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Crater Lake National Park: The Complete Guide for 2023

Nicole Jordan

California, USA

Pristine blue water surrounded by sheer cliffs and the deepest lake in the entire US, Crater Lake National Park is a breathtaking sight for visitors near and wide. But wait, there’s more! Adventure your way through this famous US national park‘s incredible old-growth forest ecosystems: lodgepole pines, ponderosa pines, whitebark pines, and mountain hemlocks make up the woodland covering the other 90% of the park. And with roaming with elk, black bears, mountain lions, and spotted owls, you’re almost guaranteed to spot some truly incredible wildlife.

Whether you’re visiting for the scenic views or to hike up a rugged mountainside, there are plenty of ways for all visitors to explore Crater Lake National Park.

Where is Crater Lake National Park?

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, US.

Crater Lake is located in Southwest Oregon in the Cascade Mountains. It’s about 60 miles north of the California border, a 4-hour drive from the coast, and a 4-hour drive south of Portland. The closest airport to Crater Lake is Eugene Airport in Eugene, OR, about 120 miles northwest of the park.

Nearby national parks include Californias’ Redwood National Park (about 4 hours southwest) and Lassen Volcanic National Park (3.5 hours south). To the north, you have Washington’s Mount Rainier National Park (about 6 hours north) and Olympic National Park (7 hours north).

Directions from Portland to Crater Lake

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, US.

Portland, Oregon is located about 4 hours from Crater Lake. While it’s not the closest city, it’s the largest with an international airport. To get to Crater Lake from Portland, take I-5 S for about 112 miles. Take exit 188 onto OR-58 for 86 miles. Merge onto US-97 S for 18 miles, then turn right onto OR 138 W to Crescent. From Crescent, continue on Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway into the park. This entrance closes in the winter.

Facts About Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, US.
  • At 1,943 feet deep, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the US and the 9th deepest lake in the world.
  • No streams flow into or out of Crater Lake. Precipitation, evaporation, and seepage help maintain the water level and contribute to the lake’s extremely clear water and blue appearance.
  • Crater Lake was formed from a volcano, Mount Mazama, that collapsed about 7,700 years ago. Previously standing over 12,000 feet tall, the lake now sits at 6,176 feet and the rim peaks at 8,934 feet.
  • Archeologists have found artifacts from Native Americans dating back prior to this eruption. Since then, stories have been passed down to the Klamath Native Americans, descendants of the Makalak people, who lived in this area more recently.

Weather in Crater Lake National Park 

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, US.

The best time to visit Crater Lake National Park is in the summer. July, August, and September have the warmest, driest weather and the park is generally snow free and fully accessible. May, June, and October can have nice weather depending on the year. But it rains, or occasionally snows, during those months. In the winter, the park is beautifully covered in snow but most park roads are closed and visibility is limited.

Hours of Operation

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, US.

Crater Lake National Park is open year-round 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. However, seasonal snow closes the park’s north entrance and Rim Drive.

These roads become accessible by snowmobiles, skies, or snowshoes. These roads close after the first large snowstorm or on November 1st. Roads generally open between mid-May and early July. Plan your visit for the most up-to-date snow conditions. 

Park Passes and Entrance Fees

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, US.

Crater Lake entrance fees are $30 per vehicle in the summer (May 22-October 31) and $20 per vehicle in the winter (November 1-May 21). Passes are valid for 7 days.

An annual Crater Lake National Park pass costs $55 and an America the Beautiful pass that allows access to all US national parks costs $80 a year.

Hiking in Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, US.

If you’re ready to stretch your legs (but not sure where to start), here’s a list of 14 of our favorite hiking trails in Crater Lake.

Easy, perfect for families

  1. Sun Notch Trail (0.8 mi; 130 ft gain)
  2. Discovery Point Trail (2.4 mi; 330 ft gain)
  3. Plaikni Falls Trail (2 mi; 140 ft gain)
  4. Pinnacles Valley Trail (0.8 mi; 42 ft gain)
  5. Castle Crest Wildflower Garden Trail (1.2 mi; 120 ft gain)

Moderate, fairly strenuous

  1. Cleetwood Cove Trail (2.1 mi; 620 ft gain)
  2. Mount Scott Trail (4.5 mi; 1,260 ft gain)
  3. Wizard Island Summit Trail (2.5 mi; 730 ft gain)
  4. Raven Trail (2.7 mi; 560 ft gain)
  5. Watchman Peak Trail (1.7 mi; 400 ft gain)

Difficult, experience recommended

  1. Union Peak (10 mi; 1,650 ft gain)
  2. Crater Peak Trail (2.8 mi; 1,000 ft gain)
  3. Mazama Village to Rim Village (8.3 mi; 1,740 ft gain)
  4. Lightning Spring Trail (8.4 mi; 1,300 ft gain)

Lodging Near Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, US.

Camping in Crater Lake National Park

Planning a night under the stars? Here are some of the best campgrounds and campsites inside and outside of Crater Lake.

  1. Mazama Campground
  2. Lost Creek Campground
  3. Annie Creek Sno-Park
  4. Farewell Bend Campground
  5. Natural Bridge Campground
  6. Union Creek Campground
  7. Broken Arrow Campground
  8. Diamond Lake Campground
  9. Thielsen View Campground
  10. Abbott Creek Campground

Hotels Near Crater Lake National Park

If camping isn’t your thing, there are plenty of resorts, hotels, hostels, inns, cabins and B&Bs within a quick drive of Crater Lake. Crater Lake Lodge, in fact, is the perfect romantic lake resort for a weekend getaway.

