Tourism is a key part of Southern Oregon’s economy and this year that part is really hurting. So we miss the tourists, even though we don’t necessarily want to be surrounded by them. Which is why we never go to Crater Lake National Park (or any of the other major national parks within a day’s drive) during the summer season. But this year, as some of you may have noticed, is different (and not in a good way). So we decided to test the tourist waters – so to speak – with a loop hike at Crater Lake. From Rim Village, we went down the Dutton Creek Trail, north on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), back up to the Rim on the Lightning Spring Trail, and back to the village on the Rim and Discovery Point Trails, for a 13-mile, 1,400 feet of gain loop.

We could tell things were off when we pulled into the parking area at the Village and found it mostly empty. Granted it was early morning but in a “normal” year this parking lot would probably have never emptied. Going down the Dutton Creek Trail we passed four day hikers and one backpacker coming up.

Going down the Dutton

There’s a campsite at the Dutton-PCT junction (popular with thru-hikers) but this year it’s closed due to lack of maintenance. From this junction, we went north on the PCT. While the Dutton Creek Trail is distinctly a single-track trail, we couldn’t escape the impression that this section of the PCT (and the Lightning Spring Trail) were old wagon roads back in the day – the wide road prism is still distinctive.

North on the PCT through a field of Lupines

The PCT passes through an area burned by the 2004 Bybee Complex Fire. The sight of this devastation was relieved somewhat by the creeks that were flowing through here and by the fields of colorful wildflowers that had sprung-up among the fallen trees.

Into the burned area
One of the tributaries of Bybee Creek flows through the burned area
Fields of Meadow Penstemon
Meadow Penstemon
Union Peak over a field of fallen trees and Penstemons
Continuing north on the PCT

After almost five miles on the PCT (and passing just two backpackers), we crossed Lightning Creek and turned up the Lightning Spring Trail toward the Rim. It wasn’t real hot up here at over 6,000 feet, but it was hot enough to start taking some of the stuffing out of us. Fortunately the Lightning Spring Trail makes a more gradual ascent to the Rim than does the Dutton (which is one reason we did this loop clockwise) and we were able to keep plodding on up.

Crossing Lightning Creek
Up the Lightning Spring Trail
Up the Lightning
Waters from Lightning Spring

Another reason for doing the loop in this direction is that when we reached the Rim with our butts dragging we were instantly revived (partially at least) by our first view of Crater Lake from the pull-out where the Lightning Spring Trail ends at Rim Drive.

Crater Lake with Wizard Island in the foreground and Mount Scott (the park’s high point) on the right
Llao Rock
Llao Rock on left, Wizard Island in center, Mount Scott on right

We started back on the Rim Trail which, painfully, leaves the Lightning Spring pull-out by going directly up the side of Point 7319. Some suffering ensued as we struggle up its north slope. 😦 But then the trail eased-off a lot and we didn’t have to do anymore significant climbing between here and Rim Village. 🙂

On the Rim Trail
Mount Scott in center
Llao Rock in center with Mount Thielsen (1) to the left
Garfield Peak from the Discovery Point Trail

And then we were back at Rim Village. We passed a fair number of people on the Discovery Point Trail between Lightning Spring and the Village – with the most near the Village. Although some appeared clueless about social distancing, the vast majority adhered to it. Which probably didn’t matter too much since there was a delightfully cool 10 knot breeze blowing over the Rim. We expected the parking lot to be full when we got back but it wasn’t. And there was no traffic congestion into or out of the park. So our happiness 😀 at being able to experience Crater Lake in July was tempered somewhat 😦 by the effect this diminished tourism is having on our local economy. We’re hoping that an effective vaccine comes along much sooner than later…

Our Dutton Creek ~ Lightning Spring Loop