Crater Lake, Oregon

7,700 years ago, Mount Mazama, one of several volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest, erupted violently and with enough destructive force that the 12,000 foot tall mountain collapsed in on itself. What was once a huge, hollow mountain chamber filled with magma and hot gases suddenly became an open air caldera.

Over the next several centuries, that caldera filled with rain and snowmelt. A lot of snowmelt. This region gets upwards of 40 feet of snow every year!!

Snow markers along the road at at Crater Lake National Park
These posts allow NPS staff to find the edges of the road while plowing

It didn’t take long before ancient Mount Mazama became modern day Crater Lake.

The southwestern edge of Crater Lake, including Wizard Island
Jagged rock walls, the remains of a once mighty mountain, form a perfect arc around the southwestern side of the lake.

But what makes this lake so special is that rain and snowmelt are its only sources of water.

Unlike most bodies of water, there are no rivers or streams flowing into Crater Lake, which means there’s no inflow of sediment, organic material, or other pollutants. The water in Crater Lake is 100% crud-free.

It is also deep – the deepest body of fresh water in the United States and the ninth deepest in the world.

What happens when you collect trillions of gallons of ultra clean water in a very deep bowl? This:

Bright blue water at Crater Lake
A zoomed in, unedited photo of Grotto Cove on the eastern side of the lake

The water is so deep, and so clear, that other colors of the light spectrum are completely absorbed, leaving only blue wavelengths visible to the human eye.

Grotto Cove at Crater Lake

Crater Lake is just over 6 miles across at its widest point, 1943 feet deep, and contains 4.9 trillion gallons of water.

The View from Pumice Castle at Crater Lake

It took about 250 years to fill to its present depth, but since then, it has only changed by about 16 feet. Seepage and evaporation balance against abundant fresh precipitation to keep its level relatively constant over time.

Kevin looking out over Crater Lake

In addition to the lake’s shocking clarity and color, we couldn’t help but notice how placid it was. In many places, the remains of the mountain were perfectly reflected by the lake’s mirror surface.

Grotto Cove at Crater Lake

As we traveled around the park’s 33 mile rim road, we also took note of the two small land masses that interrupt the surface of the water.

On the southern side, a 150 foot rock outcropping emerges from the water. From the ‘Phantom Ship Lookout,’ the jagged rocks look like a…well, they look like a phantom ship:

The view from Phantom Ship Overlook at Crater Lake

The other, much larger, land mass is Wizard Island, an arrow shaped volcanic cinder cone that rises some 750 feet out of the water:

Wizard Island at Crater Lake

In normal times, visitors can take a boat tour out to the island and hike up to its top. Sadly, the boats weren’t running this year, but if we ever get another chance to visit this stunning place, we won’t miss that tour.

There are several hikes, waterfalls, and other natural phenomena that are also probably worth checking out. We drove down from Bend for the day, only allowing us time to explore the viewpoints off the rim road, but one could easily fill a couple days here if they wanted to. On the other hand, staring at the lake from its jaw dropping viewpoints was enough to leave us pretty satisfied.

Waldo Lake

In my last post, I mentioned our friends, Heather and Dave, who headed us off from our intended visit to Eugene. While changing our route was, obviously, the right call, we still wanted to meet up with them. So, in October, after the fires had calmed down, we drove west from Bend, they drove east from Eugene, and we met for an afternoon of socially distanced conversation at Waldo Lake, a pristine body of water in Willamette National Forest.

While Waldo Lake isn’t as famous as that other lake down south, it’s no slouch.

Informational sign at Waldo Lake in Willamette National Forest

The water is remarkably clear

Very clear water at Waldo Lake in Oregon

And the reflections on a calm afternoon were as pretty as they were soothing:

Trees reflected in the water at Waldo Lake

Adjacent to the lake is a National Forest campground that, along with most of the rest of the campgrounds in these mountains, had been closed for weeks because of the fires. It was a little eerie to see all the reservation slips on the empty sites in the deserted campground…

Reservation slip on campsite at Waldo Lake

…but it was wonderful to have this gorgeous lake almost entirely to ourselves.

