Crater Lake National Park sits high in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon, its hallmark the 6-mile wide, 1,900-feet deep, sapphire lake filled with snowmelt and rainwater. The lake is no ordinary lake. It is a caldera created 7700 years ago when Mount Mazama erupted and collapsed. The eruption was 42 times more explosive than the one at Mount St. Helens in 1980. Pumice and ash, 50-feet deep, covers the five-mile Pumice Desert (north of Crater Lake). Wizard Island, growing inside the filled caldera, is a cinder cone formed from subsequent eruptions. Why is it so blue? Simply put, this color is due to the clarity and depth and its ability to absorb all the colors on the spectrum (except blue and violet).
Cobalt-blue deep lake in a sleeping volcanic caldera makes for majestic mystery in Crater Lake National Park
Due to heavy winter snow (averaging 41 feet), the road and sites see peak season from June through October. Though the park is open year-round, some roads and areas close for winter. The Rim Village area remains plowed. A visit in fall is as equally stunning as summer. A plethora of birds, mammals (lynx, elk, deer, bear), reptiles, amphibians and plants call the park home.
6 Must-Do’s in Crater Lake National Park
Rim Bicycling: Bike the 33-mile Rim Drive looping the lake
America’s Deepest Lake: Crater Lake is 1,943-feet deep
Caldera Cruises: Take a ranger-led boat tour across the fathomless, dark blue lake
Volcanic Lake Swims: Crisp cold water (55 F) awaits at the bottom of Cleetwood Cove Trail—dare a dip?
Vidae Falls: Its 100-foot drop is quite spectacular and easy to find
Cinder Cone Ascent: After a boat trip, hike to the summit of Wizard Island
Crater Lake National Park Campgrounds
The park offers two campgrounds. Camping is limited to 30 days in the park per year and 14 consecutive days at each campground.
What you need to know: Mazama Campground is located southwest of the lake and is a larger campground with 214 sites, accommodating RVs up to 50 feet. All sites are first-come, first-served in June, and 75% of the sites can be reserved online from July through September (via Crater Lake Hospitality). The campground tends to fill by early afternoon.
Amenities: picnic table, grill/fire, bear-resistant locker, coin-operated laundry and showers, flush toilets, potable water, store/restaurant and gas station. There are ADA-compliant/accessible sites. Site fees range from $21 to $37.
Why this campground? Stock up for all your needs in Mazama Village. The campground is just off Route 62 and not far from Steel Visitor Center (open year-round), Rim Visitor Center (open May through October) and Rim Drive.
Family-Friendly Hikes and Activities: Participate in ranger talks in the campground amphitheater. Head to the north part of the park (via the Rim Drive) to take Cleetwood Cove Trail, the only access to the water’s edge. Do not be deceived: this 2.2-mile trail is steep with switchbacks down (and back up).
Cruise across the lake (via boat guide services) to Wizard Island from the dock at the base of the trail. Dip your toes into the ice-cold water (or jump in; bring a towel). Discovery Point (at Rim Village) follows the rim for amazing views and is an easier 2.2-mile hike.
Check out Godfrey Glen on an easy 1-mile loop through old forest with canyon views. Weave through subalpine forest and wildflower meadows on 0.5-mile Castle Crest Wildflower Trail along Munson Creek. Trek up Watchman Peak Trail for sunset and the best views in the park (moderate, 1.6 miles).
Or, if you can get yourself down to the boat launch, a hike on Wizard Island is an easy 1.8-mile trail (at Fumarole Bay, book a tour, remembering you need to hike back up the zigzagging Cleetwood Cove Trail).
Hidden Treasure: Ever hear of the Old Man of the Lake? It is a 30-foot tree stump (2-feet in diameter) that’s been floating in the lake for more than a century. See if you can snatch a view of it from a boat or the shore: it stands four feet above the water.
Lost Creek Campground
What you need to know: Lost Creek Campground offers 16 tent-only sites, open from July through October as first-come, first-served and it fills by noon.
Amenities: portable toilets, picnic tables. No wood fires are allowed (gas stoves or charcoal grills are allowed), and there is no water.
Why this campground? This is a secluded campground with access to the Pinnacles area.
Family-Friendly Hikes and Activities: Pinnacles Trail delights hikers with views of volcanic spires (easy, 1.0 mile). More challenging hikes include Garfield Peak Trail carpeted with wildflowers such as phlox and lupine (moderate, 3.6 miles) or Mount Scott, the park’s highest point (moderate, 5 miles). Both offer views of Crater Lake in the foreground and other mountains in the distance.
Explore the historic fire lookout station atop Mount Scott. Hike up Sun Notch for views of Phantom Ship (moderate, 0.5 mile). Pick up a booklet to participate in the Junior Ranger program or participate in activities at a visitor center to earn a badge.
Hidden Treasure: Take an easy hike to Vidae Falls. Access it on the East Rim Drive, just three miles east of Park Headquarters. Fringed with leafy plants and wildflowers, the 200-foot cascade waterfall comes out of gray lava rock and is said to be fed by Crater Lake. Other waterfalls in the park include Plaikni, Stuart, Sun Creek, Annie and Dewie Falls.
“There is a love of wild nature in everybody, an ancient mother-love showing itself whether recognized or no, and however covered by cares and duties.” – John Muir
Crater Lake National Park Backcountry Camping
Backcountry permits are free and required for camping but are not needed for day hikes. They can be picked up in person. With over 100 miles of trails there are plenty to pick from. The Pacific Crest Trail transects the park on its 2600-mile journey through seven national parks. Explore Pumice Desert or the flat trail to Red Cone.
Exciting Sites & Scenic Drives Near Crater Lake National Park
With over 41 feet of snow per year, the Rim Drive typically does not open until May or early June and begins closing around October. This road, which encircles the lake, is 33 miles and worth the time, with over 30 viewpoints, each offering different perspectives. Notable stops include Watchman Overlook (see Wizard Island in the distance and visit at sunrise), Cloudcap Overlook and Phantom Ship Overlook.
Drive to Pinnacles Overlook. Want to bike the rim? You can bike it during peak season, or wait until they open the East Rim Drive to bicycles only each year (it is strenuous with steep curves and turns, but lined with gorgeous firs and pines).
Insider Tips for Visiting Crater Lake National Park
Portland Airport is 244 miles north. The park campgrounds are generally 6,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level. Plan for highs of 60 to 70 F in summer, with arid sun, but afternoon thunderstorms. Anticipate a long drive to get to Crater Lake (but it is well worth it). The Cabins at Mazama Village are another option if you want to upgrade your lodging, but they do cost more than a campsite.
CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK CAMPERS BEWARE:
Snow blanketing the rim is an amazing sight, but there is a lot of snow in winter, making mobility (by car or afoot) limited.
There is also no camping available in winter.