The main attraction of Crater Lake National Park is obviously the lake itself. Seeing it up close, however, is a bit of a challenge. A boat cruise and tour exists, but reserving a spot and getting to the boat launch present some challenges.
Jane attempted to reserve four places on the guided boat tour with a stop on Wizard Island in advance of our trip, but each time she was informed that we were rejected. The only option left was the boat cruise kiosk at the Mazama Village gift shop, so while we waited for Joe and Amy to arrive on Tuesday afternoon, we paid the shop a visit. Amazingly we had no trouble reserving seats on the boat that departed at 11AM, and we were relieved to print four passes from the kiosk ticket dispenser. The tickets stated that we needed to begin our descent on the Cleetwood Trail one hour before departure, and we had a 45 minute drive from Mazama Village to the trailhead.
After breakfast on Wednesday morning we had some spare time, so we found the trailhead for the Annie Creek Canyon Trail. This trail began behind the amphitheater where we witnessed Tim Elam’s presentation on Tuesday night, and it descended down a steep path littered with switchbacks. The trail was only 1.7 miles long in total, but it was rated moderate due to the steep climb necessary to exit the canyon. Amy found a guide book in a small box at the trailhead and read us descriptions at numbered stopping points along the way. When we reached the bottom of the canyon next to Annie Creek, we felt like we were in a different world with thick vegetation, a bubbling stream and moss covered rocks.
With adequate lead time we jumped in the Santa Fe and made the drive nearly half way around Crater Lake until we reached the Cleetwood Trailhead parking area. All the spaces were occupied, so we found a place along the shoulder of the rim road. The hike down the 1.1 mile trail with a 700 foot vertical drop was a piece of cake, but we all shuddered to think of the strenuous climb back out of the crater at the end of our much anticipated cruise.
We reached the end of the trail and the boat launch in thirty minutes and used the rest room facilities since none were available on the cruise boat. As I exited the small bathroom, I looked down to the small cove below and spotted several young fly fishermen and some brave swimmers. Tim Elam informed us that the water temperature was a relatively constant forty-five degrees, and that is cold for swimming. The guide book stated that the fishing was very challenging due to the depth and clarity of the water and the steep drop off. Apparently the lake harbors kokanee salmon and rainbow trout that were stocked many years ago.
When I returned to the rocky shoreline next to the dock, I sat on a rock perch and observed the water while Amy removed her shoes and socks and dangled her legs in the water. The water was extremely clear and very calm, and in the fifteen minutes before we departed, I salivated at the constant rings in front of me from rising fish. Why did the guide book scare me off from bringing my fly rod to the edge of the lake? Most of the rises appeared to be quite small fish, but every once in a while my trained eye noticed a more substantial surface disturbance accompanied by a deep slurp sound.
At the scheduled hour our group boarded the cruise boat, and we departed for Wizard Island. We cruised along the north shore of the lake, and we discovered that our tour guide was the same Tim Elam that delivered the excellent presentation the previous evening. He described several rock formations, but it was not long before we moored at the Wizard Island dock and exited our tour craft.
Our first move on Wizard Island was to hike a very rocky path toward Fumarole Bay. Before we reached the rocky shoreline, we found a shady spot among the rocks and enjoyed our lunch. After lunch we reversed our course until we reached the intersection with the trail that led us to the summit of Wizard Island. We learned from our guide that Wizard Island is actually a volcano within a volcano. The original volcanic mountain collapsed into the large crater that filled up with water and became Crater Lake, and then in the years afterward a small eruption produced the cone shaped island now called Wizard Island. The trail climbs 700 feet over .9 mile from the boat dock to the rim of the cone.
Amy, Joe, Jane and I set our sights on reaching the top despite a hot smokey day in Oregon, and we accomplished our goal. Jane and I circled the circumference of the rim and snapped a few photos. The whitebark pines clustered on the northeast rim created a unique scene with their twisted and gnarled trunks and limbs. The return hike was much more enjoyable, and we made sure to arrive at the dock with time to spare before the return boat appeared. Jane, Amy and Joe sat on the end of the dock and dangled their feet in the ice cold water. In fact Joe took it an extra step and jumped into the clear deep lake and then drank the pure ice cold liquid. He did not seem to acquire any negative after-effects in the following days while we were present in Oregon.
When the return boat arrived, we all boarded, and the vessel cruised along the western and southern shoreline. Tim pointed out several additional landmarks, but to me the most striking was the rock formation know as Phantom Ship. I expected to see a ship captain bearing a telescope on the deck at any moment.
Of course our greatest challenge was still ahead of us; the ascent of Cleetwood Trail back to the crater rim and our car. When the time arrived to vacate the cruise boat, we gritted our teeth and leaned into the climb. Jane and I actually passed quite a few of our boat mates and arrived at the rim road in reasonable condition after pausing once or twice along the way.
After a very active day we enjoyed a delicious dinner of bratwursts grilled in beer and topped with sauteed onions and peppers including a Santa Fe grande hot pepper from our garden. Joe is a keen devotee of hot peppers, and he offered his informed approval of our garden produce.
Wednesday was one of the best days of our road trip. Neither Jane nor I could imagine visiting Crater Lake without undertaking the cruise and stepping on Wizard Island. Words cannot describe the unique beauty of this deep clear body of water situated in the middle of a volcanic crater and surrounded by a steep craggy rim. It is a must see for any lover of natural beauty.