Crater Lake remains a good bet for deer season hikes

If you prefer to hike without the accompaniment of gunfire, you might want to make Crater Lake National Park your destination for the next few weeks.

Oregon's deer hunting season opens this weekend, and hundreds of hunters will be in the woods and on the roads across Jackson County. Hunting is prohibited in Oregon's only national park, so the Crater Lake trails may be the best place to hear the whistle of the wind instead of the crackle of a deer rifle.

Hunters are more of an aural distraction than a safety hazard. There's no documented record of an Oregon hunter shooting a hiker. The various gun hunting seasons continue until the end of December, but October brings out the most hunters.

October at the park is a month of changes. Days are still warm when there's sunshine, but there's a real chill in the air at 7,000 feet, and the first snow of the season could fall at any time.

One of the easiest hikes at Crater Lake, and one of the most rewarding, is the .8-mile climb to the Watchman, a promontory on the west side of the lake about 4 miles from Rim Village. The view from the summit is one of the best you can get without wings.

The National Park Service built a fire lookout on the little knoll in 1930. The fact that it happens to look down on one of North America's geological wonders has delighted lookouts for decades.

The Park Service rehabilitated the lookout in 2000 to restore it to its original condition. The trail climbs steeply, but it's do-able for everyone who can walk a mile if they're willing to take their time and rest along the way. The short distance also makes the hike suitable for kids.

The trailhead begins at a parking area defined by a rail fence near the rim. There's a paved sidewalk along the highway for about 100 yards to the actual trailhead. The path starts out quite wide — it's a remnant of the old rim road. At about .3 miles, take the left fork where the trail divides, and start the climb.

If you do the trail on a clear day, you'll be able to see the color variations in the water more than 1,000 feet below. The shallows show a distinct shade of teal, while the deeper water takes on an impossibly blue cast from high above the rim.

The surrounding peaks complement the grand view of the lake. There's Mount Thielsen's spiky summit to the north along the Cascade Crest; Mount Scott just across the lake to the southeast; Mount McLoughlin and Mount Shasta to the south, Mount Bailey to the northwest, and thousands of acres of high elevation forest in every direction.

If you make the trip on a cloudy day, consider staying long enough to watch the sun set from the Watchman, but remember to bring along flashlights and warm jackets for the trip downhill, and take your time going down to avoid a twisted ankle — or worse.

Call reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail:

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