National Park Road Trip 2011: Crater Lake Lodge
Editor's note: Leaving Oregon Caves National Monument behind, lodging experts David and Kay Scott returned to the snowbelt, heading to Crater Lake National Park, which has had a very impressive winter in terms of snowfall, to update their book, The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges.
It is approaching mid-June and much of Crater Lake National Park remains blanketed with snow. National Park Service headquarters received 55 feet of snow this winter and pretty much remains buried under a white umbrella of the stuff.
The rim where Crater Lake Lodge is located generally receives even more snow than the lower elevation at park headquarters, so you can imagine the scene here. A snow bank across from the lodge must be 20- to 25-feet high.
The drive from Oregon Cave National Monument to Crater Lake is an easy 160 miles, so we didn’t depart the Chateau at Oregon Caves until mid-morning. We took our time and stopped for gas ($3.89/gallon) and groceries in Grants Pass. We forgot to mention the price of gasoline declined about 20 cents per gallon when we crossed the California border into Oregon. One oddity, as progressive as Oregon seems to be, drivers are not permitted to pump their own fuel. We are unsure of the reasoning behind this. We seem to remember that New Jersey is the only other state that has the same restriction.
Crater Lake, the centerpiece of this national park that was established in 1909, is the remnant of a collapsed volcano. The crater is in the heart of the magnificent Cascade Range that runs from northern California to southern British Columbia. The scenic drive that circles the lake remains closed by snow. A ranger told us the western side of Rim Drive might open within a couple of weeks. With Rim Drive being closed by snow, the next leg of our trip with be more lengthy because we have to exit the park on the south side even thought we want to drive north.
Crater Lake National Park offers two very different lodging options, both operated by Xanterra Parks & Resorts. Mazama Village Motor Inn consists of 40 identical motel-type units just inside the park’s south entrance station. The village, about 8 miles from Crater Lake’s rim, includes a market, gas station, Laundromat, and a relatively new restaurant and gift shop. Rooms at the motor inn are about $25 per night cheaper than the least expensive rooms at Crater Lake Lodge. The location at a lower altitude means warmer temperatures than on the rim, although the area isn’t particularly scenic.
Crater Lake Lodge has always been one of our favorite national park lodges. Situated directly on the rim of beautiful Crater Lake, views from the back porch and many of the rooms are quite spectacular. At least the views are spectacular during most of the season. At present the views from the back porch are blocked by a high snow bank that also obscures lake views from first-floor rooms.
The lodge has an interesting history and was at one time headed for demolition. The building was completed in 1915 using what apparently were shoddy construction techniques resulting, in part, by lack of adequate financing. The result was a lodge that looked good on the outside, but suffered from major electrical, plumbing, and structural problems. The region’s hostile climate certainly contributed to the building’s accumulation of problems until, in 1989 the lodge was closed to guests. A major $15 million government-financed restoration started in 1991 resulted in a reopening of the lodge four years later. The completion was a year prior to our first stay during the summer of 1996.
Room prices vary depending on room size, view, and bedding. As you might expect, rooms with a lake view are more expensive than rooms on the opposite side of the building with a valley view. Least expensive are four economy rooms on the bottom floor that rent for $158 per night. These frequently have no view at all because of snow piled next to the building. At the high end are two-story loft rooms that can accommodate four adults and rent for $288 per night. Most majority of the rooms rent from $190 to $220 per night.
The best part of a stay at Crater Lake Lodge is enjoying the Great Hall that attracts guests who wish to read, play cards, or enjoy a glass of wine and a conversation.
The focal point is a huge stone fireplace that is lit each evening. Granted, the fireplace has gas logs, but the ambiance of a fire on a cool night remains. Lodge guests enjoy relaxing in the Great Hall and in rocking chairs scattered along the back porch that spans a large section of the building.
Following a two-night stay, we'll leave Crater Lake Lodge and head north for Mount Rainier National Park. In between we are hoping to get in a couple of nights of camping. One is likely to be along the Columbia River, where it should be considerably warmer. Weather permitting, we will camp another night in a U.S. Forest Service campground northwest of Yakima. Then we are scheduled for a two-night stay in Mount Rainier, one in at Paradise Inn and the other at National Park Inn. The lodges of Mount Rainier National Park will be the subject of our next note.