The changing season calls for a trip to Crater Lake, the crown jewel of the West's national parks, before the snow begins to fall.
The deepest lake in the U.S. draws more than 420,000 visitors a year and is an easy 90-minute drive from Ashland. Even the drive is photo-worthy, offering shutterbugs plenty of opportunities for scenic shots: the Rogue River Gorge, Mill Creek Falls, Avenue of the Boulders, the giant sugar pines that line Highway 62 near Prospect.
The drive is the first course that prepares participants for the breathless main dish. Crater Lake stretches six miles across a caldera formed when Mount Mazama blew its top 7,700 years ago. It holds 4.9 trillion gallons of water that, because it's made up of mostly rain and snow falling directly on the lake, is cleaner than the water from your faucet at home.
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The park offers myriad hiking opportunities, from an easy stroll to Plaikni Falls to a strenuous climb to Garfield Peak just east of Crater Lake Lodge. If you brave the hike down to Cleetwood Cove (hiking back is the equivalent of 65 flights of stairs), you can fish or swim in the lake — but be prepared, temperatures range from 32 to 65 degrees. Boat tours of the lake are offered through the summer; call 541-594-3000 for more information.
A drive around the rim is well worth the time, offering views of the Phantom Ship, Pumice Castle and Cloudcap, among other sights.
In the winter, park rangers offer 1.5-hour snowshoe hikes during which they explain what it takes to survive in an area that receives more than 500 inches of snow a year. The walks are offered at 1 p.m. weekends from Thanksgiving through March, and snowshoes are provided for free. Call 1-541-594-2211, ext. 401, for more information.
Any way you approach it, Crater Lake is an adventurer's paradise that has been captivating people for thousands of years.
Amelia Covert Zeve, 13, is an Ashland-based writer and wilderness enthusiast who attends Ashland Middle School. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.