Crater Lake National Park is a gorgeous national park in Southern Oregon. It showcases a lake that is the brightest blue that I have ever seen. It is incomprehensible how big this lake is. There are many things to do here, with over 90 miles of trails. I also loved how accessible this park to allow people of all ages and abilities to enjoy the park. Crater Lake National Park is definitely worth a visit.
About Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and the deepest lake in the world that is created by volcanic activity. The lake is 1943 feet deep at it’s deepest point. The water is deep blue due to the way the depth of water manipulates the light rays that enter. The lake was formed from the volcanic eruption of Mount Mazama, which used to be where crater lake is now. The lake holds close to 5 trillion gallons of water. Several surrounding Native American tribes hold this area as sacred.
Where is Crater Lake National Park?
Crater Lake National Park is located in Southern Oregon. It is around 4 hours south of Portland, Oregon and around 3 hours north of Redding, California.
When to Visit Crater Lake
Technically the park is open year-round, however the only roads that are open all year are Highway 62 and the road to Rim Village. The Rim Drive is closed for over half of the year. The area gets a huge amount of snow, with an average of 42 feet of snow per winter. It takes a great deal of time for the snow to melt, with some roads not even opening until July sometimes. Considering all of this information, late July-early September would be the best time to visit (but also the most crowded). Even while we were there in August, the weather was in the 50’s and we wore jackets.
Also consider that the weather changes quickly. Oftentimes, there are clouds in the crater and there can be fog or smoke obscuring the view of the lake. When we arrived in the evening, you could barely see the lake. However, when we returned the next morning, it was completely clear. Just keep these weather changes in mind as you plan your trip.
How to Get to Crater Lake National Park
The best way to get to Crater Lake National Park is by car or private vehicle. We rented our car for this road trip from San Francisco airport. However, if you are flying into other airports and need a car, there are multiple car rental agencies at Portland International Airport and Redding Municipal Airport. There are not many facilities around the Crater Lake area, but the Mazama Village at the Annie Creek Entrance to the park has 2 gas pumps and a charging station for electric cars.
Where to Stay at Crater Lake National Park
There are few options for lodging around Crater Lake. There are more options for camping, but non-camping lodging is available if you are willing to pay higher prices or drive longer distances to get into the park.
There are two lodging options in the park. Crater Lake Lodge is an old historic lodge with stunning views of the lake. The lodge is open from late May to early October. The rooms are basic, but you are paying for the convenience and the view. There are also ADA rooms available here if that is something you need. The lodge also has a dining room and is in a great location to experience Crater Lake. Bookings can be made through the Crater Lake Hospitality website.
The Cabins at the Mazama Village are another option for lodging within the park. These are cute cabins, located about 7 miles away from Crater Lake’s rim, but still within the park. You cannot see the lake from these cabins. They are cheaper than the Crater Lake Lodge, but still pricey. However, you can’t beat the convenience of staying in the park. Bookings can be made through the Crater Lake Hospitality website.
There are 2 official campgrounds in the park. The Mazama Campground has over 200 sites and is located at the Mazama Village, around 7 miles from Crater Lake’s rim. Reservations can be made on the Crater Lake Hospitality website. The other campground in the park is Lost Creek Campground, which has 16 sites. However, in summer 2021 the campground was completely closed. More information on the campground can be found at recreation.gov.
There are many camping options outside of the park in national forests and on private land. The closest areas with camping options are the Fort Klamath area to the south and the Union Creek area to the west. We stayed at the Union Creek Campground in the Rogue River Recreation Area. We loved our site here as it was large, clean, very private, and next to a creek. Our only complaint here was that there was one not-so-clean pit toilet for many campsites to share. We would totally recommend staying at this campground. A full list of all campground areas surrounding Crater Lake National Park can be found on the National Park Website.
Things to do at Crater Lake National Park
Drive around the rim
One of the main things to do in Crater Lake National Park is to drive around Crater Lake’s rim. You can drive both clockwise or counterclockwise, but we recommend driving clockwise if possible. This will allow all of the stops you will be making to be on your side of the road. Definitely begin driving this road early in the morning to avoid the crowds. Some of the stops you will be making have only a few parking spots so the earlier you begin, the more likely you will be able to stop at all the stops. There are many stops to make along the drive, many of which are unmarked, so be sure to pay attention so that you don’t miss a stop. Drive slow along this road and soak in all the beautiful views of the bright blue lake.
*All of the following items are stops along the Rim Drive, listed in clockwise as if you entered the park from the Annie Creek Entrance Station. From Annie Creek Entrance Station or Mazama Village, drive up the mountain following signs towards Rim Village or West Rim Drive:
Your first stop is the Rim Village. Here you will find your first views of Crater Lake. Park your car and walk up to the lake’s edge. Soak in the views of the lake. To your left in the distance, you should be able to see Wizard Island, the only large island in the lake. Here you will also find the Rim Village Visitor Center, a café, a gift shop, and restrooms.
From Rim Village, you can also find the Garfield Peak Trailhead. This is rated as one of the top trails in the park. The Garfield Peak Trail is a moderate-to-difficult 3.4 mile trail that has gorgeous views of the lake and panoramic views throughout.
Discovery Point is the first stop if beginning on the West Rim Drive from the Rim Village. Here you will see even better views of Wizard Island. This is supposed to be the first place that European settlers first saw the Crater Lake. There are some informational plaques at the viewpoint to tell you about the discovery of Crater Lake. If you have the time, instead of driving from Rim Village, you can walk the 2 mile roundtrip Discovery Point trail. The Discovery Point trail takes you from Rim Village, along the lake until you reach Discovery Point, and then turns around to return to Rim Village. Here you will see several viewpoints along the trail.
