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  • Blue Shock

    A first-time trip to Crater Lake includes soaking in the beauty and swimming in the water
  • "Photos don't do it justice."
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  • "Photos don't do it justice."
    That's what I'd heard from almost everyone I spoke with before embarking on my very first trip to Crater Lake National Park.
    As I clicked through hundreds of photos in the photo archives of the Statesman Journal, I considered myself prepared to feast my eyes on the giant body of water.
    "Eh," I thought to myself. "A lake is a lake, right?"
    Wrong.
    As I drove my way up the hill toward the second-deepest lake in the world, my stomach did flip flops. This was my first camping trip of the summer, at one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and since camping ranks in my top five favorite activities, I couldn't contain my excitement. Tapping my fingers on the steering wheel and singing along with the music playing through my car speakers, I rounded the corner to see a flash of the bright blue water and my natural reaction wasn't something fit for print.
    I cannot emphasize just how shocked I was to see the beautiful blue water of the massive lake — and it's true — photos don't even begin to do it justice.
    After picking up three friends in Eugene, the three-hour drive flew by with the company of good music and great people, but as soon as we could, we hopped out of the car and started snapping photos. Eventually we got over the initial shock of the pure beauty and headed to our campsite about 8 miles away from Rim Drive — the road that encircles the lake.
    Camping
    For $21 per night, you can stay at the Mazama Campgrounds, which are the closest campgrounds to the lake. The grounds have a variety of amenities including showers, restrooms, a small store, laundry services and more. Each campsite is rather large. Most are equipped with a picnic table, fire grate and a metal box to put food and or garbage in at night so the bears can't get into it.
    While the campsites are a great place to hang out in during the evening, I wasn't there to just sit around a fire, although that was wonderful. Saturday morning we awoke after a chilly slumber (it gets rather cold at night so pack warm clothes) and made some breakfast. Eggs, bacon, bagels and coffee made for a great start to the day.
    Hiking
    After a camping feast, we packed our backpack with snacks, sunscreen, swimsuits and bug spray and set out for a hike. We decided a trek down to the water was necessary, and got on Cleetwood Cove Trail, a 2.2-mile hike round trip. Side note: the Mazama Campgrounds are about 8 miles away from Cleetwood Cove, so you have to drive to get there, but there's ample parking near the trailhead.
    The hike is made up of several steep switchbacks and takes about 30 minutes to descend. On the way down I couldn't help but to continuously take photos, as the view just keeps getting better. Once at the bottom, a rocky shoreline leads to the crystal blue waters of the 1,943-foot deep, 6.03-mile wide lake.
    It was the first time that three out of the four of us had ever been to Crater Lake, therefore a jump in the water was necessary. After scouting out a good spot on a giant rock, we took turns jumping into the water, which was ice cold when we went, though it has warmed a bit since.
    After drying off, we headed back up the steep trail toward the car. While the switchbacks can seem pretty daunting, and are rather steep, the trail has strategically placed benches throughout for hikers to sit and catch their breath.
    Back at the top of the trail, the view was incredible. We walked up the closed road a little bit to see the lake from a different perspective, and from higher points on Rim Drive, the lake seems like something out of a fairy tale — completely unreal.
    Alisha Roemeling is an outdoors and community reporter for the Statesman Journal. She can be reached at aroemeling@salem.gannett.com or 503-399-6884.
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