The vivid and dazzling blue lake that is the core attraction of Crater National Park is one of the most mesmerizing places I’ve visited. The only National Park in Oregon, Crater National Park offers a range of adventures from hiking, star gazing, boat tours, fishing to scavenger hunts. While most National Parks are quiet in the winter, Crater National Park offers a wide range of winter activities as well.
Born out of the violent volcanic eruption that collapsed the peak of Mount Mazma, Crater Lake is one of the most pristine lakes in the world and the deepest lake in the United States. Crater Lake is one of the snowiest places in the U.S. and along with rain are the only sources of water. The depth of the lake and the lack of inlets which allows the lake to remain free of sediment and mineral deposit gives it the intense blue color.
There’s much more than the lake to explore at Crater Lake National park including ninety miles of trails, 170,000 acres of old growth trees and unobstructed opportunity for star gazing at night. The Pacific Crest Trail also traverses through the Park, so there’s plenty of hiking here!
Although visitors can drive the rim with endless overlooks, hiking up to a one of the numerous peaks along the caldera’s rims is the best way to experience panoramic views of the lake. Because of the prevalence of clouds, Crater Lake is often invisible. The Park provides webcams that provides information on lake views that visitors can use to plan their hikes.
I only had a day and a half to explore Crater Lake National Park. I chose to hike to the highest point in the park, the summit of Mount Scott at 8,929 feet. Although the hike is short (5 miles), there is enough steepness to make it challenging. Unfortunately the famous clouds of the lake and haze from nearby wildfires, made it impossible to see much, it still made for a beautiful hike.
– Cleetwood Cove
– Garfield Peak
– Mount Scott
– Union Peak
RIM ROAD DRIVE:
The 33-mile Rim Road follows the edge of the caldera and offers more than 30 scenic pullouts that provides every imaginable vantage point of Crater Lake. Some of the interesting points to stop are Videa Falls, Pumice Castle Overlook, and Discovery Point. Driving along and stopping at all the interesting stopping points can be a day activity in and of itself.
BOAT TOURS & FISHING:
Boat tours are the only way to travel around the lake. The two-hour tours depart every 30 minutes until mid-afternoon and offers views of the Phantom Ship (the oldest exposed sailboat-shaped rock formation), Devil’s Backbone, waterfalls, and snowbanks.
The other boat tour option is the half-day (three hours) or full-day (six hours) trip to Wizard Island. Visitors can hike the steep trail to the summit of Wizard Island for an unparalleled panoramic view of Crater Lake, swim, and fish for Kokanee Salmon or Rainbow Trout. The tour will also provides views of the Phantom Ship, Pumice Castle (a fortress-like crater wall), wildflowers, and brightly colored lichens.
Crater Lake is one of the snowiest places in the U.S., which makes it an ideal place for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing along the caldera.
Garfield Peak and Watchman both are the best known off-trail winter adventure areas for snowshoers and skiers alike. Two of the highpoints along the rim, snowshoers can find an easy route to the summit of Garfield Peak along the moderately sloping meadows on the east side of the peak and to the top of Watchman from the West Rim Road upper parking lot.
Crater Lake National Park is accessible via train and airplane, but driving is the easiest way to reach the Park.
Airport: The closest airport to Crater Lake is Rogue-Valley Medford Airport in Medford, Oregon (75 miles to west entrance). Several commercial airlines (Alaska, American, Delta, and United) service the airport.
Amtrak: Amtrak provides daily service to Klamath Falls (63 miles to south entrance). From July to September, there is a shuttle from the Amtrak station to Rim Village in the Park. However, visitors will need a car to get around much of the Crater Lake National Park.
Entrance Fees: As with other National Parks, there is an entrance fee for Crater Lake National Park.
– Cars/Other Vehicles, $30; Motorcycles, $35; & Bicycle/Walk-In, $15/per person (seven day pass)
– Annual Yellowstone Pass (unlimited visits to Crater Lake): $55
– Annual National Park Pass (unlimited entrance to any public lands operated by NPS): $80
Lodging inside Crater Lake National Park is limited. The hotels have limited capacity and only one full campground. To stay inside the Park, be sure to make reservations early.
Hotels: There are two hotel options, Crater Lake Lodge in the Rim Village and the Cabins at Mazma Village (7 miles from the Rim Village). Both are open seasonally and accept reservations 365 days in advance.
Camping: There are two campgrounds, Mazma and Lost Creek, which are open only in the summer.
– Mazma has 214 sites for tents and RVs (first-come, first served in June; reservations in July – September)
– Lost Creek has 16 tent only sites (first-come, first-served only)
– Backcountry camping is available by permit
Gateway Towns: Crater Lake National Park is surrounded by several towns with a range of lodging options.
North Entrance: Crater Lake National Park’s north entrance (open seasonally) is closest to Eugene, Oregon (250 miles). A large city offering a wide range of lodging and entertainment options.
Northwest Entrance: Roseburg, Oregon (87 miles) is closest to the northwest entrance (open seasonally) of the Park. A small town but offers a range of outdoor activity options and lodging for a visit to Crater Lake.
South Entrance: Klamath Falls, Oregon (45 miles) is closest to the south entrance (open year-round). Although smaller than Medford, Klamath Falls offers a range of lodging and entertainment options.
West Entrance: Medford, Oregon, the fourth largest metro area in Oregon, is the closest town (75 miles) to the west entrance (open year-round) of Crater National Park. It offers a wide range of lodging, restaurant and winery options.