Day Trips

The water in Oregon's Crater Lake is the most beautiful shade of blue

Day Trips
Photo by Gerald E. McLeod

Crater Lake in Southern Oregon defines the color blue. The placid surface of America's deepest lake absorbs all the colors of the spectrum except blue and violet, thereby producing the most amazingly pure colors. In a basin formed when an ancient volcano blew its top, the water ranges from a brilliant turquoise to a deep royal blue.

The Native Americans have a legend of how the lake was formed that pretty well explains what happened thousands of years ago. Llao, king of the underworld, lived on Mount Mazama, and the chief of the world above, Skell, had his throne on Mount Shasta, to the south. A great battle took place between the two, which resulted in the Cascade Mountains being assaulted with thunder and fire. What wasn't destroyed of Llao's mountain throne in Skell's explosive blasts was buried when the mountain collapsed.

Over thousands of years, the 1,943-foot-deep caldera of Mount Mazama filled with snow and rain. In a sign that the gods might still be angry, the mountain holds several state records for amounts of snowfall. Annual deposits of 50 feet or more are common between November and May. Although the park is open year-round, access can be disrupted by the average snowfall of 44 feet.

The lake was first put on maps in 1853, but it wasn't until 1886 that the landlocked body of water with two picturesque islands was surveyed. In 1902, the 6-mile-wide pool and surrounding 183,224 acres became the nation's fifth national park.

More than 80 miles from any major town, Crater Lake National Park attracts thousands of visitors during the popular months of July and August. More than a dozen hiking trails snake up the mountain slopes through the towering pines, including one path that provides access to the water. Tour boats leave from the dock that also allows swimming and fishing for the lake's salmon and trout.

It's hard to take in the entire mountain in one day, even if the road around the rim is only 30 miles long. The original park managers realized they needed to provide visitors with more than just campgrounds. Due to the area's remoteness and short construction season, it took six years to build the 150-room lodge overlooking the rim. Seventy-five years later, the hotel was completely rebuilt, with a restaurant and a patio with rocking chairs overlooking the lake, which is the most incredible shade of blue.

Crater Lake National Park is about 80 miles north of Medford, 85 miles east of Roseburg, and four hours south of Portland, Ore. Making reservations at one of the two hotels in the park should be done months in advance. Services, except gasoline, are available at the Rim Village or Annie Creek at the southern entrance. For reservations, call 888/774-2728; for park information, go to or call 541/594-3000.

893rd in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips" 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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Crater Lake, Llao, Skell, Crater Lake National Park

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