We took full advantage, setting up camp chairs on the beach and enjoying several hours of excellent conversation with good friends we hadn’t met yet (I’d been chatting with Heather over email and text forever, but we’d never actually met).

It was great, and just what the doctor ordered after we’d spent so much time alone this year. We talked for hours – about life, family, travel, current events, and whatever else came to mind. Heather and Dave are easy to talk to and the time just flew by. In fact, we were there long enough for Thor to display several of his Barbie-style personalities. Among them, “Cool, calm, collected Thor” who just wants love and affection:

and “Psychopath Thor” who will kneecap you for no reason:

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Fortunately, no one got hurt as a result of our dog’s overexuberant zoomies.

Anyway, before long, the sun was setting, the temperature was dropping, and it was time to start our respective journeys home. We headed our separate ways with hopes to meet up again whenever the universe stops being a complete pain in the ass.

Waldo Lake at sunset

Next Up…

Six weeks in Bend, Oregon.


Where we stayed:

Deschutes County Fairgrounds, Redmond, Oregon

Crown Villa RV Resort, Bend, Oregon (Review coming next post)

Previous articleOregon: Up In Smoke
Next article2020: Was This All My Fault?


  1. Wow! Crater Lake is so beautiful! I had no idea it is so deep! The blue is unbelievable, and while your photos are always superb, I bet it it even more striking in person! I’m more of an ocean than a lake person, but I think I would really love spending a day there – when there’s no snow!!

    • Haha… I am torn on the snow. I am no fan of being cold, but I’ve seen photos of the lake in winter and it is truly striking. I think it might be worth making an exception to the “avoid snow at all costs” rule.

  2. Crater lake is truly an amazing, an unexpected gem.. It was interesting to see all the volcanic formations and glyphs north of the park.
    The downside of the boat ride is the long hike back up from the cold waters edge!

    • In reading the descriptions of the boat tour on the concessionaire’s website, I saw the warnings about that walk and wondered how many tourists take on more than they can chew… especially since the altitude up there is not nothing. Could be a long day for a lot of folks.

    • Haha. That could be true. He seems sweet, but he can be quite the jealous one! And yes, you should definitely check out Crater Lake some day. It’s absolutely worth it.

  3. If you ever make it back to Crater Lake for the boat tour, you can offer your services as a narrator…. because you have All. The. Facts. And you explain them in an interesting way! It looks like Crater Lake is definitely worth making a side trip to visit, especially if you can somehow manage to get great weather and no crowds.

    Your relief about seeing Heather and Dave is palpable. The isolation of these pandemic times has been so hard to bear, especially for RVers who already spend a lot of time away from friends and family. Those meetups on the road are a precious part of the RV experience and foregoing those completely would take away one of the joys of travel. Here’s hoping your winter in San Diego offers plenty of opportunity for safe interactions with friends.

    • You absolutely hit the nail on the head with regard to isolation on the road. All the years we’ve spent traveling, we’ve never felt lonely or isolated. There’s always someone here or the next stop or the stop after that to hang out with. But all of that changed this year. We have been completely on our own since March, with only one pizza dinner with one set of neighbors in August. We could have probably socialized much more, but we’ve had to constantly balance the risks against the rewards and we’ve just opted to focus on staying safe. Meeting up with Heather and Dave was great because we knew they were as careful as us (actually, even more so than us) and our meet up was as safe as could be, so we could truly relax and just talk. I miss those kinds of carefree conversations. It was definitely therapeutic. And yes, now that we’re in San Diego, we know some other folks who we trust and feel confident about hanging out with. It’s the perfect spot for us to be right now.

