Summary: We drove from Medford, OR to Crater Lake early morning, where we spent the day before driving back to San Francisco - so a pretty long day.  The activity level was light as most sightseeing involved driving from vantage point to vantage point in the national park.  The only strenuous activity was the Watchman's Peak Trail - totally worth the effort.  

Sundial Bridge (Redding, CA), Shasta Lake (Shasta Lake, CA), and Crater Lake (Medford, OR)
Total Length of Stay: 
2 days
Getting There: Driving from San Francisco, CA (Interstate-5)

This Blog Post:
 Day 2 out of 2
Accommodation: None, drove home
Tour Operator: Completely self-guided
Time Spent Traveling: Around 8 hours of driving, 7 hours of exploring a national park by car with some hiking
Activity Level: Light walking, except for one uphill, 1.6 mile roundtrip hike that took a little over an hour

ITINERARY (times are very approximate and meant to only roughly illustrate the pace)
1.) Crater Lake National Park (10am-5:30pm)
Crater Lake is essentially water pooled at the top of a volcano, made up of rain and snow that collected in the caldera of Mount Mazama.  It is the deepest lake in the United States, ninth deepest in the world, a depth that is partially responsible for its intense blue color.  The other contributing factor is the clarity of the water; the water is nearly 100% pure.  The lake has one major island, called Wizard Island, which resulted from an explosion.  

We left our hotel around 8am after eating breakfast, and it was nearly 10am when we arrived at Crater Lake.  Even this early in the morning, the boat tours of the lake were sold out!  Our first stop was Rim Village, which is the main area for tourists.  Here you can find the visitor's information center, a gift shop, a cafe, and the place to buy a trolley tour ticket.  Many photo opportunities can also be found here.  
At one point I got out my iPhone to use the panorama option..wow that water is blue!
We left Rim Village to drive around Rim Drive, which is a loop around the lake with several lookouts and hiking trails.  If you take the trolley tour they pretty much take you around Rim Drive, and we decided to drive at our own pace  To be honest the lake doesn't look THAT different from various points around it - if you go to Rim Village you've "seen" the lake - but there were some notable points.

First off we went to see the Pinnacles, which are rock formations that protrude like spikes from the ground.  Scientifically known as fossil fumaroles, they were formed when hot gas bubbled to the surface of a pumice and hot ash layer, and escaped through openings called fumaroles.  As the hot gas passed through, it cemented the pumice and hot ash it touched.  These areas became resistant to erosion while surrounding areas didn't, and what's left behind is the Pinnacles.  The Pinnacles trail is listed as "easy" but we didn't complete it; just went as far as was necessary to get some nice views.  
One more thing about the Pinnacles - we were a little surprised that the trail head did not have any restrooms, as we thought most major points in a U.S. national park would.  Same story with the next place, the Phantom Ship, although there were restrooms available at several other points.  The Phantom Ship is a tiny island in the lake, certainly not as large as the main Wizard Island.
Next we briefly stopped at the Cleetwood Cove trail, which is the only trail that leads down to the shore of Crater Lake.  This place was super crowded, probably with 4th of July vacationers, and we had to drive pretty far away to find parking.  Boat tour tickets are sold here, but were sold out that day.  If we did take a boat tour, we would have needed to hike the entire Cleetwood Cove trail, which is pretty strenuous.  It's 1.1 miles one downhill to get to the shore of the lake, where the boat dock is, and then 1.1 miles steep uphill to get back up afterwards.  Anyways, we simply ventured a few steps down on the trail, where I noticed some streaks in the lake (right picture).  
It was getting after 1pm so we drove back to Rim Village for lunch.  We stopped at a few lookout points along the way, but nothing that really stuck out to me.  The wait to get food was ridiculous, and so was the parking but we got lucky because someone was leaving.  The place was crowded with people on their 4th of July holidays, and Rim Village has a total of one cafe and one restaurant.  The restaurant was unable to take any more people for lunch and the line for the cafe was over 30 minutes, maybe 45 minutes.  It was nearly 3pm when we finished our bland sandwiches, after which we went to hike the Watchman's Peak trail.  Along the drive to the trail were some nice views of snow, so we stopped to take some pictures.  
Again, the park was crowded for 4th of July, so finding parking at the trail head was an issue.  We managed to get lucky again though, someone left as we came in.  The Watchman's Peak trail is an uphill hike but wasn't too bad; at 1.6 miles roundtrip, it took a little over an hour.  There's also a ranger-guided hike on this trail at 7:30pm to see the sunset, but that was too late for us since we had to drive back to San Francisco.  Before starting the trail, there are some nice views of Wizard Island and Crater Lake at the base of Watchman's Peak.  
The beginning of the trail was through snow-covered areas, with some portions where we actually walked on snow.  I noticed the snow had a red tint to it:
As we ascended the trail, I took some pictures of the area below:
After all the uphill climbing we finally made it to the top, and the views were totally worth it.  I'll let my iPhone panorama below attest to that point.  The downhill walk was considerably easier, and it was a little before 5pm when we got done.  We started driving back to San Francisco and arrived home around 11pm-midnight, and concluded our 4th of July adventures.  
8/31/2015 12:37:09 pm

Thanks for the detailed review.


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