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Visit Crater Lake National Park

A spot worthy of a summertime jaunt

Wizard Island, a volcanic cinder cone, protrudes more than 750 feet above the surface of Crater Lake and 6,933 feet above sea level.

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I regret that I didn't visit Crater Lake while stationed in the Pacific Northwest. The 380 miles between Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the national park in southern Oregon that's home to the nation's deepest lake may seem a deterrent, but the breathtaking views and fascinating geological history awaiting those who brave a summertime trip there is worth the trek.

Millennia ago, a 12,000-foot volcano called Mount Mazama stood in the place of what's now Crater Lake. "It would have looked like Mount Rainier," said National Park Services Ranger Dave Grimes, comparing the mountain now residing at the bottom of Crater Lake to the Cascade's highest peak. Then 7,700 years ago, Mount Mazama - as volcanoes sometimes do - erupted. "A hundred times the magnitude and amount of ash expelled compared to the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980," Grimes said.

The violent eruption caused the mountain's summit to collapse, resulting in a huge volcanic depression. Over a few centuries, this caldera filled with precipitation. Today, the deep blue color and pristine clarity of the 1,943 foot deep lake can be attributed to its sole water source - rain and snow melt.

The craggy cliffs and crevices along the shoreline reveal Crater Lake's true identity - a water-filled crater of a dormant volcano. In the summertime, visitors can hike Cleetwood Cove Trail, a 1.1-mile trail with a 700-foot elevation change, to the lake shore. While swimming is allowed at the end of the trail, water temperatures reach only the mid-60s at summer's peak, Grimes cautioned.

Boat tours provide up-close views of the lake and its inhabitants, such as Phantom Ship, an island formed by 400,000-year-old lava. A park ranger narrates the two-hour cruise, which is offered six times daily. Visitors may opt to be dropped off at Wizard Island, a volcanic cinder cone that protrudes more than 750 feet above the water's surface, and be picked up later in the day. Favorite activities on the island include hiking and fishing. The two types of fish found in Crater Lake - rainbow trout and Kokanee salmon - are non-native; therefore, no license is required, and there are no quantity limits. The only restriction is artificial lures must be used to prevent introducing non-native organisms into the lake.

From land, the 33-mile rim drive offers more than 30 overlooks of the lake and the old growth forest that comprises more than 90 percent of this national park.

"If you only have one day at the park, do the rim drive, which goes all the way around the lake," recommended Grimes, "and stop at as many overlooks as you can because the view really does change."

One of the largest old growth forests in Oregon, it has never been logged and possesses a diverse ecosystem with a plethora of Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir as well as rare and endangered animals. 

Lodging options available within the park mid-May through the beginning of October include Crater Lake Lodge; cabins at Mazama Village; tent and RV sites at Mazama Village campground; and tent sites at Lost Creek Campground. Lodge accommodations offer views of the lake while the Mazama cabins and campground are located seven miles off the rim in a peaceful Ponderosa pine forest. Lost Creek Campground, the only site run by the NPS, is located in the southeast corner of the park near Pinnacles Overlook. Lodge reservations are recommended well in advance as rooms fill up quickly due to the short season. The beginning and end of the season are the best times to find availability at short notice.

"Even if you can't book a room at the lodge, have a meal there or sit out on the deck and enjoy the view," said Tom Mesereau, public relations consultant for Crater Lake National Park Lodges.

Don't live in regret. Make the trip to Crater Lake before you change duty stations.

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