A grand old lodge and a lake of cerulean blue make this trip an all-time classic.
DRIVE TIME: 5 HOURS
Find it on the map
AFTER THE MAD RUSH of visitors who flock to Crater Lake in the summer (filling up its campgrounds and clogging the lookouts along its famous Rim Drive), autumn signals a more peaceful time for Oregon’s iconic national park—which makes it the best time to visit. You probably know that the lake (actually the crater of an extinct volcano) is the country’s deepest, at 1,943 feet, but you may not know that surrounding this blue gem are 90 miles of hiking trails, most of which receive hardly any foot traffic at all—especially now. Pick the right path, like Watchman Peak Trail, and you’ll be surrounded by evidence of the area’s volcanic past—black lava rock, slopes of cream-colored pumice, and red cinder cones that tower up to 900 feet overhead. —LH
Friday, 6 p.m.
Check-In: Crater Lake Lodge
For the most dramatic introduction to the park, opt to arrive through the north entrance, via Route 138: The road passes through lonesome high-desert scenery before climbing onto the rim, where you’ll have a perfect shot of the lake. You’ll find the 94-year-old Crater Lake Lodge on the water’s edge, and though the 73 rooms are small (and telephone-free), those on the north side boast lake views. We suggest an evening spent on the veranda, dining on small plates of wild salmon satay. $143–$260; 888-774-2728; www.craterlakelodges.com
Saturday, 9 a.m.
The 33-mile Rim Drive is really less about driving than it is about gawking. More than 30 pullouts along the route let you get out of your car and do exactly what you should do: Stare at that cool blue lake, mouth agape. At an elevation of 7,700 feet, Cloudcap Overlook, on the eastern side, is the highest viewpoint. While you’re on the east rim, take a quick seven-mile side excursion to the Pinnacles, a canyon filled with hundreds of volcanic, fossilized spires. Made of ash and pumice, the bizarre formations are between 50 and 100 feet high, giving the landscape a distinctly Planet of the Apes feel.
Saturday, 2 p.m.
Garfield Peak Trail
Ditch the car and hit this 1.7-mile hike that starts east of the lodge and is named after Teddy Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Interior, James Rudolph Garfield, who visited the park in 1902. The steep incline keeps many tourists away—which means you may be able to enjoy some of the park’s best scenery largely by yourself, including a perfect view of the rock formation known as “Phantom Ship” that sits near the southeast shoreline of the lake.
Saturday, 7 p.m.
Dinner at Crater Lake Lodge
Before you head south, make a reservation for dinner at Crater Lake Lodge. As is the case at most national park lodges these days, which are typically run by large corporations—Xanterra Parks & Resorts, in this case—the food may not be memorable (think seafood fettuccini alfredo). But that hardly matters when there’s that lake right outside the window, and, on chilly eves, a fire roaring in the great stone fireplace. www.craterlakelodges.com
Sunday, 9 a.m.
Volcano Boat Tour
Owing to the steep walls that form the caldera of Crater Lake, the National Park Service has managed to carve just one trail that leads to the water’s edge. That makes the Cleetwood Cove Trail, a 1.1-mile hike through a forest of mountain hemlock and Shasta red fir, a must. (Note, however, that the 700-foot elevation change means the return trek is a beast.) If you can handle the 50-degree water, you can swim in the cove. Just don’t disturb the fishermen going after rainbow trout and kokanee salmon. This is also the place to catch the Volcano Boat Tour, a two- to four-hour lake excursion that will drop you off at Wizard Island—which is actually the top of a cinder cone. Boat tours run through Sept 14; $36 with a Wizard Island stop, $26 without; purchase a day in advance at Crater Lake Lodge; www.craterlakelodges.com