Ride Crater Lake’s Rim: A Cycling ‘Experience of a Lifetime’
Monday, July 25, 2022
This article originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of Cycle California! Magazine.
Crater Lake should be a bucket list destination ride for any road cyclist ready for a challenge in an unrivaled location. Imagine 33 miles of punishing climbs and sweeping downhill runs, 33 miles of roadway with more than 4,000 feet of elevation gain and rarely a flat stretch to be found.
If this sounds exhausting, imagine the frequent rest stops with rich blue panoramic views.
The National Park Service, tourism partner Discover Klamath, and the Friends of Crater Lake team to stage Ride the Rim, a free, organized ride on Rim Drive around the lake on two consecutive Saturdays each September. This year’s dates are Sept. 10 and Sept. 17.
Here’s the best part: All motorized vehicles are banned both days along 25 of the loop’s 33 miles. The road belongs to the motorless.
The event, at dizzying elevations of 6,400 to nearly 8,000 feet, was created so visitors could “see and hear the park in a setting without the noise of internal combustion engines and the exhaust they produce. The natural quiet of the park is one of its most outstanding features,” says Crater Lake National Park Superintendent Craig Ackerman. “Cyclists, hikers, skaters, and runners can all appreciate the park in a more natural setting and be safer while they negotiate the twists and turns. Virtually everyone who has participated said it was the experience of a lifetime, not duplicated elsewhere.”
What is Crater Lake?
For the record, Crater Lake is not a lake. The caldera we call Crater Lake was created more than 7,700 years ago when Mt. Mazama erupted in what volcanologists say was one of the largest geologic events in the past 12,000 years. The volcano erupted for three days and with the core of the mountain gone, the top collapsed leaving a bowl.
Consider this a catch basin with no streams in or out, a bowl that collects rain and snowmelt with no pollutants, no sediment, no mineral deposits flowing in. The clean water appears vibrantly blue because, as the deepest lake in the United States with a depth of 1,943 feet, all other color wavelengths are absorbed in its depths. Only blue is refracted to the eye.
So, bring your sunglasses and your phone camera to enjoy and capture the spectacular sights.
What to Expect
Cyclists can begin Ride the Rim any time after 8 a.m. The road is closed to vehicles until 6 p.m. After checking in with volunteers at the Visitor Center, start your day with an immediate 3-mile, 700-foot climb to the Rim Village. This serpentine segment will have traffic; the vehicle-free zone doesn’t begin until mile No. 9. Enjoy your first view at the top before beginning the clockwise ride along Rim Drive.
The six miles from Rim Village to North Junction include five pullouts and some of the best vistas of the day. Don’t worry about cars on the road here. The large number of bikes slows all cars.
The route angles northeast and the road closes to traffic at North Junction. Still, it continues to rise and fall. Every long climb is rewarded with a downhill glide. There are more pullouts and organized rest stops ahead. Take advantage; you deserve a break.
Notice an intersection, pedestrian crosswalk, and adjacent parking lot in the 13th mile. This is the trailhead for the Cleetwood Trail, a one-mile walk down to the only public access to the water. You may want to hike down another day.
A crest shortly after the 26-mile marker signals the last big downhill, three-plus miles, before a final bump up and a short ride back to the Visitor Center.
A trip to Crater Lake National Park should not be an impulse decision. The park is in a remote section of Southern Oregon. Be sure to plan ahead.
Event Website, Reg, & COVID
Registration opened April 1. Crater Lake National Park follows federally mandated COVID protocols. Be sure to monitor the website for the current COVID status. Register online so park rangers know how many people are participating each Saturday.
Where is CLNP?
Crater Lake National Park is located 140 miles from Medford, 43 miles from Klamath Falls. The Crater Lake Trolley has provided a shuttle service from Klamath Falls to the park in the past. Check the event website for updates on 2022 availability.
There’s a $30 fee for each private vehicle entering the park.
SAG along the Route
Volunteers will provide water, snacks, and information about the park at various support stations. Portable restrooms also will be available.
Pedal-assisted electric bikes are welcome. No self-propelled vehicles are allowed.
There are rooms at Crater Lake Lodge and The Cabins at Mazama Village inside the national park. The limited number of rooms book very early so act accordingly. Also consider the quaint B&B-style Prospect Historic Hotel in Prospect, rustic cabins up the road at the Union Creek Resort, or the Running Y Resort and golf course near Klamath Falls.
There are many more hotels and motels options. Check the Travel Southern Oregon and Discover Klamath websites for ideas.
There are plenty of options for additional fun. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland is a popular destination for those seeking some drama. If you find drama in an adrenaline rush, Crater Lake ZipLine stretches nine cables high above the trees near Klamath Falls.
Crater Lake National Park: This website – nps.gov/crla – tells you what you need to know about the park, including how to reserve lodging inside the park grounds.
Local Resources: Two regional websites offer extensive information on food, lodging, wineries, recreation, and more.
Discover Klamath – covers the Klamath Falls area. This site is strong on outdoor recreation – hiking, fishing, rafting, birding, and more. People with paddles follow the 9.5-mile marked Upper Klamath Canoe Trail in a national wildlife refuge. Mountain bikers enjoy Klamath County’s extensive trail system.
Travel Southern Oregon – covers both sides of the Cascades range and provides details about the region along the Interstate 5 corridor including Ashland, Medford, and Jacksonville.
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