This Historic Oregon Lodge Took 85 Years To Complete And Was Almost Torn Down

crater lake lodge
Crater Lake Lodge. Photo by Vladeb via Flickr CC2.

If you've ever been up to the rim of Crater Lake and looked down into the Caldera with awe, you know what a breathtaking view it can be. People from all over the world travel to Crater Lake each year for stunning views, good hiking, history lessons, and to stay at the historic Crater Lake Lodge. What many travelers don't know is that this historic and much beloved lodge took 85 years to complete, and was almost torn down at one point because it was in such disrepair.

History Of The Historic Crater Lake Lodge In Klamath County, Oregon

An old historic black and white photo of seven women on the rim at Crater Lake.
Women at Crater Lake. Parkhurst Hotel group at Victor Rock, Crater Lake., Photo by Kiser Studios, courtesy Oreg. Hist. Soc. Research Lib., bb000347.

Crater Lake has always fascinated people, and has called adventurers and explorers up to it's rim and down to the lake's edge since it's discovery.

Crater Lake Sunset, places to visit in Oregon
Crater Lake. Photo by CEBImagery via Flickr CC2.

7,700 years ago, Mount Mazama violently erupted and then collapsed into itself, forming a caldera which then filled with snowmelt and rain water. History tells us that the Klamath Indians knew of the existence of the lake, though the discovery of the lake is credited to John Wesley Hillman in 1853. Hillman was searching for the Lost Cabin Mine when he came across the lake and dubbed it 'Deep Blue Lake.'

Crater Lake at sunrise. Wizard Island and the rim of the lake are cast in a sharp black silhouette as the sun peeks up over the rim.
Crater Lake Sunrise. Photo by James Wellington via Flickr CC2.

Crater Lake was then discovered again in 1862 by Chauncey Nye and named 'Blue Lake', and then again in 1865 by two soldiers who called it 'Lake Majesty'. Four years later the name was changed to Crater Lake by people visiting from Jacksonville almost 70 miles away.

Crater Lake
Image via / Bo Nielsen / Flickr CC2

By 1885 Crater Lake was becoming well known and more and more people were traveling to Southern Oregon to get a look at the 'blue jewel of Oregon'. By 1902 it was designated as Oregon's first and only National Park.

An old black and white photo of 8 men on a boat on the waters of Crater Lake, Oregon.
Will Steel's Party, 1903. Kiser Photo Co. (Portland, Or.).

What's the deepest lake in Oregon? Crater Lake is not only the deepest lake in Oregon, but it's the deepest lake in the United States. It's the tenth deepest lake in the world.

Construction Of The Crater Lake Lodge

An old black and white photograph of Wizard Island and Crater Lake.
Negative of a photographic postcard showing a view of Crater Lake, Oregon and Wizard Island. Handwriting on negative reads, Crater Lake, Oregon. Christian 11-724.

Crater Lake was designated as a National Park in 1902, but it was difficult to get to at the time. It wasn't until the Model T Ford was introduced in 1908 that it became common in the US to own a car, and at the time most of the roads in Oregon weren't paved. In fact, by 1914 over 80 percent of Oregon's roads were still just dirt and mud, making long distance travel for things like sightseeing difficult.

When did the road trip become a popular American tradition? In the 1920's, an 'auto camping' craze swept the nation, popularizing the quintessential summer road trip for Americans and kickstarting our love affair with camping.

An old black and white photo of a black car with no top on the rim of Crater Lake with several people inside.
Car and group at Crater Lake. Kiser Photo Co. (Portland, Or.)

In an effort to encourage tourism to Crater Lake National Park and to southern Oregon, the idea was floated to build a hotel on the rim overlooking Crater Lake. William G. Steel searched long and hard for a developer to construct the hotel because the site was difficult to access, the climate was harsh, and there were only three months of the year where weather was good enough for construction.

An old black and white photo of Crater Lake Lodge.
Photo via Klamath County Museum via Flickr CC2.

Who built the original Crater Lake Lodge? Portland developer Alfred Parkhurst.

The first great challenge was overcome when Portland developer Alfred Parkhurst finally agreed to construct the lodge. The next challenge came in figuring out how to construct a building that could withstand the weight of up to 15 feet of snow every winter. High costs also set the project back, but construction of the lodge began in 1909, and six years later in 1915, Crater Lake Lodge finally opened to it's first guests.

When we think of staying at a hotel or lodge today, we think of finished rooms, private bathrooms, and posh or cozy settings. The first guests at the Crater Lake Lodge experienced nothing of the sort. Tar paper clad the exterior walls, the guest room walls were finished with a thin 'beaver board' that was almost like cardboard, and guests had to share communal bathrooms. People didn't mind however as the views of the lake were worth it.

Crater Lake Lodge became popular and drew large crowds that wanted a place to stay after their long, arduous travels getting up to the lake rim.

Lodge Expansion, Disrepair, And Near Collapse

The lodge looks tiny as it sits on a snow covered rim overlooking the massive Crater Lake.
Crater Lake Lodge overlooking Crater Lake. Photo by A Traveling Soul via Flickr CC2.