The next stop on your drive will be Watchman Overlook. This is one of my favorite overlooks on the entire drive. The parking lot here is small, so make sure to arrive early. Here you can see the best view of Wizard Island. Wizard Island is a cinder cone volcano, again showing evidence of volcanic activity in the area. If you are feeling adventurous and have the time, the trailhead for Watchman Peak begins here. The Watchman Peak trail is a 1.7 mile roundtrip hike that summit Watchman Peak and gives unique birds-eye-view of the park.
Cleetwood Cove is the only way to access the water of Crater Lake. Since the cliffs surrounding Crater Lake are made of volcanic stone, they are very fragile and dangerous. Thus, the Cleetwood Cove trail was created as a safer way down to the water’s edge. Roundtrip the trail is 2.2 miles. The trail is steep with 700 feet in elevation change in 1.1 miles. The trail descends 700 feet (equivalent to 65 flights of stairs) in 1.1 miles and when you come back up you will have to ascend 1.1 miles with 700ft of elevation gain.
However, there are multiple switchbacks making this trail more doable. It is difficult, but definitely doable if you take your time and plan accordingly. The volcanic earth that makes up the trail can be slick, so make sure to wear appropriate footwear to avoid falling. Along the road there is the trailhead with a large parking lot and bathrooms available.
This hike was beautiful and gave up-close views of the lake. We were able to sit on rocks at the waterside and watch little chipmunks hop around on the rocks. The trail itself is gorgeous and gives tremendous views of the bright blue water alongside pine trees.
Also note, if you are taking the boat trip to Wizard Island, you will need to take this trail to access the boat dock to board the boat to Wizard Island. In summer 2021, boat trips were suspended but in the future they plan on running the boats again.
Overlook Near Skell Head
There is no label or signage at this roadside stop, but there is a pull-off in this area that is worth a stop. The pull-off is located in between the Cleetwood Cove stop and Cloudcap Overlook. From here you can see the lake and some of the mountains in the surrounding areas.
To see Cloudcap Overlook, when you come to the only intersection on the far east side of the park, take the road on the right that goes towards the lake and goes uphill. It is about a mile out this road where you will eventually come to Cloudcap Overlook. This road you drive on is the highest paved road in the state of Oregon. Here you will see 270 degree views of the park.
If you’re feeling adventurous and have the time, at the intersection for Cloudcap Overlook, there is parking for the Mount Scott Trail. The Mount Scott Trail is a 4.4 mile trail to the peak of Mount Scott, the highest point in the park at 8929 feet of elevation. It is a moderate to difficult trail, but has gorgeous views if you’re up for a challenge.
Next stop is Pumice Castle. This stop is unmarked, but the next pull-off directly after Cloudcap Overlook if driving clockwise. At the overlook, look directly to the cliff walls on your right. The Pumice Castle is a bright orange and yellow formation on the side of the cliff walls which almost appears like a castle. It was formed by volcanic activity where pumice and lava merged together.
Phantom Ship Overlook
Phantom Ship is a rock formation that can be found on an unnamed pull-off on Rim Road near the intersection of Pinnacles Road. From the pull-off, look to your left for a rock formation that looks vaguely like a pirate ship. It appears small, but is actually as tall as a 16-story building.
The Phantom Ship can also be seen from Sun Notch Trail which is an accessible 0.8 mile trail that begins from a pull-off a little farther down the road.
Pull-off on Dutton Ridge
This pull-off is actually not to see the lake, but to see some of the mountains in the surrounding national forests. If driving clockwise on Rim Road, this pull-off will be a large gravel area on the left of the road in a turn between Phantom Ship Overlook and Sun Notch. Here you can see many mountains and hills for miles.
This is the last stop on Rim Road if driving clockwise (or your first stop if you’re driving counter-clockwise). Here there is a waterfall cascading down the hill. It is 100 feet tall and can be seen from the car. It is an unmarked roadside pull-off. Peak through the trees to see the waterfall with many colorful wildflowers surrounding it in the summer.
Whether you stop here on your way into or out of the park (or both), there are many facilities here. There are lodging options (as mentioned above), and also a gift shop, restaurant, small camp store with gear and food, gas station, and electric car chargers. Since the Pacific Crest Trail PCT runs through Crater Lake National Park, we saw many through hikers here on our stop.
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We spend 1 day at Crater Lake National Park and thought that the amount of time we were there was sufficient to see most of the park. I think that most people can get a good idea of the park and experience it in 1 day. However, due to our short time in the park, we were unable to do any long hikes in the park. Also, we were very lucky to have good weather during our time here, but it is very likely if you only visit the lake for one day, you may not get to see the full extent of the lake depending on the weather.
1 day in the park
Drive around the park clockwise starting at the Rim Village. Stop at most or all of the stops listed above, but don’t do any of the long hikes. If you have time for one hike and are able, the Cleetwood Cove hike is your best option. This is the most unique hike in the park and will allow you to actually touch Crater Lake! Plan on having a picnic at one of the picnic areas along the Rim Drive or grab lunch at the historical Crater Lake Lodge.
2+ days in the park
Do everything listed above under 1 day in the park. With more than 1 day, you could divide your drive up into 2 days and stop longer at each stop, taking hikes in various places. All of the hikes above are options. Take the boat trip to Wizard Island. You can also drive 6 miles out Pinnacles Road to see the Pinnacles area of the park, which were created when volcanic gas rose through ash deposits. Please note, in summer 2021, the Pinnacles area of the park was closed on weekdays. Check the NPS website for further updates.
Have you been to Crater Lake? Do you have any questions about Crater Lake? Let me know in the comments down below!
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