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National Park Road Trip 2011: Crater Lake Lodge

It's difficult not to be attracted to the view from Crater Lake Lodge. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

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.

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Crater Lake Lodge. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

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. 


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The Great Hall of Crater Lake Lodge. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

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.


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The Great Hall Fireplace in Crater Lake Lodge originally exhibited a lodgepole log
fire which provided sufficient heat radiating both outward into the room and up
the chimney.  Such a real log fire was burning when the newly contructed lodge
reopened in May 1995 following six years of closure and complete reconstruction.
The exterior stone is from from the earlier lodge, but little else is exhibited in the newly reconstructed current version of the Historic Lodge. 
The interior ponderosa pine bark slabs are from the 1915 original lodge.  However,
the new fireplace propane fire is a great disappointment to many
visitors since the heat is barely noticeable and the incomplete combustion coats
the originial larger fireplace stones with soot so now colder downdrafts blow soot particles
into the interior. Propane fireplace fires are not historic.  Among the other historic flaws
built into the new Lodge is the amazingly small original dining room which makes seating
guests for the evening meal a nightmarish nightly occurrence.  Also, the Lodge roof
was shingled with highly flammable cedar which is probably the major reason real
log fires are not longer permitted since a roof fire from hot embers is feared
(although surprisingly that never occurred in the orginial lodge shingled roof).
The Lesson from these observations is that building old flaws into a new structure simply
because they were part of the original historic structure makes little sense and is
very expensive in multiple ways.  The NPS needs to adopt a new steel roofing material
design which does not burn, remembles historic wood shingles and sheds heavy loads of
compacted snow and ice (which tend to behave as a small glacier tearing away wooden roofing shingles).

"Least expensive are four economy rooms on the bottom floor that rent for $158 per night."

I guess I have a different view of what "economy" means ... Yikes!

The fireplace burner unit was replaced during our stay at Crater Lake Lodge after which the fireplace began producing quite a bit of heat from flames that were much larger than during our previous stays.    Still, like Anonymous, we prefer wood to gas.

Guests at Crater Lake Lodge should be aware that Xanterra Parks and Resorts is now owned by Phil Anschutz of Denver:  Prices will only increase since our public national park accomodations are being "sold to the wealthy visitor." 

So, Mike, you have yet to see the future inflated costs for rooms.

Xanterra Parks has a very disappointing record of treating selected employees as "slave labor" and to date has been far worse in CRLA Lodge cleanliness than the previous CRLA Lodge management, Crater Lake Company, whose employees generally took greater pride in their mission serving the visitor.

The National Park Service managers have little Voice in the matters since wealthy corporate lawyers know how to lobby Congress.  CRLA Lodge today would not exist if NPS Management had their way during the late 1980 period when little maintenance in the original CRLA Lodge resulted in NPS choosing to demolish the Historic Strtucture.  However, both Memories among the historian community and the fact that Oregon had Senior Senator Mark Hatfield came to the funding rescue and found the estimated $33 million in total estimated costs to rebuild.  Today that spending would be labeled "pork" meaning wasteful of taxpayer funds, but I am certain that many visitors who enjoy CRLA LODGE Today would not
call an investment in Oregon's Natural Historic and Cultural Hertitage tourism a waste of taxpayer funds.

Had the NPS Management been truly professional and organized in planning during Mark Hatfield's senatorship, Crater Lake NP, now 109 years old, Oregon's only large National Public Park, would also have a first class visitor center to educate and communicate the value of  CRLA Park's natural resources to all visitors. Today, CRLA PARK demonstrates how Humanity and Nature may co-exist in Harmony: the fact that Crater Lake is one of Earth's cleanest  bodies of fresh water serves as testimony.

Read more: Anschutz to buy Xanterra Parks & Resorts | Denver Business Journal

This comment was edited to remove copyrighted material that can be read via the link to the Denver Business Journal. -- Ed.

