Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
The Perfect Getaway for Outdoor Enthusiasts
The deepest lake in the Unites States isn't really a lake at all - it's a caldera, an enormous volcanic crater nearly six miles wide, with depths close to 4,000 feet. Crater Lake has been stunning visitors with its piercing blue waters for centuries now, and the thrill of gazing at the mirror-like waters never grows old. But Crater Lake National Park is certainly not for onlookers alone: this is a park full of hands-on, outdoor adventure. Experience the cornflower blue waters and the mysterious Wizard Island up-close and personal with a guided boat tour, or by scuba diving.
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Great Sand Dunes National Park and PreserveI went during the off season so I had the park to myself. If you want to bring a dog along, the off season (read: not summer) is best since the sand is cool to the touch and safe for paws. The views are simply amazing and if you want to hike to the top, you're in for a great workout. 960 1280
Lava Beds National MonumentMy second favorite national monument is mostly unknown. I stumbled upon it driving and instantly fell in love. There are so many caves to explore and because it's self guided, you can go at your own pace. Bring a headlamp and a flashlight and go as far inside of a cave as you feel comfortable. Feel daring? Turn off all your lights. 960 1280
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Great Smoky Mountains National ParkView from Clingman's Dome, the highest peak in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, along the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. Despite being at 6,643 feet, it offers a relatively easy, paved path to the observation tower. 960 1280
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The lake lies in the midst of 249 square miles of protected wilderness ready to be explored, be it by foot, snowshoe or snowmobile. Easily accessible to tourists, the 33-mile Rim Drive covers the lake's perimeter and grants drivers views of the lake and surrounding environs. Within the park's territory it's not unlikely to see black bear, elk, Clark's nutcracker, even the elusive bald eagle. Tree lovers will enjoy the varieties of forest that comprise the park's wilderness - ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, mountain hemlock and whitebark pine zones are all represented. Many cold weather activities such as cross-country skiing and snowmobiling are available to visitors, but winter travelers, take note: from October to June it is not unusual to find the park's grounds covered in 10-15 feet of snow.
Crater Lake is a caldera, which is a volcanic crater with a diameter exceeding more than half a mile. This particular caldera formed when Mount Mazama of the Cascade Range viciously erupted 7,000 years ago, scattering ash as far away as Montana. The eruption was so powerful that the volcanic chambers emptied themselves of molten rock, leaving an empty shaft leading underground. The weight of the mountain collapsed into this void creating the 4,000-foot-deep caldera that has become Crater Lake.
Making the most of 10 to 15 feet of snow each winter can be quite a task, but Crater Lake National Park faces the challenge like an old pro. This is one of the snowiest regions in the entire northwest and winter sport enthusiasts find it a dream come true. Unplowed roads and open slopes are perfect for skiing, snowmobiling and checking out the gorgeous scenery. The warmer weather of spring and summer is perfect for fishing, swimming, hiking and especially a Volcano Boat Tour through the lake. These boats are the only ones allowed on the lake, and visitors can experience close-up views of Llao Rock, Phantom Ship and Wizard Island.
Where to Stay
Crater Lake Lodge reclines along the edge of the Crater Lake caldera, leaving guests little choice but to easily fall victim to the hotel's glorious environs. Refurbished in 1995, this lodge is considered by many to be the finest of all national park accommodations. Patios dotted with rocking chairs afford perfect vistas of the lake and Wizard Island, while the delightful Watchman Restaurant and Llao Rock Cafe sate the appetite.
Nearby Sights/Side Trips
Klamath County, home of Crater Lake National Park, is a little slice of heaven on earth, and well-worth exploring. In this land of outdoor adventure, it's not surprising to gaze skyward and see one of the area's 1,000 bald eagles soar overhead as visitors take advantage of stellar skiing, snowmobiling, hunting, fishing or hiking opportunities. Culture loverd won't be disappointed either, as Klamath County is also home to museums, theaterd, monuments and even a casino.