Snowshoeing Around the Crater Lake Caldera

Recently, my friend and I circumnavigated the caldera of an ancient volcano. Our four-day snowshoe-backpacking trip around the rim of the Crater Lake was among the most challenging trips we had taken, but it was also among the most rewarding. 

Growing up in Southern Oregon, I would often visit Crater Lake National Park with my family, and seemingly every other family in the US. In recent years, the Park has seen record visitation numbers, with an all-time record of over 750,000 visitors in 2016. My experiences there as a kid were always characterized by the sheer volume of people coming to marvel at the unique geology and gaze into the deep blue mountain lake. 

But this trip was different. After passing a few people near the lodge on our first day, we didn’t encounter another person until the final hours of our fourth day as we neared our starting point. Snowshoeing over 30 miles in pure solitude through one of America’s most beloved National Parks was truly epic and entirely surreal. It felt like the first time I had truly experienced the immensity and the wonder of this wild place!

The great weather gave us stunning views of the Cascades, from Shasta to the Sisters, but the best views were of the gorgeous backcountry surrounding Crater Lake. As we walked around the rim we peered down at the large swaths of roadless forestland that remains unprotected and vulnerable to destructive logging, road building, and other development.

These lands are included in Oregon Wild’s Crater Lake Wilderness Proposal, which would protect 500,000 acres of wild forestland both within and outside the Park boundaries, and ensure that places like the wild forests of Mount Thielsen, the rugged backcountry of Mount Bailey, and the headwaters of the Rogue and Umpqua rivers aren’t developed or logged. By connecting disparate Wilderness areas that have already been protected, the Crater Lake Wilderness Proposal would create a continuous corridor of protected habitat along the southern Cascade crest. Scientists tell us that habitat connectivity will be absolutely critical for Oregon’s native wildlife as they adjust to warmer temperatures and the weather extremes bought by global climate change.

Crater Lake is at the heart of Oregon’s wild country, but large swaths of native old-growth forests in the region still haven’t been protected. More than anything, I walked away from my latest Crater Lake visit with a fresh conviction that this cherished National Park and the wild forestlands that surround it demand protection. Lets #KeepCraterLakeWild!

Alexander Harris is Oregon Wild’s Public Lands Organizer based in Portland, Oregon.