I certainly enjoyed my visit. However - as a friend told me before I left, you go there, you see the lake, and what else is there really? I know there's are some trails, but not terribly extensive with a lot of mid-distance loops for day hiking. I could easily see myself spending a week at Yosemite or Yellowstone, but Crater Lake not so much. Before I left I was a bit surprised to find out that visitation numbers at Crater Lake NP are relatively low (about 400K annual visit), but then I figured it wasn't that close to population centers and didn't have a lot of supporting infrastructure like Yellowstone or Grand Canyon.

I suppose the best way to spend some quality time at Crater Lake is to take one of the boat tours and perhaps get off on Wizard Island.

Also - motorcyclists are allowed to pump their own fuel in Oregon. That's the only exception.

There are alternative LESS EXPENSIVE Lodging options in the Crater Lake neighborhood:
Fort Klamath, only 23 miles from the Rim (SE located in the Upper Klamath Lake Basin)
offers The Aspen Inn, Jo's Motel, Crater Lake Resort and one
Bed & Breakfast  (also closer are the historic Wilson's Cabins, about 18 mi. from the Rim)

THIS HISTORIC 1863 MILITARY FORT Community rests at the same elevation, ca. 4,200 ft.
at the floor of Crater Lake; so, all the wells in the upper valley are artesian.  Crater Lake
itself, over 21 square miles of fresh water and 1950 ft. deep, receives all its water from
precipitation, mostly snow, and loses approx. half to evaporation, and the other half to
seepage: so, Crater Lake is truly the Birthplace of Rivers such as the Wood near Ft. Klamath.
and the Klamath River meandering its way toward the coastal redwoods of northern California,
south of Crescent City, CA.  Along the western watershed begins the Rogue River with one
branch flowing from Boundary Springs, NW Corner, CRLA  NP.  Nearby lies Diamond Lake Resort
Lodge community on national forest and offers both dining & lodging all year plus summer camping too.

Several more thoughts on Crater Lake Lodge from recent inquiries;  although the impression is given that
Crater Lake Lodge was merely renovated, truly it was completely rebuilt.  There was no complete
basement foundation in the old lodge as there is today with service kitchen and storage rooms.  The actual
chosen site was seriously questioned for safety since the new Lodge is built in the same location
too close to the edge where Model T Fords would attempt to drive about 1910 having reached the Rim from
an old road track (now call the Raven Ski Trail) still visible near the beginning of the Garfield Peak Trail.
The edge of the caldera wall is not that
stable geologically and the fear has been continual landslides below as occurred historically to the east and
seen today as the broad Chaski Slide (believed now to have been triggered by the last major Pacific NW
coastal subduction Zone EARTHQUAKE in late January of the year 1700).  It would have been wiser
to have relocated the new Lodge farther away from the caldera edge rather than build in its historic location.
Historic compromises were necessarily made for safety such as the new elevator system not known
in the old lodge which had community bathrooms with limited number of private baths.  Those visitors who may have recently stayed in the non-renovated Many Glacier Lodge of Glacier NP. may have experienced rooms and hallways similar to the old CRLA Lodge. 

As reported earlier, the exterior small stone  (including the larger fireplace stone)
are from the earlier Historic Lodge, but little other original building material is exhibited in the newly reconstructed current version of the Historic Lodge. The old lodge had over 100 rooms with an upper attic space for employees to room whereas today's Lodge only has 71 rooms.  Finally, an entire new sewer system had to beexcavated and installed to avoid any potential contamination of Crater Lake's water. 
Frequently, during heavy summer visitation in the 1960's-1970's periodraw sewerage was seen seeping/overflowing from the historic Lodge septic tank situated in a porous swale near the beginning of the Garfield Pk.Trail; obviously detected by its obnoxious odors and only 700 vertical feet above the deepest and purest freshwater lake in the USA.

I am happy to see the traffic and engaged discussion about Crater Lake on this site.  As the park superintendent I would like to address a few of the issues raised here.

One commenter stated there was not much to do at Crater Lake but look at the lake.  I disagree. However, I will concede that this park has been developed over the years to encourage driving around the lake to view scenery as the primary visitor activity.  We are going to try to change that. 

