The Curious Disappearance of Crater Lake


The weather forecast was not promising – unseasonably cold and windy with up to 3″ of snow, but with reservations at the lodge already made and no flexibility in our travel dates, we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.

3:53 pm – Everything is OK at the entrance to the park.

4:13 pm – It’s 28 degrees with snow and blustery winds, and the lake is nowhere to be seen by the time we reach the first overlook. Our visit looks to be a bust.

5:18 pm – The sun is out, and the lake has appeared. What a gorgeous sight!

5:45 pm – We have a beautiful view from our room at Crater Lake Lodge.

(the following morning) 7:30 am – Once again, it’s snowing, and the lake has disappeared. Should we cut our losses and leave early?

Once again, we were pleasantly surprised to see the clouds lift and have the sun peek through off and on by early afternoon. Sticking around turned out to be a good decision, because the overnight snow added to the beauty of the lake and landscape.

Fast Facts

  • A massive volcanic eruption and implosion of 12,000 foot Mount Mazama about 7,700 years ago formed the “crater” of Crater Lake. Over the next several hundred years, the caldera filled with snow melt and rainwater to create the lake.
  • At its maximum depth of 1,949 feet, Crater Lake is the deepest in the U.S.
  • No rivers flow into or out of the lake.
  • The rim of Crater Lake ranges in elevation from 7,000 to 8,000 feet (hence the winter conditions during our visit).
  • Average annual snowfall is 43 FEET.
  • Crater Lake National Park was established in 1902.
  • And yes, the water really is that blue!

Our Tour

After a mid-morning trip to the Steel Visitor Center, we started driving counter clockwise around the lake. It was snowing heavily, and we weren’t sure how much we would be able to see.

Amazingly, the sun was shining, and there was no evidence of snow on the east side of the lake. We took a 6-mile driving detour from the main road to the Pinnacles Overlook, then walked on a short trail to get a better view.

According to the park brochure, these odd formations “are chimneys that formed when hot ash cooled after the big eruption.” Worth the short side trip.

The rest of our drive was singularly focused on viewing the lake from different vantage points and, as you can see, changing weather conditions.

We had hoped to do some hiking, but the cold and wind exceeded the tolerance level of these fair weather trekkers. We’re talking coats, hats, gloves, and scarves.

The snow, however, was beautiful. Some areas looked like a winter wonderland.

Rebuilding Crater Lake Lodge

With spectacular views from its perch on the edge of the lake rim, Crater Lake Lodge was immediately popular with tourists from the time it opened in 1915 until it was shut down in 1989 due to structural deficiencies and safety issues. The National Park Service had plans to demolish the old hotel and construct a replacement, but “the citizens of Oregon proved to be downright manic about preserving it,” which led to a massive renovation project instead. (quote from http://www.nplas.org/crater.html)

At a cost of $15 million, the hotel was carefully and completely deconstructed and totally rebuilt, starting with a properly engineered foundation and steel supported framing. The goal was to return the outside appearance and indoor public spaces to the way they looked in the late 1920s. Some original components, including the masonry stones, were reused in the renovation, but little else was salvageable.

With the rehabilitation project complete, the lodge reopened in the spring of 1995.

Crater Lake Lodge has the look and feel of a historic national park hotel, albeit quite plain compared to others we’ve stayed in, such as the Many Glacier Hotel or the Lake Yellowstone Hotel. Had we not stumbled upon the display inside the lodge that tells the story of its immense renovation during the 1990s, we wouldn’t have guessed.

In any case, it was a convenient and comfortable place to stay during our one night visit.

Crater Lake National Park is off the beaten path – a minimum of 2.5 hours to drive from the closest interstate exit through national forest land – but worth the trip. Given the wintry weather conditions, we were lucky to see the lake during our short 23 hour visit. If we had a do over, I would spend another night just to increase the odds of good visibility.

Categories: Oregon

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