Lassen Volcanic National Park to Crater Lake National Park: Winter Arrives in Summer

Lassen Peak, Lassen Volcanic National Park

Munson Ridge, Crater Lake National Park

On Monday, September 16, we woke into a world that could hardly have been more different than the warm and sunny afternoon we’d enjoyed the day before. Over the next few days, as our trip shifted northward from California into Oregon, the weather also shifted, from summer to what felt like winter. It altered the trajectory of our trip, and it added a flavor of adventure that was reminiscent of the sudden cold snap in our during our trip to the Dakotas five years earlier.

Image: Sean M. Santos

Not only did the forecasted rain begin overnight, the first wave of thunderstorms rolled through at 4am. By the time it was light, strong winds and driving rain had pushed some water into our tent.

After having a look, I went back to sleep, but Sean didn’t. Instead he lay in his sleeping bag orchestrating the best plan for our departure.

Once I woke up again, we got to work. We climbed out of our sleeping bags. Sean darted to our vehicle and grabbed the cardboard box we’d used for food while I used our stuff sacks in the tent to grab things we didn’t want to get wet (phones, books, etc.). Once the tent was empty, we dropped it. The fly and footprint and bottom of the tent were sopping. Sean dumped everything in the cardboard box and put it in the Cadillac. We spread our deflated and damp sleeping pads out on in the back to dry. We’d worry about the tent later. Hopefully it wasn’t raining at Crater Lake and we’d be able to dry them out in camp there as we had once done at Denali.

Once the tent was down, we tackled the remaining food in the bear box. We did not relish preparing breakfast in a downpour, particularly when the restaurants of Redding were really less than an hour away. So we decided to break our fast there. Unfortunately, the huge puddle in front of the bear box made it difficult to access without getting a hot foot. We eventually got everything out of there too. By 8:30 we were on the Lassen Park Highway.

Lassen Peak

What greeted through the rain and mist on the highway was snow at the higher elevations, and by higher I mean not very much higher than our campground. There was the shoulder of Lassen Peak covered in snow.

We continued on to the Loomis Museum at Manzanita Lake at the Park’s northwest corner. The crusty volunteer at the front desk was on the phone going on about something. When she was finished with her call, we walked up to the desk to purchase a few final souvenirs. We got chatting, and she remarked that she was shocked that the park highway was not closed.

She asked us where we were headed next, and when we replied that we were going to Crater Lake she said, “Oh you better hope they’re not getting snow.”

Great Horned Owl. Image: Sean M. Santos

Oof. The weather had been so lovely the whole trip that we’d not quite considered the chance that some rain and snow in Lassen would actually mean a late summer arrival of wintry weather throughout the southern Cascades. We resolved to check conditions at Crater Lake once we had cell service again down in Redding.

With that, we said goodbye to Lassen Volcanic, a just brilliantly lovely National Park that we hope to visit again soon.

We stopped outside the Park in Shingletown to drop off our postcards at the post office. Then we descended in earnest into the upper Sacramento Valley.

As we descended, we listened to an NPR classical station. The lower we got, the warmer the air became. Our goal was a breakfast joint near downtown called Trendy’s.

Over omelets and corned beef hash we planned our next move. The forecast for Crater Lake was the low thirties, so just around freezing. We had a soaking wet tent in the car. We knew that putting up a sopping tent in freezing weather was a recipe for disaster. So we hopped onto the Crater Lake Lodge website (Aramark holds the concessionaire contract for Crater Lake National Park) to see if we could grab a room. There was nothing available for all three nights that we were scheduled to camp in the Park, but there was one last room available for that night. We decided to book it. Once the reservation went through, we finished up our breakfast, paid the bill, and prepared to head north to Oregon.

In planning our route north, I thought that today would be the day that we would visit Los Bagels, recommended by Ang at REI, but then I realized that Los Bagels was actually back in Eureka. Sean was disappointed, and I was sad with myself that I’d managed to fuck up visiting any of Ang’s recommendations.

We did, however stop at a JoAnn Fabrics, where I was determined to collect supplies for the stuffed toy Banana Slug that I was designing in my mind.

Image: Sean M. Santos

I figured that tomorrow morning while Sean took his big multi-hour work call, I could pass the time sewing together a Banana Slug.

Image: Sean M. Santos

The three and a half hour drive from Redding to Crater Lake was pretty fucking spectacular. Redding is near the northern end of the immense Sacramento Valley. As we headed north on I-5, soon we entered the Cascades, here all but blending with the coast ranges. We entered Shasta-Trinity National Forest and passed the reservoir, Shasta Lake, formed by the impoundment of the Sacramento River.

Soon we began to get glimpses of volcanic Mount Shasta looming ahead. At 14,179 feet, Shasta is the second-southernmost of the great chain of volcanoes strung along the Cascades.

