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Best Things to Do at Crater Lake National Park

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Wizard Island and deep blue Crater Lake from Watchman Overlook.

There is no place in the world quite like Crater Lake National Park. Its unique landscape inspires visitors from all over the world. Its panorama view combines a deep blue lake engulfed in surrounding cliffs of up to two thousand feet high and has two picturesque islands that appear to float in the middle. It is a place of immeasurable beauty, and should definitely be at the top of your list when visiting Oregon.

Crater Lake National Park is situated in Southern Oregon on the crest of the Cascade Mountain Range. The centerpiece of the park is Crater Lake, which is well known for being home to the deepest lake in the United States and the seventh deepest in the World. The 1,943 foot deep lake lies inside a caldera, also know as a volcanic basin, and was created when the 12,000-foot high Mount Mazama collapsed over 7,000 years ago. The ranging elevations throughout the park provide diverse habits with an array of wildlife and make a wonderful vacation spot.

The park is open all year but some of the roads and facilities are closed during the winter. Hiking, sightseeing and a boat tour are the three main activities.

When to Go

Crater Lake's high location in the Cascade mountains makes it very difficult to visit in the winter. It's about 6,000 feet above sea level and snow is often visible year round. The lake is often enveloped in heavy snow during the fall, winter, and spring, forcing the closure of roads and trails. For this reason, the best time to visit Crater Lake is in the summer months and early fall. Temperatures in the summer range from 40°F to 80°F with temperatures cooling off rapidly in the evenings.

How to Get There

Please be aware that areas in and close to the park have little to no cell phone coverage. In planning your trip, also know that from November to May, there is no gasoline for sale in the park. The nearest gas stations are 35 miles away in the towns of Chiloquin and Prospect.

The closest airports are located in Klamath Falls (60 miles from the park) and Medford (80 miles from the park). Car rentals are available in both towns.

AmTrak provides service to Klamath Falls (60 miles from the park). From there, it is possible to rent a car or arrange a shuttle (seasonal).

For GPS: The park has no physical address. The Steel Visitor Center (open year round) is at 42° 53' 48.91"N 122° 08' 03.08"W.

From the South (Year Round):
From Medford - Route 62 north and east to the park's west entrance.
From Klamath Falls - Route 97 north to Route 62 north and west to the park's south entrance.

From the North (Summer):
The park's north entrance is closed in the winter and spring. Dates can vary, but typically the north entrance is closed from early November to June. Please call park dispatch for the latest road status (541)594-3000.
From Roseburg - Route 138 east to the park's north entrance.
From Bend - Route 97 south to Route 138 west to the park's north entrance.

What to See and Do

There are many recreational activities for visitors at Crater Lake National Park to enjoy. Below are some of the suggested itineraries to follow, depending on your length of stay here.

One-Day Visit

  1. Begin your day getting yourself oriented with the park at the Rim Visitor Center. Walk over to Sinnott Memorial for your first clear view of Crater Lake. The lake's deep blue is a sign of purity and depth and it caused by it's water molecules absorbing all the colors of sunlight except for blue which is scattered back to the surface. For your first bit of exercise, hike the steep and strenous 1.7 mile Garfield Peak Trail that starts by Crater Lake Lodge. It leads to the top of Garfield Peak gaining a 1000 ft. However the views at the top are worth it. Allow 2 to 3 hours.
  2. Head West or clockwise around the Rim Drive. After a little more than a mile you arrive at Discovery Point. It was near this spot, on the back of a mule in 1853, that gold prospector John Hillman became the first European-American to stumble across what he called "Deep Blue Lake". Hillman Peak to the far left on the rim is named after him.
  3. At mile 3.8 you'll come to Watchman Overlook. This pullout offers an unmatched view of Wizard Island, a cinder cone that rises 767 ft. above the surface of the lake that erupted out of Crater Lake approximately 7,300 years ago. It is called Wizard Island as it resembles a sorcerer's hat. Walk the moderate Watchman Peak Trail (0.8 miles) that switchbacks 650 ft. to a fire tower atop the 8,013 ft. peak called The Watchman. It offers spectacular views in all directions and provides a birds eye view of Wizard Island. Allow 1.5 hours.
  4. Continue on to mile 14.8 and pull off at Skell Head for a great view of the entire lake. Bear right at mile 17.4 to take the short spur road to Cloudcap Overlook for another excellent view of the lake.
  5. At mile 18.5 stop at Pumice Castle Overlook to see a layer of orange pumice rock that has been eroded into the shape of a medieval castle.
  6. At mile 20.3 you'll arrive at Phantom Ship Overlook that gives the best view of Phantom Ship, an island that resembles a small boat although the island is 160 ft. tall. It's made of erosion-resistant lava, 400,000 years old and is the oldest exposed rock in the caldera.
  7. Continue on and take the 7 mile spur road called Pinnacles Road. 1.2 miles down the road pull into a small parking lot at the start of Plaikni Falls Trail. It is an easy 2.2 mile round trip walk that leads to a lush waterfall. Allow 1 hour.
  8. Continue the remaining 5.8 miles to the end of the road at Pinnacles Overlook where you will see colorful spires, 100 feet (30 meters) tall, being eroded from the canyon wall. The Pinnacles are "fossil fumaroles" where volcanic gases rose up through a layer of volcanic ash, cementing the ash into solid rock. Walk the easy Pinnacles Trail (1 mile round trip) for great views of the volcanic spires. Allow 30 minutes.
  9. Drive back to the Rim Drive, turn left and continue until your reach the Rim Village.

