National Parkin’ #3: Crater Lake, Lassen Volcanic and Pinnacles
On the drive from Olympic Peninsula down to Oakland, I planned two stops: Crater Lake National Park and Lassen Volcanic National Park. Crater Lake was about an eight hour drive straight through from Olympic. Leaving on Thursday morning, I took my time driving down the Washington coast, making a final stop in Olympic at Ruby Beach. I then spent the majority of the day driving, ultimately crashing at a motel about 3 hours outside of Crater Lake. It was the first time in a real bed in four days and a chance to do laundry, load up on ice and catch up on all things Internet.
Friday morning I woke up early to finish the drive to Crater Lake and eventually start a frustrating late morning/early afternoon. I arrived around 10am, and slowly made my way along the west drive. The east drive was still closed – under snow. On top of that, the West Drive was under construction. It wasn’t until nearly noon that I found my way to the Mazama campground. I hadn’t made reservations because the Crater Lake website said Mazama was still closed… Turns out it wasn’t. Mistake #1. I jumped in a line just 3 people long and 30 minutes later was told that there were only a few RV camping sites available for $31, but they are exactly the same as tent sites just ten bucks more… At that point, I was already getting frustrated, so I just paid the $31. Had the website been updated, I would have reserved a normal tent site for ten bucks less. Ultimately, it was worth staying in the park instead of leaving late and finding a campground south of the park at night. Still, frustrating.
However, as soon as you see the Lake, the disappointing commercialized side of Crater Lake (and it’s reeeeeaaaallllly commercialized), is forgotten. The Lake is stunning. It’s one of those things that people always say “No picture will do it justice.” It’s true. The water is the most magnificently blue thing you’ll ever see in nature. Crater Lake averages 45 feet of snow each year. The Lake is pure, clear melted snow. That, plus the fact that it is the deepest lake in the America makes for the pure blue we all see.
After a short hike up Kerr Notch, I made my way to the Rim Village to grab a parking spot to act as home base. The place was absolutely packed – a stark contrast to the relatively private Olympic. (NOTE: It was Friday, and I spent Monday through Thursday in Olympic). Much of the Lake is easily accessible from the road or the Rim Village, so it is not too surprising to see so many people there. I wanted to get away from humanity a bit and started hiking northwest on the Rim trail. Mistake #2.
I hiked about a mile or so to “Discovery Point,” with a ton of other people also hiking the Rim. At that point there was a sign for The Watchtower: 2.4 miles out. I figured that would be a good way to pretty much wrap up the afternoon, so I kept going along the rim. It wasn’t long before I stopped seeing other people. And shortly after that, I started seeing a lot of snow. No worries, still plenty of tracks to follow, so I figured there was still some snow on parts of the trail and that I’d come out of it and continue the hike. After probably 2 miles, it was all snow. I eventually turned the corner on the side of the edge of the mountain (after turning away from the rim for a bit) and could see the Lake once more… and absolutely no trail. I found myself on the side of this snow covered mountain. Instead of turning back and rehashing the snow steps, I decided to continue to follow the tracks that went along the side of the mountain for probably 200 feet before sliding down to what was a small uncovered part of the trail. It was slow going to not slip down the edge and onto the road before. It was not extremely steep at all, but steep enough to force me to be really careful. You know, don’t want to start an avalanche or anything.
Once I got to the trail, I had to slide down further to the road, one little 3 foot ski run in my boots at a time. From there, I walked over to a road lookout to see a sign saying the trail was still closed… Why there wasn’t as sign back at Discovery Point, I don’t know. From there I had to hike the road around that mountain before finding a spot to jump back on the trail heading towards Rim Village. By the time I returned, it was 6pm and I was pretty much ready to call it a day.
I checked out the gift shop and, to my surprise, actually found a t-shirt I wanted to buy… and I never buy souvenirs. With it being the day I was having, of course, they didn’t have the size I needed in stock. That was the final sign I needed to head back to camp and get ready for the night.
After setting up my tent and gathering all the firewood I needed, I heading back out to get some sunset pictures.
I returned to cook up some sausages and around 11pm headed back to Rim Village to check out the Lake under the stars. The moon wasn’t out yet so you really couldn’t see much of the Lake. However, the Milky Way was visible on a crystal clear night. Thanks to a car turning the corner at the right time, I was able to get this shot of the visitor center lit up with the Milky Way in the background.
On Saturday, I packed up camp and started making the drive towards Lassen Volcanic National Park, pretty much a perfect halfway point between Crater Lake and Oakland. Unfortunately, Lassen was largely still closed and under snow. From the North entrance, pretty much all I was able to do was hike around Manzanita and Reflection lakes.
I was then planning to drive around to the south entrance to check out a couple other features, but doing so would have added over 2 hours of driving just to get there. After a long week on the road, I decided to pay the extra $20 for a motel a little closer to Oakland instead of grabbing a campsite south of Lassen.
After games in Oakland and San Francisco, I made one final California National Park stop about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles: Pinnacles National Park. Pinnacles was surreal in how empty it was. The 95 degree desert weather certainly had kept people away. However, for me it was a nice way to break up an eight hour drive. I hiked around the park for several hours, including checking out a couple caves, before packing up and making my way towards Irvine, CA.
There you have it… Three of the 59 US National Parks. I think Pinnacles will be pretty far down the “re-visit” list, but there’s no doubt I want to go back to Lassen and actually hike to the peak of Mount Lassen (which can be done as a day hike). I also wouldn’t mind going back to Crater Lake and taking the boat to Wizard Island… despite my rocky trip there. For the rest of the trip there’s at least 3 National Parks and several National Monuments to go!