11 Fort Klamath — Jacksonville Wagon Road

History of Rim Drive, Crater Lake National Park


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Early Travel to Crater Lake


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Fort Klamath — Jacksonville Wagon Road

What made the lake a destination for the comparatively few tourists of the nineteenth century willing to make the trip lasting two weeks or more was a road built to connect Jacksonville with an army outpost established in 1863 at the upper end of the Klamath Basin. One road across the Cascade Range near Mount McLoughlin became a tortuous second choice to a route located in 1865 that followed Annie Creek to a fairly gentle divide, and one leading down from the upper reaches of the Rogue River toward Jacksonville. Once soldiers began building this new road, two hunters hired to supply the company with meat saw Crater Lake and reported it to their commanding officer, Captain Franklin B. Sprague. He wrote to the Jacksonville newspaper about the find as part of publicizing construction of the new road to Fort Klamath. Sprague’s letter focused on the locations of various camps along the road and estimated distances between them for the benefit of teamsters and others bound for the post, but he also described how his men were the first to reach the lakeshore.

A group led by the editor of the Jacksonville newspaper visited Crater Lake in 1869 and gave the lake its name after having used a canvas boat as the means to reach Wizard Island. The resulting publicity spurred subsequent visits by other tourists, though in numbers that rarely exceeded several hundred per season until the mid 1890s. They had access by way of the army’s wagon road within 3 miles of the rim, and many followed another road blazed by the Sutton party up Dutton Creek to the site later known as Rim Village. The upper portion of the Dutton Creek road was one way, and for the last mile, those with wagons faced a situation as late as 1904, where: “One of the older boys or a man would ride to the top or come down from the top to make certain the trail was clear and then fire a signal shot for the wagon to come up or down. Wagons on the way down would tie a log to the back to serve as a drag.”

Establishment of the park in May 1902 brought limited funding for road maintenance, but the first park superintendent, W.F. Arant, soon favored abandoning the road blazed by the Sutton Party and several miles of the wagon road built by the soldiers in 1865. Instead of having to climb this “almost impassable” road up Dutton Creek, Arant proposed veering away from it and then climbing to the drainage divide by means of a “corkscrew” so that visitors could go to the rim by way of Annie Spring and Munson Valley. He began building the new route in 1904 and continued with road construction over the next two seasons, yet the need for more improvements and repair of the wagon road elsewhere in the park were prominently featured in his annual report to the Secretary of the Interior in 1906. Much of the army’s wagon road, in Arant’s words: “has never had any improvement work done upon it; it is washed out, is sliding, crooked, and rough.”

Arant was able to do some additional repair and regrading of the wagon road built in 1865 before his tenure as superintendent ended in 1913, but funding from the Department of the Interior allowed for only a small number of laborers and horse-drawn equipment to be hired each year. As park visitation tripled from 1,400 in 1904 to 4,200 six years later, Arant observed how wagons and automobiles cut into the road surface, making it into a “very fine and deep dust.” He recommended that the road be thoroughly sprinkled with water since the very dusty condition of this and other roads constituted “the most disagreeable feature of traveling in the park.”

Rim Drive

Crater Lake from a parking area on the north side of the rim above Steel Bay.