Crater Lake: Ride the Rim Vehicle-Free

Ride the Rim 2015

The opportunity to ride around a national park without the noise and worry associated with vehicle traffic is incredibly rare. So when I heard that Crater Lake National Park goes car-free for two Saturdays in September, I knew I had to go.

Straight off the plane from Interbike, I loaded up the Subaru with all our camping and bike gear, then pointed the car north for the 7 hour drive to the park.

The Mazama Village Campground (214 spots) just inside the south entrance is normally packed with families and school groups during summer holidays. But last weekend, everyone pitching a tent had a couple of bikes attached to the back of their cars. Though the weather dropped below freezing at night, we were all excited for the ride ahead and the opportunity to spend a couple rainfly-free nights staring up at the Milky Way.

Nothing but blue skies and blue water.

While a handful of other national parks offer car-free bike access to their roads, this usually happens in the spring when the road is almost done being plowed and not yet open to vehicle traffic. While this is fantastic, you don’t always get to ride the entire road depending on how much snow remains. I would love to see more national parks follow Crater Lake and go vehicle-free for a couple days after the prime summer season.

The deepest lake in the United States, Crater Lake is fed only by snow and rain and for that reason is considered to be the cleanest large body of water in the world. The intense blue color is hard replicate in photos–you really need to see it in person.

As part of the Vehicle-Free Days, Crater Lake blocks off East Rim Drive, giving cyclists and pedestrians (and the occasional dog) access to 24 miles of roadway without vehicle noise and the constant buzz of traffic. Apart from backpacking through the wilderness, I can’t imagine a better way to experience a national park.

Just one of the many pullouts with views across the lake.

We decided to ride straight from the campground, so had roughly 13 miles of road up to the Rim Village and on to the North Junction to share with cars–we left early enough in the morning that it didn’t much matter. Once we hit East Rim Drive, we were giddy with being able to ride pretty much wherever we wanted.

The route was filled in both directions with bikers of all sorts–cruiser bikes, mountain bikes, cross bikes, road bikes, young and old. Every single person had a huge smile on their face. If it’s not enough to have the road to yourself, the park, together with a group of volunteers, were nice enough to set up a five well stocked water and food stations along the 24 mile stretch where you can refill your bottles, grab a snack, and take a bathroom break.

Five water and food stations along the 24 mile stretch.

Though you are technically riding the rim of the caldera, it is by no means flat. During our 43 mile ride, we climbed over 4400 feet–the climbs are generally long and the descents equally so. But not to worry, as it’s hard not to pull over and take in the view every mile or so. Yes, you could crank out the ride in a few hours, but why?

Strava Ride The Rim

Don't miss the side trip to Cloudcap Overlook.

For those that live nearby, Crater Lake National Park will be offering the same Vehicle-Free Day again this Saturday. By all means, grab your bike and go.

You can find more info about riding around Crater Lake on the official Ride the Rim website.