When you think of wintery weather, Oregon might not be the first state that comes to mind. It certainly wasn’t for me until I visited snowed-under Crater Lake National Park and other snowy, high altitude spots in the Beaver State last week. It was 76 degrees and sunny on the day we left Klamath Falls, Oregon, for the park, which is only 70 miles to the north, and even though I’d been told that Rim Drive, the scenic route around the park, was closed due to snow, I didn’t quite believe it.
To me, it was like being in South Beach on a toasty, warm day and hearing that there was snow in West Palm Beach. But Crater Lake is about 2,000 feet higher than Klamath Falls and sure enough, the place was still buried in snow.
“All the hiking trails are covered in deep snow,” said the park ranger who took our $10 entry fee. “But we rent snow shoes if you’re interested.”
We drove on towards the visitor’s center and were astonished to see huge snowdrifts on both sides of the neatly paved road. Over at the lake’s Discovery Point lookout, it was 41 degrees according to our rental car’s temperature gauge, but when I stepped out of the car, I was almost knocked down by a ferocious wind that made it feel as though it was in the teens. I had brought a hat and gloves but there were a few other hapless tourists there in shorts and T-shirts grimacing in pain.
Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States at more than 1,900 feet (seventh deepest in the world) and the water is remarkably clean. I have never seen a deeper shade of blue in my life and the contrast of the snow against the steep cliffs along the lake makes for an unforgettable view. According to the Moon Guide to Oregon, Kodak used to send apologies along with photos they processed of the lake because their technicians couldn’t believe that the water at Crater Lake was that blue. It is.
Rim Drive was indeed closed after Discovery Point to traffic but that made it pleasant to walk on and although we couldn’t really take advantage of the park’s 90 miles of hiking trails with two kids and no snow shoes, it was delightful to have a national park practically all to ourselves, even if it was bitterly cold and windy.
After leaving Crater Lake, we spent four days in Bend, one of America’s most beautifully situated cities with snowcapped mountains in almost every direction, and had more wintery surprises in store for us. McKenzie Pass, reputed to be one of the most scenic drives in the Cascade Range, was closed due to snow, as was most of the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, despite the fact that it was nearly 80 degrees in nearby Bend.
But only 20 minutes outside Bend, the Mt. Bachelor ski resort was not only open but also busy with skiers. The place remains open through Memorial Day and at this time of year visitors to Bend can ski in the morning and play tennis or golf in the afternoon. For a guy who lives in the flat, boring Midwest, the quick and dramatic changes in altitude and weather are reason enough to get on a plane and head to Oregon.