National Parks Plus Kids: Adventures on Wizard Island

Isabelle, Lucas, and Craig atop the Wizard Island Caldera.

Isabelle, Lucas, and Craig atop the Wizard Island Caldera. Photo courtesy of the Obey family.

“It’s like a crater and a lake.”

That profound observation made by another visitor at Crater Lake National Park provided us with many a chuckle over the next few days. Of course, this fascinating, 1800-foot-deep azure lake is the deepest in the nation and the cleanest in the world and resides within the crater of Mount Mazama, a volcano which literally blew its top some 7,000 years ago. In the middle of the crater and the lake is an island with magic all its own, appropriately named Wizard.

Our adventure on Wizard Island was our most memorable outing at the park, though the kids also enjoyed two other terrific hikes and a mid-afternoon game-playing diversion in the Crater Lake Lodge. But Wizard’s siren song entices park visitors from virtually every stop along the rim drive–calling adventurers to explore and ascend the 760 vertical feet of this omnipresent volcanic cinder cone. We were no different.

We had planned to start our trip with a full-day visit to the island, but were thwarted due to high winds and possible lightning storms. Once we spent the two hours necessary to reschedule for a half-day excursion the following morning, we improvised. The kids finished their Junior Ranger packets and we all hiked up the Watchman Trail to the old fire tower on the caldera rim for a fantastic view of the lake and surrounding mountains. We also hiked the new, easy Plaikni Falls trail to an enticing waterfall–a very enjoyable afternoon adventure recommended by both our kids. By the time we reached Wizard Island the next morning, our kids had the confidence of knowing they had already climbed two-thirds of the altitude of the island to reach the fire tower, and we knew we would have little trouble making the round trip excursion in the time allotted.

In fact, we had plenty of time to picnic under a shade tree Isabelle found, to circumnavigate Wizard’s caldera, and allow Lucas to venture on a solo rim-to-rim journey into the caldera itself. His high fives with other hikers upon rising again to the caldera edge were merely the most visible manifestations of his feelings of independence and confidence instilled by this accomplishment. And when we returned to the lake, both Dad and Lucas took the frigid plunge into the polar lake.

Rescheduling our trip for a shorter exploration of the island was serendipitous. The full day would have been too much for the kids, given the hour-long boat ride coming and going and the energy required to hike from lake level at Cleetwood Cove back to the caldera rim upon returning. At ages 8 and 10, both kids enjoyed Wizard Island and endured the return hike to our car. We passed several younger kids on our final ascent who were having a tougher time of it, making me thankful that ours no longer require an uphill piggyback ride.

Tips:

  • Hike to the top of Wizard Island. If unsure about your kids’ stamina, first see how they do with a slightly easier hike like the Watchman. Take a picnic lunch and explore.
  • The Junior Ranger program is well worth doing. Our kids particularly enjoyed the fascinating ranger program at the Sinnott Memorial Overlook explaining how the Mount Mazama eruption occurred
  • Eat a meal at the historic lodge or at least spend some time hanging out in the common area playing board games or cards.
  • The park has many great campsites. In dry weather, you’ll want to use the showers at Mazama Campground to fight off the omnipresent dust
  • Check out an evening ranger program at the Mazama Campground amphitheater. The kids particularly liked the one about creatures that go bump in the night.
  • Take the waterfall hike on the Plaikni Springs trail and drive the short additional distance to the Pinnacles. They’re worth seeing.

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About the Author

Craig Obey is senior vice president of government affairs at NPCA.