CRATER LAKE - a road trip through natural wonders

Oregon is a truly wonderful state, geographically speaking. There is still so much that I have yet to explore, but so far, I have been blown away. Every National Forest (and trust me, there are literally dozens) gives you a different feel, a different energy... Cheesy? Perhaps, but true. This past summer, my mother and I decided we wanted to explore more of Southern Oregon. More specifically, we NEEDED to see the famed, Crater Lake. Crater Lake is quite a drive from where my family lives in Portland, so it seemed there was not much else to do but make a whole trip out of it! We planned our route as best we could, packed the car with snacks, drinks, and hiking boots and we were on our way.

The roughly 4.5-hour drive hardly bothered us. It's a slow start as you make your way down the I-5 through the rolling farmlands of Salem, Corvallis, and Eugene... But as soon as you begin heading east on Highway 58 the wonders just keep coming at you. We soon passed by Odell Lake and just had to make our first stop. The crystal clear water caught me off guard, making the lake seem more like a giant swimming pool! The water was also surprisingly warm, I could just imagine the most peaceful day floating on a raft, basking in the sun, and splashing around like a little fish. The snowy mountains peaking into view from a distance certainly didn't hurt the serene environment.

Looking out over Odell Lake

I always want more time on adventures, but even if I spent the rest of my life exploring, I doubt I would be able to see all the wonders or partake in all the adventures that are out there. So, for now? Onward! We had places to be. We seemed to pass another majestic mountain dusted with snow, at every turn. At some points, I could hardly believe my eyes. Mount Thielsen especially caught my attention. It had an alarmingly pointy peak that looked as though it might just tip over in a particularly strong gust of wind.

The sharp tip of Mount Thielsen

I don't know if it was simply the time of day or month or year that we went, but the last stretch of highway leading up to Crater Lake was nearly deserted... It gave the whole thing and almost eerie feeling, which actually added to the excitement. It was as though we were on our way to see something spectacular. And we were.

We paid our entrance fee and drove along the winding road until we hit the first viewing point. We really weren't all that sure what to expect. We'd seen pictures, of course, heard it was incredible... Our hopes were high, but boy wouldn't it be unfortunate if it didn't live up to its pristine reputation. Fortunately for us, it exceeded any expectation we could have ever had. That first view is what stays with me. It looked like a painting... The color of the water was impossibly blue, and even as high up as we were, you could easily see just how crystal clear it was.

The incredible Crater Lake

As we stood there, it was hard to fathom just how huge this lake really was. Looking across to the other side, in some ways, reminded me of the Grand Canyon; the way the cliffs looked almost misty in the distance.

The history of Crater Lake is actually very interesting, which makes the amazing views that much more intriguing... Over seven thousand years ago, a volcano known as Mount Mazama erupted. The peak of the volcano collapsed in on itself forming a caldera. Over time, melted snow and rain began to fill up the caldera eventually forming what we know today as Crater Lake. So all of that incredible deep blue water filling up the lake is quite literally rainwater! With a depth of 1,949 feet it is the deepest lake in the United States. Just think about how much rain that really is!

Looking down on Wizard Island in the middle of Crater Lake

We walked along the rim, taking photos at every new view, hoping one could capture just how breathtaking it was. None of them did. We sat for some time on the ledge over looking it all, passersby ogling at the view behind us, everyone just as much in awe as we were. In one way it was peaceful, in another it was electrifying, and inspiring. Nature inspires me more than almost anything else. Being in the midst of amazing places, surrounded by so much beauty makes me want to create. Whether it be writing, painting, music... Anything will do. If you're ever in a creative slump, I don't think there is a better remedy.

Taking in the beauty

There was a beautifully charming lodge along the rim that I would have loved to have stayed in. Waking up and looking out the window and seeing Crater Lake did sound like a dream... In short, even though I didn't actually stay there, I would very much recommend it. But perhaps that will be another trip for me! When it was finally time to leave, we dragged ourselves away from that view and continued on in a slight state of shock.

We had booked a hotel online in the small town of Shady Cove, which is just over an hour south of Crater Lake... However, it is a BEAUTIFUL hour, as most of what you are driving through is sky-scraping evergreens and crystal-clear creeks and rivers. I absolutely love small towns and find them intriguing and enchanting (I'm sure half of you are thinking I'm out of my mind, but what can I say?!) We had a lovely little room at the Edgewater Inn, which sat right on the Rogue River. With summer hanging in the air, and the view of the water from our balcony, the first order of business was obviously a quick sunset dip in the river! The water was frigid and rough in places but oh so worth it!

That evening we ate dinner at a small restaurant by the river, explored the little town, and slept well dreaming of the day's excitement.

The next morning felt like fall might just be creeping into Shady Cove. A soft rain fell, and the sky was grey... But to me, that only added to the adventure. It also made for a perfect day to soak in some hot springs! About an hour and 45 minutes north of Shady Cove, deep in the Umpqua National Forest (which is, without exaggeration, one of the most beautiful National Forests I have ever been to) you will come upon Umpqua Hot Springs. We turned off of the main highway and followed signs leading us along a dirt road to the trailhead. Along the way, we passed by Toketee lake. (If you are interested, there are some great campsites around this lake!) The water here was unlike any lake I had seen! It looked like glass with the slightest touch of green. You could see the clearly the reflection of the mountains and the trees... It was truly stunning. As I said before... Too many amazing places, too little time! So on we went!

Toketee Lake

The trailhead leading to the hot springs is rugged and unkept, with only a few other cars parked along the dirt parking area, which I LOVED! The trail itself was not long. It does take you up a bit of a steep hill as you climb away from the river below, and through the thick trees. A soft mist still hung around us, and the air was crisp and cool. Eventually we made our way through the clearing and came upon the hot springs! Just the view itself took my breath away... Little natural pools protruded from the cliff side, overlooking the stunning river and woods below.

Soaking in Umpqua Hot Springs

The pools are formed, with the hottest at the top of the mountain and as you work your way down the cliff, they gradually get cooler in temperature. As I soaked in the tubs, the minerals made my skin feel so smooth, the mist felt cool on my face. I remember wishing I lived right at the bottom of this cliff... I would end every day with a relaxing soak in these pools. What an amazing place to explore!

Hot Springs and amazing views

The drive back up to Portland was long, but the feeling of accomplishment was strong. It was difficult not to stop at every swimming hole along the Umpqua River, or every waterfall tumbling down from the cliffs... But we sure got our fill. I know I've had a good adventure when I begin planning my next trip back, and what else I want to see, before I've even made it home.

"In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they're still beautiful."

-Alice Walker

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