Rides and Destinations: Crater Lake, Oregon
By Joe Berk
What: Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, has the deepest lake in the United States (1,943 feet), magnificent mountain riding and awesome scenery. There’s a $10 park entrance fee, and it’s well worth it.
How to Get There: From the north, take I-5 south, pick up SR 138 east in Roseburg, then take a right onto SR 230, and then turn left onto SR 62, also known as Crater Lake Highway. Crater Lake is about 115 miles from Roseburg. From the south, take I-5 north, take SR 234 east in Gold Hill, and then grab SR 62 north. Crater Lake is about 77 miles from Gold Hill.
Best Kept Secret: It’s not really a secret, and it’s called Oregon. It is a magnificent state with many amazing roads and many amazing destinations. Crater Lake is but one.
Avoid: The winter months, and starting without checking road conditions any other time of the year.
Located in southern Oregon, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and the ninth-deepest lake on the planet. That’s not the main reason for visiting it, though. It’s a beautiful spot, and both the park itself and the ride to Crater Lake make this a magnificent destination.
The ride is challenging for many reasons, including the weather and the elk. It’s cold up there, and encountering snow is not unheard of, even in the summer. Make no mistake: Attempting to visit Crater Lake during the winter months on a motorcycle would be foolish (everything is closed up there during the winter months), and even in the spring and fall, it’s best to check weather and road conditions first.
We rode up to Crater Lake (its elevation is over 7,000 feet) along the North Highway early in the morning. After several days in Oregon, with countless road signs warning of elk, but no elk, I dismissed the warnings as the product of an Oregonian sign maker whose brother is in politics. Until Crater Lake, that is.
That September morning run to Crater Lake was glorious: Frigid clear air, bright blue skies, magnificent pine forests, and a heated vest doing what it was supposed to do. My Triumph Daytona 1200 was purring. That’s when I encountered the biggest elk I had ever seen. He emerged from the forest on the right a quarter-mile ahead, walked onto the highway like he owned it, presented his full profile (you could have nestled a Subaru in those antlers), and then he stared directly at me. I slowed and stopped, a mere 100 yards separating us. He was as big as a horse. It was a real Robert De Niro, “You-talkin’-to-me?” moment. We both froze for perhaps a minute, but it seemed longer as I pondered the space I’d need to turn the Triumph around (it was a deer in the headlights moment, and I was the deer). Finally satisfied he’d won, the big bull elk casually crossed the highway into the forest on the other side. I was about to let the clutch out when three female elk bounced from the forest to follow him across, then another four, then another two, and then maybe another dozen, all female, spaced a few seconds apart.
Crater Lake was no less impressive (magnificent is the appropriate adjective). Patches of snow were still on the ground, and because of the early hour we had the road to ourselves. We rode around the rim of this crystal clear lake, formed 7,700 years ago when Mt. Mazama erupted. We stopped for photos and continued around to descend on the south side of the lake.
That ride down was as exciting as the elk encounter. The road was still in the shade on that fine morning, and it was still icy. We proceeded gingerly (ice racing is not cool on a 600-pound road burner). Concentrating intensely, I thought another yellow motorcycle was attempting a very close pass on my left side. As I wondered what fool would pull a stunt like that in these conditions, I suddenly realized it was me: The rear end of my Daytona was coming around!
The elk, the slipping and sliding, and the cold weather notwithstanding, a trip to Crater Lake should be on your list. The ride into and out of this national park is glorious. It’s a part of the country best enjoyed early in the morning before the tourists converge, and it’s a ride you will not regret. — Joe Berk
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