  4. Don’t taunt the universe, man. Especially from the west coast. I mean, you SAW what it did to Mount Mazama.

    I’m glad you got to see two jaw-droppingly blue lakes and meet up with two good new friends. All of that is such balm for the soul. I hope stuff like that continues to be the mainstay of your winter and a good portent for 2021. Keep your chocolate supply stocked just the same.

    • You realize I’m the whole reason for this damned pandemic, right? Me and my big mouth complained about “too much socializing” last February and the next thing you know, Blammo! Pandemic. So, you are correct: I should not taunt the universe. The universe is nothing if not direct in its responses and I hereby apologize to said universe for calling it a pain in the ass. It is no such thing. I’ll just say that I hope 2021 lives up to expectations. πŸ™‚

  5. What a couple of beautiful lakes. Love those reflections. That boat ride on Crater Lake sounds like a must-do. Let’s hope life returns to ‘some what’ normal soon.

    • Thank you for reading and thanks for being so nice! It’s fun to keep this journal of our experiences, but even better to know some folks enjoy reading it.

  6. Our son and his family live an hour or so south of Crater Lake so it is one of our day trips when we visit them. No matter what time of year you visit, it is beautiful but I think our favorite time is when there is snow in the background to compliment that spectacular blue in the lake!

    • Ya know, I’ve seen some professional photos of Crater Lake in the winter and they were just eye popping. The contrast of the blue and the white is spectacular. I would even brave snow and cold to see it in person!

  7. I love Crater Lake! We were there a couple of years ago. The timing was such that they had just barely snow plowed part of the road around the lake, so we only made to the overlook area. It’s so picture perfect! I’m happy you had the chance to see it in person. πŸ™‚

    • We laughed when we looked at the NPS map and saw that they only plow a small section of the rim road and most of the road is closed most of the year. I cannot even imagine trying to move the amount of snow they must have to move to make any part of the lake accessible. If I were them, I’d just hang a “closed for the season” sign at the front entrance and call it a day (I’d also get fired, but that’s not the point.) πŸ™‚

    • Oh, you definitely should! Especially since you like Bend so much. It would easily fit into your route. We ended up cutting back toward the coast and heading down I-5 when we headed south, but there are several routes you could take from there that would offer gorgeous scenery.

  8. We’ve hiked and snowshoed at Crater Lake…and I even swam in the lake one time (if running into the water and running back out again screaming counts as swimming). That is the coldest water EVER…just barely thawed ice cubes. But we have never gotten photos like the ones you have here. You really captured the intense cobalt beauty of the lake. Actually, all of your photos from your summer travels (except the scary smoke-filled ones from Portland) have been gorgeous. You have a real talent for photographing landscapes.

    Heather and Dave sound like great people. How fun and soul-restoring to meet up with like-minded friends (not to mention it keeps us from going feral). Here’s to more awe-inspiring beauty and time with good friends as we roll into 2021!

    • Thank you, thank you, thank you for your compliments on my pictures. You take some of the best photos of anyone I know, so I consider it seriously high praise. I really appreciate it.

      Someone else asked me if we went swimming in the lake and I thought they had to be nuts. I guess people do it – including you – but seriously. 40 feet of snow? That’s a lot of snow and it takes a long time to melt. I imagine the water must *always* be “barely thawed ice cubes”!

      I told Heather that you two would get along great, and I am telling you that you two would get along great. Really, you should just skip the middleman here and go hang out ASAP! You have lots in common, a similar sense of humor, and just the right amount of cynicism mixed in for good measure. Next time you’re in Oregon!!

      • Hi, Laurel and Laura,
        Geez, now I have to sit at the dumb kids’ table with Laurel and LIKE her.
        πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜‰ Nah, I think you know how to call it, Laura. If Laurel’s at all like you, I’ll love her. Looking forward to it.

  9. Crater Lake is amazing. It’s hard to believe the lake is that blue until you see it in person. Our first visit was years ago on a motorcycle trip. The park had just opened in June. There was lots of snow but the road was clear. When we popped up over the hill and had our first glance at the lake, you can imagine how blown away we were. We finally got back a couple years ago to do a little hiking. So glad you were able to get a visit on such a calm day with no wildfire smoke. Your photos are beautiful.

