Crater Lake National Park is Oregon’s only National Park, and one of the most spectacular attractions in the Pacific Northwest.
Its origins date back to 7,700 years ago, when a powerful volcanic eruption created a huge caldera in what was once the peak of the volcano. Centuries of rain and snow filled the basin, forming a lake of pure blue water.
With its depth of 600 meters, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States.
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When to go to Crater Lake National Park
Summer is the best season to visit Crater Lake National Park.
The best months are July, August and September, when all roads, entrances, trails and services are open, and the long warm days guarantee good visibility.
Keep in mind, however, that sadly summer has become wildfire season in the Pacific Northwest, and sometimes smoke fills the caldera, hiding the view of the lake.
Even a simple cloudy day could make the visit very disappointing. Therefore it’s always advisable to monitor the situation through the many webcams located within the park.
May and June are months of transition, during which it is not uncommon for roads and trails to be closed due to sudden snowfalls.
From October to July the only open entrance is the southern one. The Rim Drive, the main road that runs along the perimeter of the lake, is also closed due to snow. The only area accessible by car is the Rim Village, from which you can still see the splendid view of the lake.
How many days to spend in Crater Lake National Park
Unlike other national parks, you can enjoy Crater Lake regardless of how much time you have.
If you only have a couple of hours, you can drive around part of the Rim Drive, and stop at one of the beautiful picnic areas overlooking the lake.
If you have a full day you will have enough time to drive the entire Rim Drive, stop at several lookout points, and tackle a couple of hikes.
If you have two or more days to spend in Crater Lake, you will get a chance to realize how this national park is not just a lake. About 150 kilometers of hiking trails, and cross-country ski trails in winter, awaits you in Crater Lake National Park.
Even if you only have a few hours don’t miss out on a visit to Crater Lake. The views here are so amazingly beautiful, that it’s worth stopping even just for a five-minute break at one of the many vista points.
What to do in Crater Lake National Park
Begin your visit to Crater Lake National Park at the south entrance of the park.
Driving north, you will encounter Mazama Village, where the park’s only campsite is located, and various services, including a restaurant and gift shop. Continuing further north you will find the Steel Visitor Center, where you can collect the junior ranger booklet and badge for the kids, and find out about conditions and possible closures of the trails.
From here you can hike the Castle Crest Wildflower Garden Trail, an easy short trail that in summer is covered in pretty wildflowers.
If you only have one hour to spend in the park, after the Visitor Center, continue on the left towards the Rim Village. Here you will find the only hotel in the park, the Crater Lake Lodge, a picnic area and various services including a café and gift shop.
Leave your car at the parking lot and head to the Sinnot Memorial Overlook, and take a moment to take in the blue hues of the lake.
If you have the whole day, you can drive the entire Rim Drive, and still have time for a couple of trails. After the Steel Visitor Center, turn right at the fork in the direction of East Rim Drive. You will then travel along the panoramic road in an anti-clockwise direction. It will take a few minutes to reach the first viewpoint on the lake, but on the way you will find several interesting stops. First of all the enchanting Vidae Falls, just a few steps from the main road.
Continuing on East Rim Drive, you’ll reach the Sun Notch Trail, a pleasant stroll suitable for small children, with several viewpoints over the lake. After the Sun Notch do not miss the Phantom Ship Overlook, a vista point from which you can spot and photograph Phantom Ship, a small rock island shaped like a ship.
The next vista point, the Cloudcap Overlook, is one you should not miss.
Keeping driving north you’ll reach the Cleetwood Cove Trail which brings you to the only access point to the water in the whole park.
The Cletwood Cove trail is about a mile long and very steep, therefore not suitable for small children.
Two types of guided boat tours depart from Cleetwood Cove during the summer months: the Wizard Island Tour and the Standard Lake Cruise. The first is a tour that leads to Wizard Island, an island of volcanic rock formed following the eruption of the volcano. The tour includes the tour of the caldera, and three hours on Wizard Island, where the most daring can take a dip in the lake.
The Standard Lake Cruise, on the other hand, is a two-hour tour, which allows you to visit the entire lake basin and get closer to Wizard Island and Phantom Ship.
Tickets for both tours must be booked in advance here.
If you don’t have time for one of the boat tours, continue along the Rim Drive, and stop at the Watchman Overlook on the west bank of the lake, the closest point to Wizard Island.
Where to stay near Crater Lake National Park
Those who want to stay overnight in the park can choose between the Mazama Campground, a campsite that has also bungalows, and the splendid Crater Lake Lodge, which has breathtaking views of the lake. As both options are very popular it is necessary to book well in advance.
We stayed at beautiful Crater Lake Resort, a campsite with cabins overlooking a small river, 30 kilometers south of the park. The cabins have bathroom and kitchen. The playground, the park, the bonfire area, and the river with canoes available for guests, make this simple resort perfect for families with children. A magical place to spend the evening after an intense day of excursions in the park, and fill up on summer memories.