Sunday, July 27, 2014

Trail takes day hikers along Crater Lake rim

Wizard Island in Crater Lake
Trail Map. Courtesy Crater Lake NPS.

Discovery Point Trail heads to historic spot

No visit to Crater Lake National Park would be complete without a hike along the rim of the dormant volcano where a clear blue lake now sits. The Discovery Point Trail follows the rim, offering views of it through an alpine forest, stopping at the spot where miners first saw the lake in 1853.

Late July and August mark the best time to hike the rim. Expect the trail to be covered in snow from October to early July, though conditions vary somewhat from year to year.

To reach the trailhead, take Oregon Route 62, aka Crater Lake Highway, into the park. Turn onto Munson Valley Road; at the intersection with Rim Road, turn right and stop in the Rim Village parking area. The Discovery Point Trail heads northwestward from Rim Village’s west end where the paved sidewalk turns to a dirt path. The trailhead is unmarked.

The trail heads about the rim of Crater Lake for nearly 1.5 miles (3-miles round trip). Most of the route parallels West Rim Drive.

You’ll walk beneath a forest of mountain hemlock and whitebark pine. Several breaks in the trees allows views of the rim, Wizard Island, and the bluest lake you’ll ever see.

Largest in 500,000 years
The lake sits inside the collapsed remains of an ancient volcano known as Mount Mazama. About half a million years ago, Mount Mazama began to grow with lava flows overlapping one another to form an irregular shaped peak. Some 8,000 years ago, the volcano likely stood as high as 12,000 feet.

Then, around 5700 BC, Mount Mazama experienced its most violent eruption, dropping layers of ash more than a thousand miles away in Alberta, Canada. It was the largest eruption in North American for more than half a million years.

A latter, smaller eruption formed Wizard Island, which rises 764 feet above the water. Other lava domes sit below the lake’s surface.

Then, around 3000 BC, the volcano went dormant, but geologists do expect it to reawaken.

Gold prospecting
Since those eruptions, rain and snow have filled the volcano’s caldera. Crater Lake is North America’s deepest lake at an incredible 1,943 feet.

The minerals brought up by volcanic activity naturally attracted miners. One such expedition led gold prospector John Wesley Hillman in 1853 to become the first Euro-American to see Crater Lake. A plaque now stands at that spot.

Other treasures to be found on the trail include the rim’s ubiquitous golden-mantled ground squirrels and the Clarks Nutcracker, which gathers then hides the seeds of the whitebark pine to eat later. Forgotten seeds sometimes grow into new trees, and so the bird helps continue its own food supply.

The plaque marks a good spot to turn back. If with children, make sure they are careful along the steep edges – it’s 800 feet to the water below.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.