Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway
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From world-famous Crater Lake National Park to one of America’s richest bird refuges, the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway owes its dramatic scenery and abundant wildlife to its rich volcanic past.
The Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway skirts lakes, diverse wetlands, and scenic ranches, all against a stunning backdrop of volcanic landscapes. You’ll encounter the ancient natural forces that shaped exquisite mountain lakes and snow-capped peaks all throughout this “volcano to volcano” driving adventure that stretches from Crater Lake in Oregon to Mount Lassen in Northern California. Along with spectacular scenery, you’ll enjoy rich history, charming towns and extraordinary recreational and cultural opportunities.
Crater Lake National Park and its historic Lodge are certainly “high points” of this Byway. Crater Lake was formed after the collapse of an ancient volcano, posthumously named Mount Mazama. This volcano’s violent eruption, 7,700 years ago, was 42 times as powerful as the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington state. The basin or caldera was formed after the top 5,000 feet of the volcano collapsed. Subsequent lava flows sealed the bottom, allowing the caldera to fill with approximately 4.6 trillion gallons of water from rainfall and snow melt, to create the deepest lake in the United States and the seventh deepest lake in the world.
A little farther along, the Byway passes 90,000-acre Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon’s largest lake. Famous for its diverse birdlife and oversized rainbow trout, Upper Klamath Lake is the centerpiece of the Klamath Basin, the largest freshwater ecosystem west of the Great Lakes. The six National Wildlife Refuges scattered across the Basin host over one million birds during peak migration periods, and serve as wintering grounds for as many as 500 bald eagles.
Approach to Crater Lake’s North Entrance
The Byway begins at Diamond Lake Junction, about halfway between Bend and Klamath Falls on Route 97. Here, Oregon Route 138 gradually climbs through the Fremont-Winema National Forests to the north entrance of Crater Lake National Park. Because of snow, this entrance is usually only open from June through October; the south entrance, however, is open year-round.
The Wonders of Crater Lake National Park
Words can’t do justice to your first breathtaking look at Crater Lake, which was created by the eruption and collapse of Mt. Mazama. From a six-mile wide, 8,000-foot high caldera, you take in the bluest—and- deepest—lake you’ve ever seen. Crater Lake National Park is the nation’s fifth oldest national park, dedicated in 1902. Natural wonders abound, and the 71-room historic Crater Lake Lodge is worthy of its grand surroundings. The lodge (listed in the National Register of Historic Places) was built in 1915 to boost the tourist potential of the new park. In the early 1990s the lodge underwent considerable restoration and renovation.
During summer, visitors can navigate the 33-mile rim drive around the lake, enjoy boat tours on the lake or hike some of the park’s various trails, including 8,929-foot Mt. Scott. The winter brings some of the heaviest snowfall in the country, averaging 533 inches per year. Although most park facilities close for this snowy season, visitors can view the lake during fair weather, enjoy cross-country skiing, and participate in weekend snowshoe hikes. Crater Lake National Park is home to abundant wildlife, including black bear, elk, pine marten and bald eagles—though these creatures are secretive and not often seen. On a clear day, 9,182-foot Mt. Thielsen—known as the Lightning Rod of the Cascades, for its tendency to attract strikes on its spire-like peak—will be in view to the north.
Exiting Crater Lake Park through the south entrance and turning left on Oregon Route 62, you’ll follow Annie Creek through peaceful pastures to the historic town of Fort Klamath. The Fort that the town takes its name from played an important role in the 1864 Peace Treaty of “Council Grove” and in the conduct of the Modoc War of 1872-1873, including its use as the site for Modoc War trials and executions. The historic site of the military installation now features a reconstruction of one of the original buildings and several historical displays. Located in the heart of the lush Wood River Valley, Fort Klamath today boasts a thriving cattle industry. The Fort Klamath area is also the site of major wetland restoration projects. The Wood River — a spring creek that bubbles up from the ground north of town—is highly regarded for its native brown and rainbow trout. The Cascade Range forms the mountainous panoramic view to the west.
