If unicorns were real, they would migrate to Crater Lake during the winter months.
Crater Lake is the 5th oldest national park in the United States. With a lake depth of 1,943 feet, it is the 9th deepest lake in the world. Being Oregon’s only national park and one of natures’ masterpieces, it’s a huge tourist attraction over summer. Everyone will tell you the best time to visit is during summer. If you asked me last year, I would have wholeheartedly agreed. The summer season allows you to drive around the entire crater rim, keeping extra toasty while absorbing the beauty.
But recently I had a change of heart. During a 72hr break from the snow, rain and clouds at the national park, we decided to drive the 5 hours from Portland to the lake on a Monday evening after work. When we arrived a little after midnight, we were greeted with millions of stars.
Although the lake was difficult to see in the dark, the moon brought out the brightness of the stars. With only 2-3 cars at the park, we were left with sounds of the wind howling through the trees and the crunchy snow beneath our feet. Having never been to the lake during the winter months and arriving at night, climbing up the snowpack to see the lake at first seemed arduous. However, we quickly found a mellow slope up the snow bank and near the rim.
After messing around the lake for a few hours under the stars and taking a quick nap, we were ready to snowshoe under the sunlit crater.
The once clear roads were now snowshoeing, skiing and snowboarding territory for the winter months. The 8-9 feet of snow covering the roads explains why the park usually closes the north, east and west crater rim roads for the winter – keeping open only the Rim Village.
Snowshoeing around allows you to emerge at any point and see a new beautiful angle of the lake. There are no tour buses, no full parking lots and no “No Parking” signs, as you would find during the summer. However, you should still be cautious while navigating the crater rim because when you walk to the edge, chances are you are standing on snowpack that is hanging over the rock it has accumulated on. Go too far and you may slide down.
After a few hours of exploring the crater rim, we encountered only one soul. It felt as if we had the park all to ourselves. We heard more birds than people, which says a lot when, on average, over 450,000 people visit the park each year.
Even after one day, I am ready to go back to Crater Lake during the winter. It’s a different kind of beauty – delivering a magical feeling. Everything that is there during summer is hidden by the snow, providing a tranquil feel. On the weekdays, there is practically no one around and absolutely no worries about where to park to get a view. You simply explore the crater as much as your heart desires.
Written by Michael Demidenko
Follow Michael on Instagram: @michael_goesoutside