A Boat Tour of Crater Lake


There are only five boats permitted on Crater Lake – three tour boats and two research vessels.  And I got to spend two hours on one!

The second full day of our Southern Oregon long weekend was dedicated to a trip to Crater Lake, and the boat tour!  We left first thing in the morning (but not too early, because it was our vacation) for the two hour drive to the lake from our vacation home in Grants Pass, Oregon.

We stopped to check out the upper Rogue River for a few minutes, walking along the river and snapping some photos.  But we couldn’t stay long because we needed to make it up to the lake in time for our tour!

We got to the Cleetwood Cove Trail parking area, and then had to find parking along the road because the parking lot was full!  We checked in at the kiosk (you are required to check in and pick up your tickets before you hike down) and then started down the 1.1 mile trail to the lake.  The trail isn’t too steep, because there are a lot of switchbacks, but there are sections that have lots of loose gravel.  A couple of times my feet slipped on the loose gravel, even though I was wearing my Chaco sandals that have a good sole.

But soon enough, we were down at the bottom, where we checked in again (checking in was quite a theme on this tour…).  We had about 20 minutes to relax at the bottom, eat some snacks, and dip my feet in the water before the boat tour started.  And boy was that water cold!  We got all settled in on the boat and set off for our two hour tour (go to the bathroom before you get on the boat people – there’s no peeing in the lake!).

Our ranger started us off by telling us about the history of Crater Lake, beginning with the Native American oral history that I told you about in my last post.  Then he talked about William Gladstone Steel, and how his efforts are one of the main reasons Crater Lake is a National Park.  After the history talk, the Ranger discussed the geology about how Crater Lake was formed, and the formations that exist on the edges of the caldera and within the lake itself.

The Devil’s Backbone is a dike that was created by lava as it pushed up and filled cracks.  The “backbone” emerged as the softer rock around it is eroded away.  Devil’s Backbone ranges in width from 23 feet to about 50 feet and is the only backbone that goes all the way from the water’s edge to the top of the caldera.

Devil’s Backbone – This shows how much it sticks up!

Devil’s Backbone – This shows how much it sticks up!

Wizard Island is a cinder cone that began to form while the caldera was filling with water.  The top 763 feet of the 2500 foot cinder cone are visible above the surface of the lake.  Aerial photos show where volcanic activity is apparent at the top of the cone.  Depending on which tour you choose, you can get dropped off on Wizard Island and spend some time hiking there.

Wizard Island – the cinder cone shows well on the left, but you can’t see the crater at the top from the boat.

Wizard Island – the cinder cone shows well on the left, but you can’t see the crater at the top from the boat.

The Phantom Ship is an island created by the remains of lava flow.  It is about 500 feet long with a maximum width of 200 feet; the dramatic spires that give The Phantom Ship its name tower about 170 feet above the surface of the lake.  Despite not having much soil, trees make their home there, along with other shrubs.  The Phantom Ship is probably Crater Lake’s most famous landmark.

Mergansers! Swimming around the Phantom Ship

Mergansers! Swimming around the Phantom Ship

The Phantom Ship – Sorry about the people standing in the pic; I was told pushing them in the water was frowned upon.

The Phantom Ship – Sorry about the people standing in the pic; I was told pushing them in the water was frowned upon.

The Pumice Castle is an outcropping of fragmental pumice along the wall of the caldera.  It is striking because of its bright orange color; it sharply contrasts with the gray of the rock around it.  It is another example of how erosion has revealed geologic features at Crater Lake.

The Pumice Castle – Jon loved this because it is orange.

The Pumice Castle – Jon loved this because it is orange.

The Old Man is a Mountain Hemlock trunk that has been floating upright in the lake for more than 100 years.  It is pushed to different areas of the lake by the wind and lake currents, but I don’t think they know why the Old Man bobs along in his upright position.

The Old Man of Crater Lake – a Mountain Hemlock that has been bobbing along upright for over 100 years.

The Old Man of Crater Lake – a Mountain Hemlock that has been bobbing along upright for over 100 years.

 

The tour also explained the water’s clarity, which I discussed in my previous post, and the flora and fauna of the lake.  The Ranger told us that other than ground squirrels, wildlife was not frequently seen near the surface of the lake, because the loose scree made it difficult to travel down the edges of the caldera.  Simply put, the animals aren’t that crazy.

William Gladstone Steel began stocking the lake with fish as early as 1888 and the stocking continued until 1941.  Two species were able to acclimate to the lake and begin reproducing naturally; Kokanee Salmon and Rainbow Trout.  Both of these species are abundant in the lake today.

You can fish to your heart’s content during the season, but there are no organic baits or lures allowed.  And fishing in the Park’s many creeks is prohibited.  The endangered Bull Trout makes its home in those waters, and they are trying to help it make a comeback.

After our two hour tour on the lake, the boat finally motored back to Cleetwood Cove and we were back on dry land.  We still had to make the 1.1 mile hike back up to the rim of the caldera, but it went more quickly than I expected.  Of course, Jon couldn’t wait for us slowskies (me and Jon’s parents), so he powered up to the top and waited for us there.

This is a view of the Phantom Ship from the Cleetwood Cove Trail – not as much detail, but no people in the photo either!

This is a view of the Phantom Ship from the Cleetwood Cove Trail – not as much detail, but no people in the photo either!

We drove over to the concession area, got a snack, and spent some time perusing the gift shop before heading towards home.  A great day – I had a fabulous time on the boat tour and would highly recommend it!

Would you want to take the Crater Lake Boat Tour?

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9 thoughts on “A Boat Tour of Crater Lake

    • Thank you! I agree it was amazing – this was such an awesome boat tour. You can’t beat the scenery, and the lecture about the history and geology was amazing. Reserve online if you are going to go – they are almost always booked up.

      Those mergansers were so funny! They would swim just fast enough to stay in front of us. And when the boat would stop, they did too! That was the only clear picture I got of them because I was on the other side of the boat.

  1. What fantastic photos! I walked to the bottom of Cleetwood Cove Trail to swim on my visit last year and was impressed with the views just from being at lake level but your photos from the boat tour have convinced me I need to go back. The pumice castle is particularly great!

  2. Great to see; was so cold and snowy when we were there I am not sure the boat tours were running. Thanks for the water level view. It was a fantastic visit for us, but you definitely kindled the need to revisit at a warmer time when we can take a boat tour.

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