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Oregon Trails

Most Gorgeous Hikes: Crater Lake Is a Winter Wonderland

A winter trip through Crater Lake National Park nets a once-in-a-lifetime photo.

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Oregon’s Crater Lake is gorgeous during the short summers, but in winter, when most of the roads close and turn into snowshoe trails, it’s even better. Last year, I took a friend here to snowshoe the West Rim as his first backpacking trip. We knew it would be a full-on fourth-season outing from the start: The snow beside the road was so deep that the park rangers constructed a ramp from it out of the parking lot, and a storm was blowing in. Three miles from the trailhead, we found a perfect spot to camp at the foot of Watchman Peak, with a view of Wizard Island through a light snowfall. 

After a cold night, we woke up before sunrise. The snow had finally stopped; all was calm in the wake of the storm. Soon, the predawn light painted the landscape with warm reds and oranges. We bundled up, grabbed our cameras, and hiked upwards to find the perfect photo. It was one of the quietest mornings I’ve ever experienced: Just us, the occasional swish of a snow clump sliding off a fir branch, and tantalizing glimpses of the lake. It wasn’t long before we found this incredible view of Crater Lake, its dark blue waters resting beneath an entire forest pillowed in snow and the early morning sun just cresting the horizon. The water was still, only the faintest of ripples breaking the reflected dawn. We set up a picnic and enjoyed our breakfast just steps from this view, feeling like the only people in the entire park.