Mount Shasta

We stopped for gas in Mount Shasta City off the interstate and took the opportunity to get some good views of the mountain. “Shasta” was our name for the entire trip, since the three Parks we were visiting surround the huge mountain to the northwest, southeast, and north. This was our moment to say hello to the magnificent mountain.

Shortly after, we turned off I-5 and headed north onto US-97. This route took us in an arc through the Cascades and around the north side of Shasta. We emerged into the sagebrush sea in the eastern foothills of the Cascades and then headed north out of California and into Oregon. I pulled over to cut some roadside sage to take home, but this late in the season it wasn’t particularly fragrant.

Shortly before we arrived in Klamath Falls, Oregon, we rejoined the route of the Klamath River, which we’d watched flow into the Pacific the previous week. The city of Klamath Falls, population 21,000, sits near the southern end of Upper Klamath Lake, from which the river flows.

After we drove through town, US-97’s route followed the eastern shore of the lake and north into the Cascades again.

At Chiloquin, we turned onto OR-62 which led us toward Crater Lake.

The clouds were low and dark, although there were a few glimpses of blue sky in the distance. We stopped by a National Park Service pullout along the road (although we were still far outside the Park), which showed an illustration of vanished Mount Mazama. Before it exploded about 7,700 years ago, Mount Mazama’s elevation was about 12,000 feet. Now the rim of Crater Lake rises to about 8,000 feet. The lake is almost 2,000 feet deep. So the eruption collapsed at least 6,000 feet of mountain. Damn.

The cloud cover was too low for us to see the remains of Mount Mazama from this vantage point. Nevertheless, the foothills and ranch lands were atmospheric on this dramatically cloudy day.

Image: Sean M. Santos

Klamath Lake sits at about 4,100 feet. The south entrance of the Park is at 4,400. So we had just barely begun to gain elevation when we entered the Park.

Welcome to our thirty-third National Park.

Almost as soon as we began rising in elevation, the weather turned nasty. First rain. Then by the time we left OR-62 and turned onto the park road, snow.

The cold, wet Ranger at the entrance station wanted to make sure we knew that there was basically no visibility at the rim before we paid the entrance fee. We told him that we had a reservation at the lodge, so he said, “Oh ok” and took our money. He also said that the best chance we might have that afternoon of actually seeing the lake would be on the east end of the Rim Drive. But even that would be very hit or miss. We thanked him and continued driving up the rim.

Munson Ridge

Up on Munson Ridge, just south of the Rim Village area, it was snowing fairly earnestly, and the visibility was nonexistent.

Munson Ridge

We arrived at the lodge and found a parking spot. There was a lot of bustle for a late-season Monday in miserable weather. At the front desk, the handsome young clerks checked us in and explained that our room did not have a shower. Wait, what? “It’s an old room and it has a bathtub, but it doesn’t have a shower,” and he made an arching gesture with his arm to indicate a showerhead. He apologized and said it really was the last room available. We assured him it was fine. It was also room 313, which as native Detroiters, Sean and I thought was cute. Keys in hand, we headed up to the third floor.

It was a great little room that felt like a garret. Very old-timey without over doing it.

And the bathtub was a clawfoot soaking tub. That would do nicely.

We went back down to the car and gathered a mishmash of things to take up to the room. We checked back in at the front desk and inquired about any availability for the next two nights, but the handsome clerk said no. Well, we’d just have to figure something out. We still had our campground reservation. But we we also still had a wet tent.

Back in the room, Sean set things up for his morning work call. The wifi was, unfortunately, awful. And his service was not great. But his firm had set him up with hotspots for multiple carriers, and through one of them, he was able to get passable internet.

Image: Sean M. Santos

The above image, taken from our room, would usually be a great view of Crater Lake.

Western Mountain Ash

Image: Sean M. Santos

Meanwhile, I checked at the dining room about dinner. They were full up for reservations from 5-8pm, but they’d begin to take walk-ins at 8pm. Ok, that was weird, but fine.

We gave up any idea of trying East Rim Drive to see the lake. I poured some gins and tonic and drew myself a hot bath.


Later while Sean bathed, I found us lodging for the next two nights, barely half an hour away at the Sleep Inn in Chiloquin. We were all set.

Scrubbed and dressed for dinner, we went down to the dining room a bit before 8pm. They said to try back for a table around 8:15. While we waited we sat in the Great Room of the lodge and ordered drinks and appetizers.

By 8:30, we were seated and enjoying gnocchi and chowder and other yummy comfort foods for a blustery snowy summer night.

After dinner, we headed back to the room to snuggle and relax in a warm bed, which truly was far superior to a literally frozen tent.

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