Even though the lake and scenery around the caldera are a breath-taking, world class experience, the park has incredible resources beyond the lake and its views.  Many people believe that the lake is a "look but don't touch" experience.  That's not true.  Each year thousands of visitors hike to the lakeshore at Cleetwood Cove to experience the colorful, 2000 foot cliffs from the water level up on a boat tour, or to dabble in the chilly blue waters or dive from a small cliff near the docks. 

Fishing is permitted in the lake without a license for progeny of the rainbow trout and kokanee salmon that have managed to survive in the lake since their ancestors were last planted in the 1940s.  And there are some very large descendents swimming in those waters today! 

In July and August, meadows and riparian areas, or even roadside gravel embankments, are a riot of profuse, colorful wildflowers. The Castle Crest Wildflower Garden trail near headquarters is recently renovated and easy to access.

Spring and summer birding is excellent inside the park and even more incredible in the marshlands and lakes surrounding it.  Eagles and peregrine falcons nest in or around the caldera walls and are sometimes seen hunting or soaring near the lake. Though wildlife is not as abundant as Yellowstone, visitors who venture from the roadway might easily glimpse elk, deer, pikas, marmots, porcupines or even an occasional black bear.  And the golden mantle ground squirrels are as abundant and entertaining as ever throughout. 

Although there are not a lot of mid length hiking trails, we are working on developing a comprehensive trail plan to address this issue.  This year we will open a new, 2.2 mile round trip, accessible trail to Plaikni Falls; a little known waterfall nestled in a beatiful riparian area near the cliffs of Anderson Bluff in the eastern section of the park.  Hopefully, more opportunities will follow to little know but interesting geologic features, lush springs and quiet, dense old growth forest areas. 

The Pinnacles, Pumice Desert and other geologic features abundant across the landscape are fascinating.  The park is used frequently by bicyclists; although biking the rim can be challenging but rewarding.  The decommissioned Grayback Road, an unpaved roadway linking Lost Creek Campground and Vidae Falls, is a quiet and lovely respite away from motor vehicles for mountain bikers, hikers or horseback riders and is also open to visitors wishing to take their pet on a long walk. 

For those less energetic, a new interpretive trolley tour circles the lake six times a day during the summer.  At the end of the day two beautiful campgrounds, cabins and a world class lodge await tired visitors.  Because the park is located in the mountains of western Oregon and away from any significant sources of man-made pollution, the night skies are among the clearest anywhere. 

Star gazers will see an incredible nightly show of the Milky Way, shooting stars and stars of magnitudes never visible in more inhabited areas - reflected in the calm waters of the lake and perfectly taken in from a comfortable rocking chair on the back patio of the lodge.

As to pricing of concession services, all prices inside National Parks are controlled under contract and limited to comparabilty with the same services provided by the private sector in similar facilities.  Some minor adjustments are permitted for additional costs of operating in remote locations, but the law specifies that concessioners are not free to simply charge "what the market will bear." 

We have a comprehensive review and evaluation program in place that constantly monitors costs and quality.  That doesn't mean that a visitor will never have a bad experience, but it does insure that service and prices are fairly consistent and that problems are addressed in a timely manner. 

We don't have $1.00 hamburgers or $49 hotel rooms in parks because the public has told us that they don't want fast food chains or budget motels built inside these magnificent areas.  I can't say I disagree.  Sometimes food service and rooms in the parks seem expensive, but I think if visitors will fairly compare them to what is being charged in similar facilities outside the parks they will see that the value is comparable. 

The current general management on site for Xanterra is very dedicated to meeting visitors' needs and has been most responsive to any comments or complaints received about any of the services they provide.  While no operation is ever perfect, we have found them to be very forward-thinking in developing ways to serve as many of our visitors, from as broad a socio-economic spectrum, as possible.  

Both Xanterra and my management team are open and receptive to any comments, criticism or recommendations from visitors, stakeholders, partners and local communities.  After all, it is your park.  We're just here to take care of it for you.

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