    • Thanks Pam! As soon as the smoke cleared, we started looking for a good day to go visit. We had no idea how long we might have before the next fires blew up and would ruin the experience. Luckily, we got a couple beautiful days midweek in September, so not only was it gorgeous, but it was super quiet. I’d love to see the lake in the snow. I’ve seen photos but I’m sure your experience of coming over the hill and seeing that incredible contrast of blue and white must have been amazing.

  10. Stunning photos!!! Oregon, which is my birth state has some amazing places and I am embarrassed to say, I have never been to Crater Lake…some Oregonian huh!!! It’s still on the tado list…if we ever get out of our lockdown in California.

    • Oh man, you should really check it out one year when you’re doing your North/South migration! You would love it!

      As for California, it does suck quite a bit at the moment, but we just keep giving thanks that they have not closed the beaches and parks this time. Had we been here during the spring lock down, we would have lost it, but as it is right now, it’s manageable. Of course, it’s only been a day, so perhaps I should give it some more time… Hope you all are staying sane!

  11. Great post! The information about Crater Lake is fascinating and your pictures are so beautiful. We will definitely add that to our list when we eventually get to the northwest part of the country. We so understand the part about meeting up with friends, especially this year. Stay safe!

    • Thanks, Robin! Crater Lake is an absolute must-see whenever you make it up that way. In a region with innumerable jaw dropping sights, Crater Lake is one of the best. I have no doubt you guys would enjoy it. I hope you guys are staying well too!

  12. Crater Lake is breathtaking!! Campgrounds take on a different personality when no one is in them.. We’ve been in before opening and after closing for the season, such different feels from the same campground. Glad you got to meet up with your friends, those connections are so important, especially these days.

    • Yes! Exactly! All I ever want is for all our neighbors at these campgrounds to zip it and go away, but then when they do? I totally miss them. LOL πŸ™‚

  13. Thank you for these dreamy views of Crater Lake – another place we must see someday – and your beautiful day with friends. Thor’s social antics make me wonder what animals think of all this weird human activity with muzzles and no parties and all the mom and dad time. Probably have mixed feelings like we all do.

    The name of the lake triggered my nerd impulse. Mazama is a great name – much better than Crater. I’d name my trailer Mazama … or kayak or even my dog. The Great Mazama. Powerful name. Here’s the Oregon Encyclopedia story: The name Mazama came from William G. Steel, who is known as the father of Crater Lake National Park and is the founder of the Mazamas, a mountaineering group formed on Mount Hood in 1894. Mazama is among the obsolete names for mountain goat, though it is derived from an Aztec word meaning β€œsmall deer.”

    We would love to meet up with you two someday when the universe thinks we’ve been very, very good and deserve a treat.



    • Isn’t it crazy how no one’s ever heard of Mount Mazama? I saw it for the first time when I read through the NPS pamphlet, and it didn’t even explain the origin of the name (though it does mention William Steele’s role in protecting the lake). Of course, in the meantime, renaming it Crater Lake has caused all kinds of people to wonder if the lake was created by a meteor strike. Go figure…

      We have often wondered what’s going to happen when all these people working from home for all these many months suddenly go back to work. My guess is, home dΓ©cor companies are going to make a LOT of money on replacement throw pillows. πŸ™‚

      And yes – we too would love to meet up with you guys once all this insanity passes. I have a feeling we would have plenty to chat about. You three stay well!

  14. Crater Lake was Betsy’s first ever out of state visit in 2009 as we were testing the waters of retirement and RV living. And your great shots brought lots of crazy memories, like our initial plan to bike together around the crater lake on our anniversary. Well, after a practice drive the day before, I chicken out the following morning. Of course Steve forge on and did it in four hours while I was his lovely support following him πŸ™‚ at the same time taking on the mesmerizing still blue waters.
    I wonder how you are affected with the recent lock down orders in CA πŸ™
    Stay safe and healthy.

