Crater Lake National Park 

In the grand scheme of geologic time, Crater Lake in Oregon is relatively new. It’s so recent, in fact, that “only” about 7,700 years ago, Native Americans witnessed the eruption of 12,000-foot Mount Mazama, whose pyroclastic materials reached as far as 40 miles away. With no rock to maintain the mountain’s structure, it collapsed and left a giant caldera that turned into the deepest lake in the United States. Due to its depth of 1,943 feet, and its clean water, the lake is one of the most striking blue colors I have ever seen.

Drive the Caldera’s Rim

Crater Lake became a national park in 1902, and one of the best ways to experience the lake from every angle is to drive the 33-mile Rim Drive. With over 30 pull-outs, some marked and unmarked, this isn’t a scenic drive you’ll want to zip through. Plan for two to three hours or more, and keep in mind the road is narrow and shared with tour buses and motorhomes.

One of the stops you’ll want to make sure to see is Discovery Point. It is here that John Hillman, a gold prospector, accidentally stumbled across the lake in 1853 and became the first European-American to see the lake. Others include Pumice Castle Overlook, whose orange pumice has eroded into a shape of a medieval castle, and Vidae Falls, a spring-fed 100-foot waterfall that cascades over a series of glacier-carved cliffs.

Off to See the Wizard

If you are up for a steep trek down into the caldera, arrange to join a ranger-led boat tour to Wizard Island, a cinder cone that formed when the lake filled with water. Trips are around five hours long, and you can cruise around the perimeter of the island. Boats also stop to let passengers go ashore to explore for three hours. I suggest hiking the trail to the island’s summit and having a picnic lunch while taking in the view of the caldera.

Getting There From Bellingham

Fly into: Portland International Airport, Portland, Oregon (flight time: 2.5  hours with connections, then a 5-hour drive)
Drive: Approximately 9 hours

Where to Stay

Two park campgrounds, nps.gov/crla
Crater Lake Lodge, Crater Lake, Oregon, travelcraterlake.com
The Cabins at Mazama Village, Crater Lake, Oregon, travelcraterlake.com

Fees or Permits

Seven-day vehicle pass $25 in the summer; $15 in winter

Places to Eat

Rim Village Café, Crater Lake, Oregon, nps.gov/crla
Annie Creek Restaurant, Crater Lake, Oregon, nps.gov/crla (seasonal)
Crater Lake Lodge, Crater Lake, Oregon, nps.gov/crla (seasonal)

What to See Nearby

Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, Fort Klamath, Umpqua National Forest

What to Do

Rim Drive Trolley Tours, craterlaketrolley.net
Crater Lake Boat Tour, nps.gov/crla
Crater Lake ZipLine, craterlakezipline.com

Events

Ranger-led afternoon hikes, June 30 to September 16, nps.gov/crla
Watchman Peak sunset hikes, July 12 to September 16, nps.gov/crla
Evening programs, June 23 to September 2, nps.gov/crla

Fun Fact

Crater Lake is the ninth deepest lake in the world

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Devils Tower National Monument 

It is hard to put into words the first moment I laid eyes on Devils Tower in northeastern Wyoming. Its mile-long base, a mass of basaltic columns jutted 867 feet into a crystal-clear blue sky, makes everything around it, including the ponderosa pines near the bottom, appear dwarfed. It demanded attention, making it easy to understand why, in 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed this natural wonder America’s first national monument.

Tribal Connections

In 1875, an Army commander gave it the name “Devil’s Tower” which his group had translated from the local tribes to mean “Bad God’s Tower.” But it is believed he mistranslated the name, for the Cheyenne call it “Bear Lodge,” the Arapahoe call it “Bear’s Tipi,” and the Crow call it “Bear’s House.” Regarded by several Native American tribes as a sacred site, there are oral stories about the tower, and many tell of the legend that a bear scratched its claws into the tower to give it its hexagonal columns.

Climb, Hike, and Stargaze

Attending the 20-minute ranger talk at the visitor center is a great introduction to learn more about the tower’s stories, geology, and history. If you want to make the ascent, the tower draws around 6,000 climbers each year (Note: the climbing season closes for June). Permits are free and the roundtrip climb takes around six to eight hours. The technical difficulty rating ranges from 5.7 to 5.13. For those who want to admire the tower from the ground, take the 1.3-mile Tower Trail along the base. The trail wanders past giant boulders and through a ponderosa pine forest where you’ll most likely see branches laced with Native American bundles and prayer cloths. If you stay overnight, attend one of the nightly programs near the campground and afterward, plan to stargaze.

Getting There From Bellingham

Fly into: Rapid City Regional Airport, South Dakota (with connections, a little over 8 hours, then a 2-hour drive)  
Drive: Approximately 19 hours  

Where to Stay

Belle Fourche River Campground, Devils Tower, nps.gov/deto
Devils Tower KOA, Devils Tower, devilstowerkoa.com
Devils Tower Lodge, Devils Tower, devilstowerlodge.com (the owner claims to have climbed Devils Tower more than 2,000 times!) 

Fees or Permits

$25 per vehicle for a seven-day pass  

Places to Eat

Devils Tower Trading Post, devilstowertradingpost.com
Campstool Café & Sweets, devilstowerkoa.com 
Devils Tower View,devilstowerview.com 

What to See Nearby

Jewel Cave National Monument, Wind Cave National Park, Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park  

What to Do

Climb Devils Tower, nps.gov/deto (climbing closed during June) 
Red Beds Trail, 2.8-mile loop, nps.gov/deto 
Circle of Sacred Smoke Sculpture, nps.gov/deto 

Events (Dates TBA)

Night Sky Programs, nps.gov/deto 
Summer Cultural Programs, nps.gov/deto 

Fun Fact

  1. Chipmunks, pack rats and snakes have been found on the top of Devils Tower.
  2. When Roosevelt signed the proclamation, the apostrophe in “Devil’s Tower” was mistakenly left out, so its official name does not have one.

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"It is hard to put into words the first moment I laid eyes on Devils Tower in northeastern Wyoming."