here, creating massive drifts.  There were two tracks, at the very bottom of the drift, and one following the sharp ridgeline of the top.  Afraid the drift might collapse on me, I chose to ski along the narrow ridgetop.

Fabulous place to cross country ski

It wasn't easy to ski through some some of the narrow, drifty sections.  For one, it's hard to control your speed on long, narrow cross country skis.  I was used to my wide, fat downhill skis with sharp metal edges.  And I also wore a heavy backpack, which further threw off my balance.  There were more than a few hairy traverses, some of which resulted in wipeouts.  Luckily, the thick newly-fallen snow made for soft landings.

Yet another amazing overlook

Another mile brought us the Wizard Island overlook.  Through the trees, I could glimpse a different view of the funny little cinder cone, now much closer.

White trees frame the lake

Although I was ready to continue further down the trail, it was nearing late afternoon, and we could see the sun sinking low.  Knowing there was a two mile trek yet to reach the car, Roger and I decided to turn around.  Tomorrow we had an entire day, and could spend more time exploring.

Glittering, untouched snow

On our return trip, the late afternoon sun glinted on the untouched snowy expanse, making frosty ice crystals shine like diamonds.  Our lone set of tracks through this untouched canvas made my hubby and I feel as if we were the first humans to set foot in this wonderful wilderness.

Late afternoon light turns the lake a dark blue

Nearing the parking area, I captured a few final shots of late afternoon light illuminating this spectacular lake.  It's waters, still as glass, gleamed a brilliant dark blue.  I couldn't think of a better way to end such a perfect day.

Stay tuned for a complete day two recap in my next post!

Sharing with:  Our World Tuesday. and also Weekend Reflections


  1. Oh, WOW, Linda. I've always wanted to visit Crater Lake!
    When we were in Oregon, it was too far out of the way from where we were, and didn't fit into the time frame.
    These shots are phenomenal!
    So happy for you guys, lucking out with such stunning winter conditions!

  2. Woah, you did win the weather jackpot. Where did you stay on your trip? Is there really anywhere closer than Klamath Falls in the wintertime?

    We were going to go in mid-January when my brother was visiting but they had next to no snow up there at that time, so we skipped the trip. I visited a couple of summers ago (and took the boat out to the island), but it looks like a winter trip should be in order sometime soon!:)

  3. Wow - what gorgeous winter shots.

  4. Wow, these are gorgeous shots of Crater Lake.. The scenery is breathtaking.. We did not make it to Crater Lake during our Oregon trip. Now I wish we had taken more time.. Awesome photos. Enjoy your day and the rest of your week!

  5. Breath-taking photos Linda -- the blue and white and the sunshine -- spectacular!

  6. I love all of these photos! Especially your panoramic. It came out great! We visited Crater Lake once, and it was in April. It was stunning. I'm no stranger to snowbanks, but these were some of the highest I'd ever seen. I love all of your reflections. I can't wait to go again.

  7. Wow is right! That first shot is incredible! And all the rest are almost as amazing. Your certainly hit the weather jackpot, and you look well prepared for the hike. What a wonderful expedition. Your blog is rapidly becoming one of my few favourites!

  8. Oh my goodness. You really have outdone yourself with these photos. They are stunning! I clicked on the first photo to enlarge and just stared at it for a while. I've never seen water that blue before! And I'm impressed that you got the white balance just right on all the snowy photos. I have trouble getting snowy photos to look white, not bluish. You always inspire me to want to take better photos!

  9. extraordinary photos. My father and mother visited there last summer… it looks completely transformed with the snow.

  10. Wow! Gorgeous with the fresh snow, beautiful scenery!!

  11. We have spent many days at Crater Lake in the summer and love it! But you did an outstanding job showing it in its winter finery.

    We did hike to the top of Wizard Island and "ran" down one side of the cinder cone to a beautiful bay. Think twice before you do that. You will sink into the pumice gravel over the tops of your ankle-high hiking boots and get pumice gravel in your boots. Ouch.

  12. Such awesome photos - some of the best I've seen of Crater Lake! We tried to visit a couple years ago in the spring when we were in OR. However, there was a a lot of snow that year and the road wasn't plowed. You had a picture-perfect day!

  13. One of my favorite posts of yours ever! Stunning photos. I want to visit this area so bad. It's on my list!!

  14. I am just awestruck! These photos are simply amazingly gorgeous! I don't have enough words to tell you how pretty this park is in winter!

  15. Postcard perfect pictures ... what a wonderful trip and hurray for being able to check it off on your bucket list. I have to think that your choice to go in the winter was a good one. How else could it be so beautiful and I am guessing not so crowded. Great pictures and tour ... Thank you for sharing this experience with us ...

    Andrea @ From The Sol

  16. OMG ! Nature and your photography are awesome!!!
    Didn't think you could stun us with even more spectacular scenery than previously. It may not have been a great winter for skiing, but we blog readers haven't lost out!

  17. Breathtaking captures, Linda! Wow!

  18. WOW WOW WOW ~ these are beautiful !!
    Even though I have been bellyaching for Spring I would love being there , just gorgeous Linda.

  19. I've only been there in the summer. I'd love to snowshoe there in the winter.

  20. Wow, stunning. That sounds like quite the adventure, and I don't remember seeing winter photos of Crater Lake before.

  21. Perfection, Linda, perfection! We have family in southern Oregon who have taken me up to Crater Lake before and it truly is an amazing place! Glad you and your hubby were able to visit there :)
    Blessings, Aimee

  22. Oh my gosh...oh MY GOSH!!!!
    I'm speechless...
    Beautiful just doesn't describe your so much more.

  23. So majestic ! Your photography of nature brings out its beauty well ~ xxx

    artmusedog and carol

  24. Very nice series of Pictures- I liked your pano. Do you know about posting panos on Flickr which lets you post even larger images?

  25. Gorgeous! You captured its beauty, its power, its grace..

  26. Beautiful photos of Crater Lake. We'd thought about going there is late April but will be going to Hood River instead. Our plans were knocked down, due to landslide, for Multnomah Falls so Crater Lake will have to wait. We've been there before and so beautiful.I like the Phantom Ship but inaccessible with the snow. It's great when the weather is just right for what you wanna do.

  27. This should be on everyone's bucket list. Those photos. are amazing

  28. beautiful winter scenes - have a great weekend!

  29. Fabulous photos of Crater Lake in winter. This is such a magical place. I have been there with and without snow on the ground and am just in awe every time.
    Loved your Panoramic view. How cool to actually be skiing around the lake. Thanks for sharing.

  30. That you so much for the fresh air and the journey ! The lac reflection are terrific, I love them !

  31. Spectacular captures Linda - thank you SO much for sharing your journey. (Wish I had your energy!)

  32. Your photos are stunningly beautiful. Thanks for the tour. I doubt if I ever get there in the winter but maybe I might go in the summer.

  33. Wow!! Were there a lot of other people visiting in the peak of winter?

    Great shots.

  34. WOW! With places like that to visit I don't think I'd be travelling very far. What a remarkable place.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  35. Just gorgeous! All that blue sky and water and pure white snow! What a memorable trip.


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