Prior to this trip, my memories from Crater Lake were from my honeymoon…exciting, magical, good strenuous hikes, amazing views, so much knowledge to soak in. I wondered what our experience would be like with two sweet little ones.
Saying that we slightly miscalculated our driving time to the campground would be under stating it. We were coming from Eugene, OR and estimated driving 2.5 hours to get to the campground. That was the driving time to get to the park entrance, yet there was another hour drive to the campground. We also tacked on another 40 minutes waiting for our brakes to cool down after descending from the rim.
After stopping at the Ranger Station to pick up Jr. Ranger Booklets for the girls we noticed the horrid burning smell we were smelling was indeed coming from Dimes (our camper van)!! We were assured by park guests and a ranger that this wasn’t anything to worry much about but did require some time to let our brakes cool off. From then on Justin increased Wobbles (Airstream camper) brake power and down-shifted Dimes to go easier on the hot brake pads.
Our site at Mazama campground was a nice one with plenty of space for the girls to explore while also being within walking distance to a little store and lodge. At the lodge there was even an option to buy wi-fi which Justin took advantage of to manage our Airbnb, something that has proven tricky at past campsites without cell service.
After our last trip Justin and I solidified a reward system for the ladies (2 and 5 years old). We have noticed in past camping trips that hiking is a bit miserable. Complaining starts very soon after we start walking and whiney requests to be carried consistently follow. Both Justin and I really enjoy hiking and think it is a great thing for the girls to get involved with; great exercise, beautiful discoveries, good for the soul and a great family activity that we can do in many places. We decided the girls could earn dimes when they hike or help out around camp in some way such as helping to prepare meals. We have two prize boxes (soon to be three as during this trip we realized we needed a medium increment). The prizes in the $0.30 bag are bits of craft supplies such as a little bag of feathers, colored tape or wooden pogs. The $1.00 prize bag is full of items such as popcorn, tweezers and gloves. I’m telling you, it’s the most unlikely items that are coveted the most! The girls can choose to save their dimes for a big prize or get the little ones. So far, both girls have saved up for a large item first. It helps them practice dealing with money, saving, earning and counting. It is working great and I had a blast filling those prize bags!
Our first adventure was a hike to the Phantom Ship Lookout on the Sun Notch trail. It was a 0.4 mile hike with phenomenal views. The thought behind beginning our trip with this hike was to ease the girls into hiking on their own two feet, giving them some success under their belt and with the payoff of a great view!
The lake was just as blue as I remember it! Incredible! Our two year old looked at it and said, “It looks like it’s pretend!” For the half of the trail that was along the rim we had to hold our littlest one’s hand. It seemed like she had no fear as she wandered about, yet she did take notice and warn adults when they stepped off the marked path toward the ridge to take pictures. “That’s a bad idea!” she would say. “Yikes” (hands over her mouth), said our five year old.
Our 5 year old earned her dime but our little one didn’t quite make it. Still, there wasn’t any whining so I call that a win!
On this trip I even got to attend a ranger talk which was pretty awesome to have the freedom to do that, even though I practically got eaten alive by mosquitos. The talk was about critters in the park so it was a great one to bring home lots of fun facts to the girls. I think the fact that stuck the most with the girls is the call of the Mountain Chickadee “ham-bur-ger.” Throughout the trip they would turn into little hamburger calling chickadees. 😛 It’s also pretty amazing that every White Bark Pine tree that you see at the park was planted by a Clark’s Nutcracker bird! We did three other hikes during our stay. One was down a ravine along a river, the Annie Creek trailhead near the campsite. This one was a workout which was nice for Justin and I but meant that our 2 year old stayed on my back throughout. Honestly, I almost enjoy that more! We get to snuggle and we can walk at a little faster pace which was especially important on this hike as the mosquitos were fierce! Our 5 year old earned 2 dimes on that hike!
Another hike we explored was the Castle Crest Wildflower Trail. This is a hike that I would have passed up (and did pass up on our honeymoon) since it was just a short hike on flat ground.. but honestly, this was my favorite hike we did! Having the girls with us slowed us down allowing us to enjoy this beautiful gem. The trail meandered through waist-high wildflower fields as we skipped from stone to stone over a beautiful stream. The stream seemed to disappear in all the lush green grasses and colorful flowers and then popped out here and there to let us sneak a peak. It was so refreshing and serene. If our little one wasn’t so ready to leave I would have loved to go on the trail again. Our oldest actually begged to do it again and compromised with Daddy to take her up 5 minutes and back to the trailhead again.
The Pinnacles trail down in the south-eastern part of the park was pretty interesting too. Although very hot and dusty, the trail gave great views of the strange mineral formations left by the volcanic eruption. The girls took breaks periodically under what little shade we could find to work on their Jr. Ranger workbooks or guzel some water.
One of the highlights of the trip for our oldest was to take part in a ranger led activity. All the kids were invited to pretend they were Pikas (little mouse like creatures that live in the national forest) as they raced to store enough food for the winter as they were battling climate change. It was so nice for our girls to be around other kids and learn more about their environment. As a bonus, our oldest who participated earned a Jr. Ranger badge.
A take away bit of knowledge we brought back from this trip is that it is important to stay at campgrounds that have playgrounds throughout our travels. We found that even when there were other kids throughout the campgrounds we were staying in, since there wasn’t a common place kids were flocking to, it was tricky to make connections to give the kids time to play with others. I can’t believe that I am admitting this to anyone other than Justin but…I think KOA’s are a really good option! Eek, I said it!! KOA’s provide a slew of fun kids activities and they attract families which means kids for our girls to play with. Oy, it seems like we are slowly making a mental shift from rustic tent camping to camper life.