The Byway continues on Weed Road to Sevenmile Road west, then south on West Side Road. Soon you’ll reach the edge of the upper Klamath Wildlife Refuge and Upper Klamath Lake. Covering 133 square miles, Upper Klamath Lake is Oregon’s largest body of fresh water, filling a basin created when the earth’s crust dropped along fault lines on both sides. The lake and refuge are situated in the heart of the Pacific Flyway, which attracts more than 350 species of birds, including sandhill cranes, American white pelicans and bald eagles. During peak migration times in the spring and fall, more than a million birds pass through. Upper Klamath Lake is also renowned by anglers for its mammoth native rainbow trout, some of which approach 20 pounds. West Side Road meanders through towering trees on the Fremont-Winema National Forests with views of the wetlands in the distance. In the shadow of Mt. McLoughlin, West Side Road connects with Oregon Route 140 along the lake. Howard Bay is a common place to see nesting American white pelicans, blue herons, and Clark’s grebes. The southern end of the lake is home to bald eagles all year-round.
The Byway continues south as Oregon 140 meets U.S. Route 97 two miles south of downtown Klamath Falls. Ideally located halfway between San Francisco and Portland, Klamath Falls began to realize its potential when the railroad arrived in 1909, and with the construction of the magnificent White Pelican Hotel. The city’s stately new landmark set the stage for a building boom, which turned Klamath Falls into a playground for wealthy San Franciscans. A thriving “entertainment industry” soon sprang to life; in the 30s, brothels and saloons were packed on Friday nights with loggers and ranch hands, and theatres held live performances. Today, the art deco Ross Ragland Theater remains intact. Another architectural tribute to Klamath Falls’ past is the Baldwin Hotel, built in 1906, which features period furnishings; the Baldwin is where President Theodore Roosevelt signed the papers creating Crater Lake National Park. Also notable is the Favell Museum, which displays over 100,000 Western and Native American artifacts, works of over 300 major contemporary Western artists, and the largest miniature gun collection in the world.
After passing through cropland along the Klamath River, you’ll travel between the Bear Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. This segment of the Byway ends on the California border at the Francis S. Landrum Historic Wayside, which commememorates the Applegate Emigrant Trail. The Volcanic Legacy All-American Road extends south into California past Mt. Shasta and on to Lassen National Park.
Early Native Americans witnessed the collapse of Mount Mazama, and kept the event alive in their legends. One such legend of the Klamath people tells of two Chiefs, Llao of the Below World and Skell of the Above World, pitted in a battle that ended in the destruction of Llao’s home, Mt. Mazama. The mountain’s eruption led to the creation of Crater Lake. The Klamaths revered the lake and the surrounding area, shielding it from white explorers until 1853, when three gold prospectors stumbled upon it. But gold was more on the minds of settlers at the time, and the discovery was soon forgotten. Captain Clarence Dutton, commander of a U.S. Geological Survey party, was the next white man to visit Crater Lake. From the stern of his survey boat, the Cleetwood, Dutton sounded the depths of the astonishingly blue waters with lead pipe and piano wire. His recording of 1,996 feet was amazingly close to sonar readings made in 1959 that established the lake’s deepest point at 1,932 feet — which makes Crater Lake the deepest in the United States.
Enjoying The Lakes
If you’re interested in experiencing Klamath Lake and its environs more closely, several options are available. Visitors will find self-guided canoe trails at Upper Klamath Lake, Tule Lake and Klamath Marsh refuges. The mix of marsh, open lake and forest provides a rich habitat for many plant and wildlife species including wocus, a yellow pond lily. Canoes may be rented for use at Upper Klamath Refuge from nearby concessionaires; brochures on each of these canoe areas are available from Refuge Headquarters. Early mornings are best for bird and wildlife viewing. Angling for trophy-size rainbow trout in Upper Klamath Lake peaks after ice-out (usually early June), and again in late September, as the lake cools down. Interpretive trails have been constructed at the Tule Lake and Klamath Marsh refuges. A steep, 1/3-mile foot trail near the Visitor Center at Tule Lake Refuge provides a spectacular view of the surrounding area from 150 feet above the basin. At Klamath Marsh Refuge, a 10-mile trail meanders by the marshland and through the forested upland. Waterfowl, ring-necked pheasant and several other wildlife species may be hunted on the refuges in accordance with state and federal regulations.
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Keep in mind many of the routes listed here travel through remote areas where gas stations are few and far between. And since road and weather conditions can be hazardous, even into summer, we urge you to call 800-977-6368 or check Trip Check before starting out.