The lodge was upgraded and expanded from 1922 to 1924 to accommodate even more guests and to add an annex which had private bathrooms. Again, high costs and lack of investment set the project back.

Less and less visitors came during the Great Depression in the 1930's, and while the second and third floors of the annexes were finally completed, during that time almost no money was spent on lodge upkeep. The area surrounding the lodge had also been destroyed by visitors and cars, which had killed vegetation and left only dust in their place.

While there were a lack of visitors during the 1930's and the lodge was slowly falling into disrepair, one good thing came out of that time: the National Park Service and Civilian Conservation Corps planted the barren and destroyed area around the lodge with native trees and plants. The new plants helped stop erosion caused by visitors and helped restore the area to a more natural appearance.

The lodge and national park both closed for several years during World War II, and at that time the lodge became even more dilapidated. Because the lodge was privately owned, the National Park Service couldn't do anything about the state of the lodge except for urge the owners to fix issues, institute fire safety measures, and upgrade utilities for guests. By the 1950's and 60's, the lodge was so badly deteriorated that the ceilings were sagging along with floors, and cables were being used to hold the walls up. It was becoming a dangerous place for visitors to stay.

The exterior of Crater Lake Lodge.
Photo via Explore Crater Lake.

Finally in 1967 the National Park Service was able to acquire the lodge, though it continued to fall apart after they took ownership. It was decided that the lodge was just too expensive to fix up and save due to it's structural issues, and the plan was to demolish it. However, the lodge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the public lobbied to save it. A plan to save the lodge and redevelop the Rim Village was approved in 1988.

At this time during the late eighties, guests were still staying in the lodge until 1989 when engineers worried that the Great Hall might collapse and take the rest of the lodge down with it. The lodge remained closed that summer and didn't open again until 1995. From 1991 to 1994, the lodge was rehabilitated. Workers tried to save as much of the original masonry stones as they could, but most of the building was gutted. Parts of the building were completely dismantled and rebuilt, such as the Great Hall. Steel beams were put into place to provide structure and keep the lodge safe for future guests, and new modern amenities were added, all at a cost of fifteen million dollars.

Chairs lined up on the deck of the Crater Lake Lodge.
Chairs lined up in a row at Crater Lake Lodge. Photo by Amy The Nurse via Flickr CC2.

How long did it take to build Crater Lake Lodge? Construction of the Crater Lake Lodge was started in 1909, and while guests started to stay at the lodge in 1915, the lodge wasn't complete at the time. Construction, expansion, and then re-construction finally ended in 1994, 85 years later.

Staying At Crater Lake Lodge Today

The lodge looks tiny as it sits on a snow covered rim overlooking the massive Crater Lake at sunset.
Photo by Oregon Department Of Transportation via Flickr CC2.

Today, Crater Lake Lodge features some modern amenities, though there are no phones or TV's in the rooms, and WiFi is limited. Instead of watching TV, people prefer to spend their time out on the deck overlooking the lake, or out in nature immersing themselves in all that the national park has to offer. There are numerous hiking trails in and around the park, nearby waterfalls, and geological marvels such as the pinnacles to explore.

Two people sit in chairs on the deck overlooking Crater Lake. They look relaxed.
Photo via Daniel Parks via Flickr CC2.

If you're willing to brave the trail down to Cleetwood Cove, then you can take a boat tour of the lake, go fishing (which you can do in the lake without a fishing license), or dare to dip your toes in the cold waters.

The interior of Crater Lake Lodge. It's has lots of warm colored wood.
Photo by Brandon via Flickr CC2.

How many flights of stairs is it to get down to the water's edge at Crater Lake? Adventure seekers will need to hike down 65 flights of stairs (and back up again!) to get to the water's edge.

Chairs lined up on the deck at Crater Lake Lodge overlooking the lake.
Photo via Explore Crater Lake.

Tip: There are two restaurants and a café within the park if you're looking for a place to eat during your stay. Day trip visitors and campers usually bring a cooler of their own food and snacks. The nearest city (Klamath Falls) is 69 miles away, so be sure to stock up on food and fill your tank with gas before you head to Crater Lake.

Crater Lake Lodge Information

  • Location: Crater Lake National Park, 570 Rim Village Dr, Oregon
  • Get more information about the Crater Lake Lodge here.
  • Make reservations for the lodge here.
A room in the Crater Lake Lodge. It has a bed with a white blanket and a red blanket, a desk and chair, and a window with white curtains overlooking Crater Lake.
Photo via the booking site for Crater Lake Lodge.

Tip: Not all rooms at the lodge have a view of the lake. Some rooms overlook the parking lot or Rim Village. If you want views of the lake from your room, book well in advance of your stay and be sure to book a room with a view!

If you'd like to camp instead of staying at the lodge, check out our guide to Crater Lake Camping.

Tip For Visitors (Especially those coming from far away): There's a lot to do and see within the boundaries of the national park, and if you want to see just Crater Lake, that's great! But it's worth staying an extra few days to explore the nearby waterfalls, ziplines, kayak and canoe adventures, mountain biking and hiking trails outside the park boundaries. This area of southern Oregon has a lot to offer the adventurous at heart!