03 Route 7 — Rim Drive

History of Rim Drive, Crater Lake National Park


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Route 7 — Rim Drive

Encircling much of the caldera rim is a scenic, two-lane road extending a little more than 29 miles from the main visitor use area at Rim Village to Park Headquarters in Munson Valley. Linking the two developed nodes is an approach road (Route 4) that extends for about 3 miles so motorists can drive a full circuit during much of the summer season. The entire loop is below timberline, but remains above 6,500′ in elevation. Past volcanic activity made for predominately poor soils whose productivity is also limited by drought conditions in summer. Stands of subalpine conifers (mountain hemlock, Shasta red fir, and whitebark pine) appear in varying density and can be interspersed with largely barren pumice fields. The loop avoids repetition by offering different views of Crater Lake from parking areas developed for that purpose and alternating them with glimpses of the hinterland. Rim Drive’s presentation of the lake and surroundings has been successful enough for the American Automobile Association to name it among the ten most beautiful roads in the nation.

Discovery Point
Interpretive marker at the Discovery Point parking area.

Beginning at its junction with the main roadway through Rim Village, where signs notify motorists of the 35 miles per hour speed limit, Rim Drive heads west on elongated curves for just over a mile before the first large parking area is encountered near Discovery Point. Masonry guardrails, whose otherwise monotonous line is punctuated by crenulations at regular intervals, provide a safety barrier at most of the developed viewpoints and in many places along the roadway where there is danger of vehicles falling down steep banks. It is almost 5 miles from the Discovery Point Overlook to the next junction with an approach road, and motorists pass over a summit at 7,350′ in between these points. The parking areas along what is called “West Rim Drive” are more heavily used during the summer months than elsewhere on the circuit, largely because this road segment serves as a through route for visitors who use the north entrance.

Commencing at the junction with the North Entrance Road is the “East Rim Drive,” which extends for 23.18 miles before it terminates at Park Headquarters. Motorists begin by climbing to traverse the back of Llao Rock, going more than 2 miles beyond the road junction for their next glimpse of Crater Lake. Viewpoints along this northern section are not generally crowded, though traffic congestion is often acute in the vicinity of Cleetwood Cove. This is where motorists leave their vehicles, and pedestrians try to cross the roadway so they can access a trail leading to the lakeshore.

North Junction
Looking south to the North Junction parking area with Hillman Peak in the distance.

Aside from the Cleetwood Cove vicinity, that portion of East Rim Drive between “North Junction” and the spur road to Cloudcap boasts a greater variety of shoulder and slope treatments than elsewhere on the circuit. Not only are the remnants of the earlier Rim Road better hidden through planting and some regrading, but also some cut slopes in this section were covered with layers of dark soil to reduce scarring that could be seen at a distance. This part of Rim Drive also retains some original paved ditches connected to drop inlets for cross drainage. These features reflect thinking by designers during the late 1930s who believed that the road’s subgrade should not be exposed to spring runoff from snowmelt.

A series of seven “parking overlooks” begin roughly midway between North Junction and Cloudcap. These retain almost all of their stone masonry and a good deal of the planting done in the 1930s to “naturalize” what in essence serves as a foreground to the visual spectacle of Crater Lake. The first overlook is located above Grotto Cove, about halfway around the lake from Rim Village. It, like the other overlooks, features masonry guardrail, stone curbs, and planting islands used as a traffic separation device. The next parking overlook is less than a half mile from Grotto Cove, at Skell Head, and is followed by five more (Cloudcap, Cottage Rocks, Sentinel Point, Reflection Point, and Kerr Notch) over the next 7 miles. Each provides distinctly different views of Crater Lake, while the intervening roadway also allows for impressive vistas that include Mount Scott and the Klamath Marsh.

Visitors catch their last look at the lake from Rim Drive at Kerr Notch, located some 21 miles from where they began their circuit at Rim Village. The remaining stretch of road, however, cuts across the precipitous face of Dutton Ridge before it offers an expansive view of the Klamath Basin from near the road summit. Rim Drive then descends toward Sun Notch, where a short trail goes to another viewpoint where the lake can be seen, before following along the outer edge of Sun Meadow to a parking area in front of Vidae Falls. The falls are a cascade about 100′ high, but motorists pause at a parking area built as part of a large fill that covers the lower part of the cascade. A few visitors take the short access road below the falls to a picnic area, which also contains a trailhead to a cinder cone called Crater Peak.

The remaining 2.5 miles of Rim Drive from Vidae Falls do not allow for motorists to pull over and examine an impressive subalpine forest of large trees, but some stop at the parking area for the Castle Crest Wildflower Garden. There is a profuse display of flowering native plants in this wetland during July and August, made by a short path. Rim Drive terminates less than a half mile from the parking area, at its junction with the Munson Valley Road near Park Headquarters.