backpack: Crater Lake in the winter
Crater Lake averages 44 feet of snow each year, and is a great winter snow backpacking location since it’s the only time camping on the rim is allowed.
Day 1 – drive and hike in
Two friends who had backpacked at Crater Lake a few years ago invited me to join them on a trip. We arrived on Friday afternoon and checked in at the park’s ranger station (located in the Steel Visitor Center) to obtain a backcountry permit, required for overnight stays. Having visited Crater Lake several times in the summer, it was strange seeing how high the snow levels were. The Visitor Center was buried with snow, with the entrance located on the side of the building instead of the front.
From there, we drove to Rim Village to park our car and load up the pulk (sled) that my friend had just constructed for winter backpacking.
We put on our fully loaded backpacks and snowshoes and headed out on the trail that is the park’s West Rim Road in the summer. It was a warm, sunny and clear day, with great views of the lake. Once we got past the initial roped off area that most of the tourists stick to, it was just the three of us and a few other snowshoers and cross country skiers.
We hiked in about 1.5 miles and setup camp next to the rim, then had a quick dinner before it got too dark.
Day 2 – more snowshoeing
The next morning, we got up at sunrise to enjoy the views and have breakfast next to the rim.
Saturday was another warm and sunny day, so we snowshoed for about 2 miles to the south side of The Watchman, stopping for lunch at a viewpoint directly across from Wizard Island.
Back at our campsite, my campmates built a snow kitchen, with a curved bench wrapping around an area for our campfire. Having a campfire while backpacking is quite a treat, especially in the winter. To minimize our impact on the environment, we used an aluminum firepan so we could pack out all of the ash.
Day 3 – hike out
Overnight, we could hear the winds increasing, just as the forecast had predicted. It was foggy in the morning, with low visibility. We were lucky, however, that the rain held out until after we had our packs and sled ready for the snowshoe hike back out. It started raining heavily on us as we hiked out, with the wind blowing the rain sideways. By the time we reached the parking lot, we were soaking wet. We did a quick change of clothes at the Rim Village gift shop before returning the permit to the ranger station and heading back on the long drive home.
Snow camping is definitely more exhausting than summer backpacking, but there’s no arguing that winter is a fantastic time to see Crater Lake, and getting to experience it for two nights is indeed something I won’t forget.