  1. Crater Lake Lodge
  2. The Cabins at Mazama Village
  3. Aspen Inn
  4. Crater Lake Resort
  5. Union Creek Resort
  6. Diamond Lake Resort
  7. Whispering Pines Motel
  8. Prospect Historic Hotel
  9. Melita’s Motel & RV Park
  10. Sleep Inn & Suites Chiloquin

Crater Lake National Park Tours

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, US.

There are minimal commercial outfitters that guide inside the park. They typically start in surrounding cities, like Eugene. If you don’t want to worry about the drive to the park, a commercial tour is a great option.

While in the park, there are plenty of ranger-guided tours. In the winter, go snowshoeing with rangers and in the summer, join a guided hike. The park also offers boat tours out to Wizard Island and trolley tours that take visitors around Rim Drive.

Best Things to Do in Crater Lake National Park

Hop on a boat to Wizard Island

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, US.

Wizard Island is one of two small islands in Crater Lake. It’s a 763-foot cinder cone that was formed as Crater Lake first started filling with water after the Mazama Volcano collapsed. A boat tour is the only way to reach this island. While there, hike up to Wizard Island Summit; it’s 2.2 miles round trip. Reserve tickets early for your boat trip as tours book up quickly.

Swim in the lake from the Cleetwood Cove Trail

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, US.

The end of the Cleetwood Cove Trail is the only area that allows swimming access in the lake. Hike down 600 feet over the course of a mile and take the plunge into the water for a very cool summer dip.

Hike up Mount Scott for sunrise

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, US.

Located on the east side of Crater Lake, Mount Scott is a great sunrise location. The trail is about 2.25 miles one way, gaining 1,260 feet. Start about an hour and a half before sunrise if you want to enjoy that site. And bring layers; it gets cold up there, even in the summer!

Explore along the scenic Rim Drive

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, US.

The 33-mile Scenic Rim Drive offers panoramic vistas of the lake, meadows, and forests. There are more than 30 overlooks to check out sites of the lake and surrounding area. There are also five picnic spots off the drive and plenty of trailheads.

Join a ranger-guided snowshoe walk

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, US.

In the winter, explore the park on a ranger-guided snowshoe trip starting at the Steel Visitor Center. While most of the park becomes inaccessible for vehicles, snowshoeing is the perfect way to enjoy the tranquil, snowy vistas in the park.

Visit the Crater Lake Lodge

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, US.

Sitting right on the rim of the lake, the Crater Lake Lodge is the perfect place to grab a drink or bite to eat and relax. With its bygone appearance, you’ll have impressive views of the lake’s deep blue water and rugged walls surrounding it. There is also a park gift shop worth checking out there.

Hike up Watchman Peak for sunset

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, US.

This 1.7-mile round-trip, moderate hike gains 400 feet up to Watchman Peak, a beautiful spot along the rim of Crater Lake. Located on the west side of the park, the sun sets to your back, lighting up the sky over the lake with a cotton candy appearance. It gets windy at the summit in the evening so bring a jacket!

Hike to Plaikni Falls

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, US.

Falling over a glacier-carved cliff, Plaikni Falls are some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the park. Winding through old-growth hemlocks, this easy trail is suitable for most visitors. At two miles round trip with less than 150 feet of elevation gain, kids will enjoy this trail too. In the spring, look out for wildflowers.

Check out Pinnacles Overlook

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, US.

Pinnacles Overlook takes visitors to a different landscape in the park. As a volcanic landscape, these pinnacles and spires are unique formations of volcanic pumice in varying shades of gray and brown. Erosion has formed them to their current shape today.

Go Stargazing at Discovery Point

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, US.

Discovery Point is a drive-up viewpoint or trail offering impressive vistas of the lake from the southwest side. Many birds and small mammals flock to this area. You’ll have great views of Wizard Island. Many people enjoy stargazing here. With the remote location of Crater Lake, the area offers some of the clearest night skies in Oregon.

Hop on a park trolley tour

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, US.

From July to mid-September, hop on the national park trolley tour to navigate the 33-mile Rim Drive. Starting at the Mazama Village Campground, there are multiple stops along the way for photo opportunities and ranger commentary to learn about the park.

View the Phantom Ship from Sun Notch

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, US.

The Sun Notch Trail is an easy 0.8-mile trail offering amazing sites of the lake and Phantom Ship Overlook. Passing through mountain hemlocks, wildflower fields, and tall grasses, the walk is beautiful the whole way.

Rent bikes and bike Rim Drive

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, US.

If you enjoy cycling, why drive the Rim Drive if you can rent a bike? There are a variety of rental companies surrounding the national park where visitors can rent bikes for a different way to enjoy the views along the 33 miles of road.

Grab lunch at Rim Village Cafe

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, US.

The Rim Village Cafe is the perfect spot to grab a bite to eat while enjoying spectacular views of the lake. It’s open year-round, with limited hours in the winter, and sits close to the Crater Lake Lodge. It’s also the perfect spot to pick up to-go lunches to take on your adventure.

Camp at Mazama Campground

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, US.

Mazama Campground is one of two campgrounds in the park. It has over 200 spots for both tents and RVs. This campground is located in the center of an old-growth forest and is only a 10-minute drive to views of the lake. Each site has a fire ring, picnic table, and bear locker. The campground also has flushing toilets and hot water showers. It’s the closest place to camp near Crater Lake!