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Marooned on Wizard Island

This article originally appeared in Nw Travel & Life magazine



By Dan Shryock 

The sound of a boat motor, the same vessel that delivered you to this voluntary exile, slowly fades as it crosses the lake. Lapping water against the shore and shifting winds in the trees are your only other sounds. You are marooned on Wizard Island in Crater Lake.

For the next five hours, you and other fellow castaways are free to explore this dormant volcanic island. Expect to be surprised by what you’ll find.

For starters, hike up to Witches cauldron, the cinder cone at the top of this old volcano. It doesn’t look very far away, a little over a mile from the boat dock to the crater.

“The trail gets better as you go,” says Craig Ackerman, Crater Lake National Park superintendent. “The views get better and the landscape changes from dark volcanic rock to different colors of volcanic pumice. When you get to the top, almost all the vegetation has died.”

The Whitebark Pine trees stand like skeletons.

“I was taken back by the stark contrast between the bleak volcanic landscape and the highly successful growth when I went to the island for the first time,” Ackerman says.

Getting there

How do you strand yourself on Wizard Island? It’s easy. Book a boat tour. Boats operate on Crater Lake all day during the limited summer season but only two tours – at 9:45 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. – stop at the island. Each will return five hours later.

Boat tours typically start in mid-June and continue until early September. Dates change each year based on winter snowfall.

All boats leave from the Cleetwood Cove Boat Dock on the north side of Crater Lake. Getting to the dock is easy; it’s a 1.1-mile hike down a switchback trail to the water. It’s important to know, however, that the return requires a steep hike up that same trail to waiting vehicles 700 feet above.

What you do there

The Wizard Island crater – “that’s what Crater Lake was named for,” Ackerman says – is 90 feet deep. Most hikers circumnavigate the rim to get the best lines of sight. “These are some of the most spectacular views of the (national) park. There’s no other place for those views.”

Look down on Fumarole Bay and see that the lake’s famous deep blue color takes on yellows, greens and aquas. “It’s a really amazing sight,” Ackerman says.

Back down from the cone, consider going for a swim. The water is really cold but it’s really clean.

Or, go fishing. The rainbow trout and Kokanee salmon are hungry and everyone is encouraged to catch as many fish as possible. There is no limit and no license is required. The lake was stocked with fish decades ago and park officials want the populations reduced. No organic bait is allowed.

“You know what they like the most? Crayfish,” Ackerman says. “Try any lure that looks like a crayfish.”

The park superintendent recommends every visitor take time to enjoy the solitude. Take a towel and lay down on the boat dock. “You can hear the waves lapping softly (on the shore),” he says. “It’s a pretty serene place.”

Look around. You may see deer that swim almost 100 yards across the narrow, shallow Skell Channel in search of a snack. There may even be a bald eagle overhead.

Before returning to civilization, think for a moment how Wizard Island came to be. Look for the lava bombs – rocks hurled during volcanic eruptions – that still litter the island. “Some of them are as large as kitchen tables,” Ackerman says. “It was a violent eruptive process.”

Some Advice

Be sure to take food, water, and sunscreen, Ackerman says. “And watch out for the ground squirrels trying to score a free meal.”

More information

Crater Lake National Park:

Booking a boat ride to Wizard Island:

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