Two-Three Day Visit

If you haven't reserved a camp site in the park, early on the first morning register at either of the two campgrounds in the park for one or two nights. 25% of the sites at Mazama campground, which allows both RV and tent camping, are available on a first come, first served basis. Lost Creek campground allows tent camping only and all sites are available on a first come, first served basis. They fill up quickly so make sure you do this first thing.

Day One:

  1. Start at the Rim Visitor Center and then complete the "One Day Visit" itinerary listed above for your first day.
  2. Spend the night at either Lost Creek Campground, located three miles off the East Rim Drive or Mazama Campground, located near Highway 62 at the Annie Springs entrance.

Day Two:

For your second day morning, we recommend a boat tour of the lake and a half day hike on Wizards Island. Tickets cost $42 for adults and $27 for children and can be bought in advance by phone at 1-888-774-2728 or from automated kiosks inside Crater Lake Lodge and the Annie Creek Gift Shop. The tickets go on sale 24 hours before and there are only 37 tickets available for the morning tour. If a tour does not sell out, remaining tickets can be purchased from 2 hours to 45 minutes before departure from a ticket booth (open daily at 8:30 a.m.) at the top of the Cleetwood Cove Trail. You should arrive at the trailhead no later than 8:30 AM to allow time to hike down the 1.1-mile (1.7-km) trail to the lake. Make sure you bring food for lunch and lots of bottled water.

  1. The boat tours are accessible only by hiking the one mile Cleetwood Cove Trail located on the north side of Crater Lake 11 miles from Rim Village. This hike can be strenuous, as it drops about 700 ft., and can take about 30-45 min to descend the trail. Temperatures on the lake may be much cooler than those at the trailhead so bring extra clothing and a hat and sunglasses. There is no water available at Cleetwood Cove. You will need to bring your own. Composting toilets are available at the boat dock. A vault toilet is available at the trailhead. Catch the 9:30 AM tour boat.
  2. The boat tour lasts 2 hours, however you'll get off at Wizard Island. Starting from the docks, hike the Wizard Island Summit Trail (1.8 miles round trip) to the top of Wizard Island. From the top you'll see spectacular lake views, and interesting geology including the cinders cone's crater which measures 90 ft. deep. A path leads around the crater at the summit. Allow 2 hours to get there and back. The Boat will return to the island to pick up guests at approximately 1:45 p.m.
  3. Take the 1:45 PM boat to get you back to the boat dock. Climbing up the 700 ft ascent can be much more strenuous than the hike in so take your time.
  4. If you only have two days then drive round Rim Drive to the East Side of the caldera to hike Mount Scott Trail to watch the sunset. If you have three days head back to your campground for a well-earned break.

    The Mount Scott Trail is considered by many to be the best hike in the park. It climbs 2.5 miles to the park's highest point and offers panoramic views of the lake and the Klamath Basin. Allow 3 hours round trip. Head back to your campground if you're staying a second night.

Day Three:

  1. Do the Mount Scott Trail in the morning. See details in point 4 on Day Two above.
  2. If you have time in the afternoon, another good hike is Annie Creek Canyon Trail located behind Mazama Campground. It is a moderately strenuous loop trail of 2.7 miles that takes you through a deep, stream cut canyon. You'll see lots of water, wildflowers, and sometimes wildlife. Self-guiding brochures are available at the trail head. Allow 1.5 hours.

