There is no bad way to take the 33-mile-long Rim Drive around Crater Lake.
Most people drive around the lake, stopping at overlooks at places like Discovery Point, The Watchman, North Junction, Cloudcap, Kerr Notch or, of course, Rim Village, for wow-inducing views of the lake. Over the years I’ve done my gawking while on the Crater Lake Trolley or, more challenging, cross-country skiing in winter.
There’s another way – bicycling.
Although people have been bicycling around the lake for decades, in recent years the now-annual Ride the Rim event has attracted thousands of riders of all ages from across the U.S. During the rides – this summer on September 9 and 16 – Rim Drive from the North Entrance Junction to park headquarters will be closed to motorized traffic from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. It’s challenging because the 27 often hilly miles include an elevation gain of 3,283-feet, which is somewhat offset by an elevation loss of 3,678-feet. Some people extend the distance to the full 33 miles by starting from the park headquarters area.
It’s often an incredible array of bicyclists, one that includes kids on tricycles and parents towing youngsters in trailers. Some go only part-way before doubling back to the usual North Junction starting point, but most complete the entire distance. E-bikes with a pedal assist system that is only activated while pedaling are permitted. Riders are reminded, however, that no sag wagons are available. Helping to make the ride possible are volunteers, many from the Friends of Crater Lake, provide water and snacks at five rest stops. There is no charge for participating, although riders are urged to make $10 donations to help offset costs.
Although this year’s event doesn’t happen until September, as of late June more than 2,100 people had registered. Registrations will be taken until September 6, but people are urged to register in advance so that sponsors can be prepared for the crush of visitors.
In the years before Ride the Rim debuted, friends and I bicycled along the rim, usually in the fall when visitation slows and before the snow falls. Many years it’s also possible to ride a portion of West Rim Drive in the spring when snow removal efforts are underway. There’s often a several week window when Rim Drive is closed to vehicles from Discovery Point to the North Entrance Junction. This year, for example, heavy snow delayed opening the park’s North Entrance. As of late June, park managers were hoping to open the North Entrance for the Fourth of July weekend.
Whenever it’s done, bicycling along Rim Drive creates a more up-close-and-personal feeling. Even when the lake isn’t visible, I’ve felt its presence. Because several of the uphill sections, such as from Cleetwood Cove to Cloudcap, are breath-taking, not only for the views but because of the elevation gain. Rim Drive is at a relatively high elevation. During the Ride the Rim, the elevation ranges from 7,025 feet at the North Junction to nearly 8,000 feet near Cloudcap then down to 6,450 feet at park headquarters, where the ride ends.
Bicycling around the lake challenging, but not just because of the hills. I’ve often lost my focus at a steep downhill section where Rim Drive comes around a curve and descends abruptly towards the Phantom Ship Overlook. The first time I nearly fell off my bike, not because I was going too fast, but from sheer surprise. My heart skipped and my eyes popped.
No matter how many times I see it, Crater Lake gives me goosebumps. But while the view from a car window is inspiring, seeing the lake from a bicycle triggers a unique, vibrant sense of appreciation and awe.
For more information and to register go to the Ride the Rim website at ridetherimoregon.com. Other information, including lodging, swag, volunteering, dining, updates and more visit the Ride the Rim website at ridetherimoregon.com. Participating in Ride the Rim is free, although suggested donations of $10 help cover costs for snacks and other services.
Written by Lee Juillerat in partnership with Crater Lake National Park Trust.