I was reading an article on our National Parks system. I don’t remember much else about the article, but one little fact jumped out at me. The article sited a study done by the National Parks system that discovered, of all the hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of visitors to a national park, only 3% venture off the well-beaten path to explore other parts of the park. THREE PERCENT! I have only been to one national park, Crater Lake, as it is only a couple hours away, but I realized, I was part of that 97% . It was time for me to dig out all those brochures from the times I had been there before.
I love Crater Lake and have been there multiple times. It is impressive to learn that this serenely beautiful lake, with it’s deep blue color and stunning cliff walls, was birthed from a massive volcanic explosion that obliterated an entire mountain. It has only been the last couple visits that I have begun to explore around Crater Lake. I had a few places on my list already, such as Scott Mountain, the highest peak in the Crater Lake National Park. I noticed this gem on my last visit as I drove past the trailhead. I was surprised to find out the park had multiple waterfalls as well. Of course, as these things always work out, I found many other waterfalls outside the national park, but in the general area. But that will be a story for another time. So, plans were made and opening day was waited for with much anticipation.
For this trip, I wanted to enter in through the southern entrance to Crater Lake National Park. I have only entered through the north entrance. I kept an eye on the reports and waited for snow levels to recede enough for the roads to open up to vehicular traffic (many roads become snowmobile trails during the winter). I wanted to start off in an area far from the lake, and this seemed to fit that criteria. I set off after work (I work a swing shift), found a spot to sleep, and waited for the morning. My first stop was going to be a small wayside trail that went through an area called Godfrey Glen.
Godfrey Glen is a valley where the cliff-faced walls are uniquely shaped by past volcanic processes and modern erosion. The view of columns and spires along the canyon wall is fascinating and begs to be explored. I put on my backpack, grabbed my morning coffee, and set off on a walk down the trail. The Godfrey Glen Nature Trail is a short 1-mile loop through part of the valley. The air was cold and brisk, but the morning sun was very warming. The trail leads you to an old growth area of firs and hemlocks native to this area of Southern Oregon. The trail loops through part of the canyon and returns you back to your starting point. This is a great way to warm up for the hike up Mount Scott.
Mount Scott lies on the east side of the park, overlooking Crater Lake. The trailhead is near a rest stop and has plenty of parking. At 8,938 feet, it is the highest point in the park and offers amazing views for those adventurous enough to charge up the 2.5-mile trail. The trail is well maintained and and offers amazing views on the way up. On the backside of the mountain, one gets to see a wide open valley and plenty of distant alfalfa farms in the communities of Chiloquin and Fort Klamath. Once atop the ridgeline, a 360-degree view can be had, and what a view it is! When you are on the ridgeline, you can see the old fire watchtower. This is the natural ending point of the trail, as it seems to be the natural summit. It also gives hikers a place to rest and enjoy the amazing views. From atop Mount Scott you can see the striking Mt. Thielsen, Mt. Bailey, Mt. McLoughlin, Union Peak, and even Mt. Shasta (in California) and Mt. Hood (on Oregon’s northern border) can be seen on clear days. And, of course, the view of Crater Lake is so much more amazing from a high vantage point. It puts the lake into context with the surrounding area. After having lunch and taking time to appreciate the views, it was time to go find a waterfall.
The closest waterfall is Plaikni Falls. The drive on the eastern rim of the lake is a nice scenic tour of not only the lake, but also the natural landscape that makes up the forests of Southern Oregon. The trailhead is located off Pinnacles Road, a flat paved road that branches off from the drive around the eastern rim of Crater Lake. The trail is a short mile through old growth hemlocks and firs, with amazing views of the the unique cliffs that testify to the volcanic nature of the area. Between the trees, terrain, and the time of day, much appreciated shade can be found on a hot summer’s day. Not long after you begin your hike, the trail begins to follow Sand Creek all the way to the waterfall. This section of the trail is nice and lush with mosses and wildflowers not otherwise abundant in the high deserts of Oregon. Being a national park, they have made sure the trail is wheelchair accessible. It really is, as the trail is wide and hard packed. The waterfall is just as beautiful as the journey up to it. It certainly does not disappoint. This is a relaxing hike after Scott Mountain. At this point, it was late in the day and time to head out.
Vidae Falls is a small waterfall that was along the road on my way back to the southern entrance. The waterfall is one that can easily be viewed from the roadside, but most speed by so fast, they totally miss it. I was looking for it (and going the speed limit), and I almost missed it. Slow down and take in the whole experience. I can’t count the times I’ve watched people walk or drive past amazing things, because they were in such a hurry. If you’re planning a trip to Crater Lake, or any other national park, slow down, set aside a day or two and explore some of the hidden gems and hike up some forgotten trails. You will lose much of the crowd by being the 3% and get to enjoy. As always, slow down, be safe, and take in all the beauty created for us to enjoy!