Count me in! The striking sapphire hues of this body of water didn’t have to call me twice. I needed to see it with my own eyes.
About the area
Crater Lake National Park is in the Cascade Mountains of southern Oregon and known for its caldera namesake of Crater Lake, formed by the now-collapsed volcano of Mount Mazama, erupting ~7,700 years ago and get this – probably not extinct. Geologists consider it to be dormant but not dead. It’s the 5th oldest national park in the U.S. and the only national park in Oregon. The lake is about 2,000 feet deep making it the deepest lake in the U.S. and the 9th deepest in the world! The lake is refilled entirely from snow and rain.
How to get there
Most visitors reach Crater Lake National Park by car. The park is about a 2 hour drive from Bend, a 3 hour drive from Eugene and a 4 hour drive from Portland. With a car, you can explore the scenic, 33-mile Rim Drive that circles Crater Lake with unreal views. I found the park incredibly easy to visit and very organized. You can see it in a few hours or travel slowly and do all the hikes your heart desires. The best time to visit is around late June through mid-September when all facilities are open.
NOTE: While the south and west entrances are open all year to visitors, the north entrance is closed for the winter, typically from early November until early June, depending on snowfall (average of 44 ft). Always check alerts and conditions here stating road and trail closures. Unleaded gas is available at Mazama Village Store. In the winter season, the nearest gas station is approximately 30 miles away from the park in Chiloquin, OR. Cell reception is limited but wifi can be found at the Mazama Village Store.
What to do
Rim Village – A good starting point for a drive around the lake with a visitor’s center, cafe and the Crater Lake Lodge – all sitting at an elevation of 7,100 ft above sea level.
Drive Rim Trail – A 33-mile loop with over 30 scenic pullouts making for a breathtaking day! We did it all in an afternoon. Here are the must-see points:
- Discovery Point (not marked)
- Watchman Overlook
- Llao Rock
- Cloud Cap Overlook (highest paved road in Oregon)
- Pumice Castle Overlook (not marked)
- Phantom Ship Overlook
- Pinnacles Overlook
- Vidae Falls
The highlight of the day was seeing sunset from Cloud Cap Overlook!
Hike to Watchman Peak Trail, another option for sunset – With 420 feet in elevation gain, this is a short but steep hike leading to the top for an outstanding view of the lake. (1.6 miles roundtrip)
Walk Sun Notch Trail – Elevation gain of 115 feet, overlook of Crater Lake and Phantom Ship. (0.5 miles roundtrip)
Hike Garfield Peak Crater Lake Trail – Elevation gain of 1,100 with the trailhead located behind Crater Lake Lodge. Offers panoramic views of the entire lake and beyond. It’s one of the highest peaks in Crater Lake National Park. (3.6 miles roundtrip)
Make your way down to Cleetwood Cove Trail – The only trail down to the shore of Crater Lake. The way down is always easier than the 700 feet climb back up from the water to the rim. Strenuous and steep. (2.2 miles roundtrip)
Watch the sunrise over Discovery Point Trail – With an easy elevation gain of 100 feet, the trail follows the rim of Crater Lake near Wizard Island. It’s an easy stroll with rewarding views and great for families. (2.2 miles roundtrip)
Boat to Wizard Island – The 763-foot cinder cone can be reached by boat tour in the summer offering 3 hours on the island. Immediately sings *a three hour toooour* to the tune of Gilligan’s Island. Sorry, had to.
Swim at Cleetwood Cove Trail – Opens mid-to-late June. The average lake temperature below 300 feet is a chilly 38 degrees, but the surface can warm to 55 or 60 degrees during the summer months.
Fish for rainbow trout and kokanee salmon.
Photograph all the chipmunks (Alex was obsessed!)
Snowshoe walks (November – April)
Crater Lake National Park has three restaurants and one general store with a limited supply of groceries. The Rim Village Café is open year round (grab-and-go sandwiches, salads, soup, and snacks). Annie Creek Restaurant, Crater Lake Lodge and Mazama Village Store are open seasonally.
Where to stay
Lodging is limited in the area, especially when you book last minute like we did! The historic Crater Lake Lodge is the only hotel located within the national park and it fills quickly. Camping, RV sites, and cabins are available seven miles from the lake rim, near the south entrance, at Mazama Village Campground and RV Park. We stayed here and snagged one of the last rooms available!