    • Oh man, we saw a couple people biking that road and it did NOT look easy. Beautiful, for sure, but I’m sure it takes some serious huffing and puffing to get it done. I’d chicken out too (actually, I would never even agree to try. πŸ™‚

      So far, things are not too bad for us in CA. Fortunately, we just recently moved to a private campground and we’re on a monthly stay, so we shouldn’t be getting evicted. The county campgrounds (including the one we were at last week) just closed and kicked everyone out. That would not have been good. But we seem to be ok where we are. Additionally, this time, they are leaving the parks and beaches open, so we can use those and continue to stay active. Since we haven’t been going inside restaurants or museums or any of that kind of stuff, this won’t affect us all that much. We feel terrible for all the businesses and will try to order some to-go meals, but I expect a lot of them will struggle to survive this. It’s just a bad situation all around.

  15. Oh, yes, Crater Lake is gorgeous! Your photos took me back. But what I am most envious of was actual people visiting, conversation, socializing. Like we just to do in the old days. Glad you got that chance to really connect live and enjoy it so much. I enjoyed just reading about it πŸ™‚

    • I know you understand completely. It’s tough being away from friends for so long, especially with all this constant uncertainty. It was a nice return to normalcy, however fleeting it was. Hopefully, we’re all starting to see the light at the end of this long tunnel. Fingers crossed…

      Stay safe!

  16. You guys take the most amazing photos! Wow, wow, wow. And, lucky with the blue skies. πŸ™‚

    Crater Lake is a beauty! I’d always wanted to visit as well, but, like you, we only had a few hours on a side-trip from Eugene to wherever we were going at the time, three years ago. We’d love to return. I think it was pretty quiet when we went as the lodges and amenities had closed for the winter season already. The colors are stunning.

    Nice that you managed to catch up with β€œnew” friends. We all crave social contacts, especially this year after being unable to chat with others forever. Looking forward to your Bend adventures. πŸ™‚

    • Thanks so much, Liesbet! It’s definitely much easier to take decent photos when the subject matter is as striking as Crater Lake. And yes, the blue skies were key. We made sure it was going to be a nice day there before we drove down. We’d love to return too – there’s lots more to see and do, and it would be nice to see it with a light (key word: LIGHT!) coating of snow. Hope you guys are doing well!!

  17. Wow. So incredibly beautiful and peaceful. I hope we can make it back to the northwest some day. Waldo wants to go to Lake Waldo! Glad you had a chance to socialize and relax in such a stunning place!

    We are currently in south FL selling trees again. It’s been a CRAZY season. We are already almost sold out.

    • You know, the other folks I follow who sell trees have also been crazy busy this year. Apparently, after such a crappy year, people are going all in on Christmas decorations. Kinda makes sense, but I’m sure you are ready for it to be over and done with. And yes, if you ever make it up there, a photo of Waldo in front of his namesake lake is a MUST!! πŸ™‚

  18. This was an especially wonderful post, Laura! I don’t know what made it so special — oh yeah, us. πŸ™‚ Ha ha — it was wonderful to hang out with you three, and we are looking forward to the next time. I was born and raised in Oregon, but ironically I never visited Crater Lake until I was about 50. You just take it for granted when it’s in your backyard. But it blew me away just like it did you. Your photos are amazing.

    • Thank you, Heather! I must say, you guys really were the wind beneath the wings, if you will, of this post. πŸ™‚

      It’s interesting to see so many of our friends – who’ve been as starved for socialization and connection as all of us – justifiably jealous of our afternoon of normal human conversation. Who would have thought such a simple interaction could so quickly seem so foreign? The world certainly has gotten weird.

      Anyway, I’m so glad it worked out and I really hope it’s not too long before we have another opportunity!


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