Main Activities

Bicycling, boat tours, camping, fishing, hiking, photography, scenic drive, snow shoeing, stargazing, swimming, wildlife watching.

Ranger Progams

There are numerous Ranger Programs available. They vary depending on the time of year. The Crater Lake Boat Tours are not to be missed.

Park Map

Park Map Park Map

Visitor and Information Center

Steel Visitor Center

Hours of Operation: Open daily, except December 25, late April to early November 9:00 AM-5:00 PM & early November to late April 10:00 AM-4:00 PM
Telephone: (541) 594-3000
Location: Park Headquarters
Special Programs: An 18-minute film, Crater Lake: The Mirror of Heaven, is shown every half hour.
Exhibits: Exhibits provide park orientation.
Available Facilities: Post Office at Steel Visitor Center open Monday through Saturday, 10:00 AM - 2:00 PM, except holidays.

Rim Visitor Center

Hours of Operation: Late May through September, 9:30 AM-5:00 PM
Telephone: (541) 594-3000
Location: Rim Village
Exhibits: Exhibits on geology and lake research are located in the nearby Sinnott Memorial Overlook, open June through September.Available Facilities: Crater Lake Lodge and Restroom Building are located nearby.

Entrance Fees

$10 per private vehicle and $5 per person if the individual is entering by foot, bicycle, or motorcycle.

Crater Lake National Park Annual Pass is $20, is valid for twelve months from the date of purchase and provides unlimited number of visits.

Entry is free if you own a valid National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass.

Pets

While visiting the park, please observe the following:

  • Pets must be on a leash no longer than 6 feet or in a crate.
  • Pets are allowed on roads, established parking areas, Grayback Road, developed campgrounds, and designated picnic areas.
  • Pets are not allowed in the backcountry, or on any trail within the park (including hiking trails and designated ski trails and routes).
  • In the winter, pets must be on a plowed road.
  • Pets are not allowed in any federal building.
  • Pets can not be left unattended or tied to an object.
  • All solid pet excrement must be picked up immediately by the owner or person in control of the pet and disposed of in trash receptacles.

These regulations do not apply to guide dogs accompanying visually impaired persons or hearing ear dogs accompanying hearing-impaired persons.

Health Tips

Bring plenty of drinking water, sunscreen and a hat. You'll be at altitude and can get sunburnt and dehydrated easily.

Campgrounds

There are two campgrounds in Crater Lake National Park; Mazama Campground and Lost Creek campground. Mazama Campground is open from mid-June to mid-October and is the largest campground in the park and offers both RV and tent campsites. It has Hot Showers, Laundry and a Dump station. 75% of the sites can be reserved in advance and 25% are available on a first come first served basis each day. Lost Creek Campground is open from mid-July to mid-October allows tent camping only and all sites are available on a first come first served basis. It has restrooms but no showers.

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Photos

View of deep blue Crater Lake from Sinnott Memorial
First view of the breathtaking deep blue Crater Lake from Sinnott Memorial
View of Crater Lake from Garfield Peak
* Crater Lake from Garfield Peak
View of deep blue Crater Lake from Watchman Overlook and distant mountains
Birds eye view of Crater Lake from Watchman Overlook
View of Crater Lake and Wizard Island from Cloudcap Overlook
Looking across Crater Lake from Cloudcap Overlook
Layer of orange pumice rock that has been eroded into the shape of a medieval castle
Pumice Castle - orange pumice rock eroded into the shape of a medieval castle
Phantom Ship Island surrounded by deep blue Crater Lake
Phantom Ship surrounded by deep blue waters
Plaikini Falls, Crater Lake National Park
Plaikini Falls
The Pinnacles, Crater Lake National Park
The Pinnacles
View of Crater Lake from Cleetwood Trail and a "Danger Watch for Falling Rock" trail sign
Crater Lake from Cleetwood Trail
People on moving boat on Crater Lake and lady with red life saving jacket with National Park Service on it
Learn how Crater Lake was formed and it's many fascinating features on the boat tour
Orange Sunset over Crater Lake seen from Mount Scott
** Sunset over Crater Lake from Mount Scott
* Photo courtesy of Lee Coursey
** Photo courtesy of Crater Lake Institute


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