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  • Beyond the Rim

    10 things to do in Crater Lake National Park, if you're willing to leave your car
  • The view from the rim is iconic, the clarity of its water is known worldwide. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the U.S. and Oregon's only national park. Yet for all of its 286 square miles, the park is seen by many visitors only from Rim Drive, that 33-mile road that encircles the volcanic caldera formed when the former Mount Mazama erupted more than 5,500 years ago.
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  • The view from the rim is iconic, the clarity of its water is known worldwide. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the U.S. and Oregon's only national park. Yet for all of its 286 square miles, the park is seen by many visitors only from Rim Drive, that 33-mile road that encircles the volcanic caldera formed when the former Mount Mazama erupted more than 5,500 years ago.
    Crater Lake National Park is open year-round, and many of its memorable adventures are available even during the eight or so months every year when it snows. And snow it does: 44 feet a year, on average.
    If you're willing to leave your car and venture beyond Rim Drive, here are 10 things to do to experience the real park.
    1. Hike to the Mount Scott fire tower. Grab your hiking poles, because this 2.5-mile walk gains 1,500 feet in elevation. At 8,929 feet, the Mount Scott summit is the park's highest point. On a clear day, you can see more than 100 miles, including several Cascades volcanoes. A small fire tower at the summit still operates and provides a great place to lunch and rest.
    2. Hike to the Pinnacles. One of the park's geological wonders requires a mere 0.6-mile walk along a wheelchair-accessible trail. This flat trail brings you close to needle-like rock formations, known to scientists as fossil fumaroles. The Pinnacles were formed by escaping hot gases that cemented the surrounding pumice and ash. The softer surrounding material eroded more quickly. To reach the trailhead, drive to the end of the Pinnacles Spur Road, located seven miles southeast of the Phantom Ship Overlook off of Rim Drive.
    3. Ride a boat to Wizard Island and hike the Wizard Island Summit Trail. Though private boats are not allowed in Crater Lake, a commercial boat tour is available from the Cleetwood Cove Landing to Wizard Island. Six two-hour "standard" trips travel around the lake daily and cost $35 per person. If you'd like to get off the boat and explore the island for three hours, the "Wizard Island Tour" costs $45. Tickets are sold at a kiosk in the main lodge and sell out quickly. On the island, hike to the rim of this volcano-within-a-volcano for a 0.9-mile, 700-foot workout. The trip to get to Cleetwood Landing requires a steep, 1.1-mile, 665-foot descent from the Rim Drive. This adventure can easily be a full-day trip.
    4. Fish on Wizard Island. If you're taking the boat trip to Wizard Island, why not take your fishing rod along and kick back until the boat returns to pick you up? Although the stocking of Crater Lake ended in the 1960s, remnant rainbow trout and kokanee may still bite your lures. Leave your live bait behind, as that's illegal here, but catch as many fish as you want, and of any size. No need for a permit to fish here.
    5 & 6. Waterfalls and wildflowers. Snowmelt brings on waterfall season, and waterfalls provide a high diversity of micro climates and wildflower diversity. With a 200-foot cascading drop, Vidae Falls is the park's most celebrated — and accessible — waterfall in the park. Though you can see it from Rim Drive a mere three miles from Government Headquarters, consider leaving the car and walking the short trail to get up close and personal.
    The wildflowers here are unparalleled within the park. If you walk downhill from your car while you're at Vidae Falls, you'll find two smaller, little-known falls on Sun Creek a quarter mile away. The 1.1-mile Plaikni Falls trail takes you to a secret waterfall. Built in 2011, this trail is too new for many guidebooks.
    7. Snowshoe the rim. Park rangers lead guided snowshoe hikes near the rim on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from Thanksgiving through late April. Hikes last two hours and snowshoe rental is free. Hikes fill early, so call 541-594-3100 for reservations.
    8. Birding. Crater Lake is home or a travel corridor for avians in a broad diversity of forest types. Whether you're intent on adding the gray-crowned rosy finch to your life list in winter or can be satisfied with seeing a Clark's nutcracker in the Rim Drive pullouts, pick up a copy of the 158-bird checklist or identification guide at the visitor center — and don't forget your binoculars.
    9. Photography. Since Peter Britt first photographed Crater Lake in 1874, amateur and professional shutterbugs alike have descended on this photogenic spot. For great close-ups looking down on the lake, hike to the top of either the Garfield or Watchman trails. On your boat trip, snap a few shots up at the rim. The Annie Springs Trail offers great views into a steep canyon. The Boundary Springs Trail offers great views of the moss-covered headwaters of the Rogue River.
    10. Ski in from the north entrance. The park offers more than 50 miles of marked, ungroomed cross-country ski trails. From the north entrance, ski south and reach the Pumice Desert after 3 miles. For the more advanced skiers, a nine-mile ski gets you to the north rim, a view that few see in the winter. Snowmobiles are permitted on paved roads, so expect to share the north-rim-to-lake road.
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