It doesn’t matter how many places we visit, or how much of this world we see, we’re still in awe at what this planet has to offer and Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the USA, in central Oregon was no exception.
We were quite lucky with the moderately clear visibility on the day we visited the lake because unfortunately there had been large fires in the nearby gorge causing zero visibility on previous days. When you plan your trip, make sure you check their up-to-date webcams to see the current weather conditions.
Here’s our detailed guide to help you make the most out of your visit!
How was Crater Lake Formed?
Crater Lake was formed by a massive volcanic eruption 7,700 years ago which resulted in a deep hole where Mt Mazama once stood. Over time, rain and snow have been the only way the lake has acquired its water. There is no incoming water from any surrounding source. The Rim surrounding the lake is a 33 mi/53km circular road that gives unique views from each vantage point. To drive around the whole lake, with stops, it can take anywhere between 2-3 hours.
Fun Facts of Crater Lake
- Crater Lake is 6 miles across and 1943 feet deep at it’s deepest point.
- It can hold 4.9 trillion gallons of water.
- Whilst the volcano is currently dormant, it is not completely extinct.
- The lake maintains its current level because the amount of rain and snowfall equals the evaporation and seepage rate.
- Crater Lake is the clearest & deepest (10th deepest in the world) lake in the United States.
- During the winter months, the lake becomes 50% invisible and has an average snowfall of 43 feet!
- Between 1888-1941 no fish were found inside the lake, today, only rainbow trout and kokanee salmon remain.
When should I visit Crater Lake?
The park is open year round but during the winter there are far more road closures due to heavy snowfall/ice. The Northern Entrance to the park is closed, as well as the West Rim and East Rim drive. The Annie Spring Entrance located in the south of the park is open year round. As beautiful as the snow is, the best time to visit would be during the summer months July – September.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Where Do I Eat?
Good question! And a very important one too. There are a few places where you can grab a bite to eat in the park, however, the cost is considerably higher and the quality (to us) was fairly poor! We packed our own lunch and snacks and refilled our water bottles in the Rim Village Cafe. Here are a few options for inside the park.
- Rim Village Cafe – Serves pre-packaged sandwiches, salads, hot dogs, hot soup and tea/coffee. Refill your water bottles here. They also sell souvenirs and have bathrooms.
- Annie Creek Restaurant (Mazama Village) – Located closer to the South Entrance of the park and serves a more solid menu than the Rim Village Cafe with full breakfasts, pizzas and a salad bar.
- Crater Lake Lodge – “Fine” dining in a relaxed atmosphere. You are unable to make a reservation for breakfast or lunch but for dinner, you can and it is highly recommended to do so.
Can I stay in the Park?
Yes. There are 2 hotels and 2 campsites. Crater Lake Lodge looks over the lake from Rim Village (nights start at $200 USD) and secondly, Cabins at Mazama Village which start at $150 USD. Opening and closing dates differ year to year so check on their websites for updated information. We recommend booking these well in advance if you know your travel dates, as they don’t stay vacant for long! As of now (October 2017), both lodges have closed.
Mazama Campground currently holds up to 214 sites and can be found South of the Rim. (Closes October 1st, 2017). Most sites can be reserved in advance and it is strongly recommended during the summer months (June-August). You can find tented sites, RV parking and electrical hookups, picnic tables & fire pits. The second campsite is called Lost Creek Campground and is a tented only campsite located on Pinnacles Road (also closed by October). No reservations are taken for this campsite, its first come first served.
Outside of the park, the closest towns are Fort Klamath, Union Creek, Prospect, Chiloquin and Diamond Lake. You can find accommodation here during the Winter months.
Where are the closest gas stations to Crater Lake?
There are no gas stations located within Crater Lake National Park. In the summer, you can find gas at the Mazama Camper Store in Mazama Village. During winter and the rest of the year, the closest gas stations can be found in Prospect or Chemult.
What can I do in Crater Lake?
- Hiking Trails – There are many different hiking trails throughout ranging from easy (0.3 mi/0.5km) & strenuous (12 mi/18km). Make sure you always bring water with you (we forgot and some lovely man gave us a bottle)! See below for the map/trails.
- Boat Trips – Boat trips leave from the bottom of Cleetwood Cove Trail and cost $42 USD for the standard tour (2 hours) or $57 for the Wizard Island Tour (5 hours, hopping off onto the island) or $32 USD for the Wizard Shuttle (4 hours) which takes you to the island directly to explore and then back to the dock. There is no tour of the rest of the lake. It was freezing when we were there so we opted out of this but I can imagine in the summer months, it would be a beautiful way to get a different perspective. They stop running tours mid-September. For a full guide on how to visit Wizard Island, check out this extensive post with everything you need to know!
- Looking for wildlife – Keep those eyes peeled for deer, squirrels, birds and elk. They do appear at times, especially squirrels.
- Fishing – Only acceptable at the bottom of the Cleetwood Cove Trail or Wizard Island if it is reached by boat.
- Swimming – Not encouraged, but we did see some brave/silly soul jump in & get quickly out.
Photo Credit: NPS
- Cross-country skiing
- Drinking hot chocolate 🙂
- Backcountry Camping which is free of charge but it does require a permit from the Park Headquarters one day prior.
Our Favourite Stops
The fee to enter the park is the same regardless if you enter through the South Entrance or the North Entrance. It is a flat fee of $10 or $5 for foot or bicycles. The pass allows you to come back for one week should you wish to return. We entered the park in the North Entrance and went directly to the first lookout point. This was just the beginning of some of the most incredible views we were to experience the rest of the day.
- Merriam Point
The first lookout point when you enter from the North Entrance. It’s not the best of them all, but it was a glimpse into what we were going to see as we carried on around the lake.
- Cleetwood Cove Trail
This hike is considered “strenuous” due to its steepness but we’re here to tell you, it’s not so bad. Round trip the hike is just (2.2mi/3.5km). The views are awesome so it helps to take your mind off of it! You will descent 700ft (213m) down a long, steep, windy path until you reach the shore’s edge.
The struggle comes when you have to get back up. Whats that saying? When you go down, you’ve gotta come up!? There’s no alternative apart from the way you just came. The layers will come off and you’ll get your heart pumping but it doesn’t take longer than 20-30 minutes max. Unless of course, you stop on every corner. You can find toilets at both the top and the bottom of the trail.
- Watchman Overlook
Our favourite of them all. It was here we felt we had the best view of Wizard Island and the sun was shining bright which gave us the opportunity to really see the clarity of the water below.
- Rim Village
Honestly, Rim Village was a slight let down. Apart from selling overpriced touristic goods and terrible food, it was simply a place to get warm, refill our water bottles, grab a hot chocolate and use the bathroom. Consider visiting the Sinnott Memorial Observation Station just nearby to the Rim Village. It is a small natural history museum showing exhibits highlighting the geologic history of Mount Mazama and the formation of Crater Lake.
- Pinnacles Overlook
We ran out of time to make it here, but if you aren’t on a schedule, we’ve been told this is absolutely worth the 6 mi/10km drive off of the Rim Drive to visit. Let us know if you’ve been here! Was it worth it?
Photo credit: National Parks Blog
Are there any rules?
Unfortunately, yes, you’re in a National Park and they are quite strict (except me, I’m just a big old rebel).
- Flying a drone is strictly prohibited and you will be reported if caught. (whomp whomp).
- Do not feed the animals, including the birds and squirrels. Jacob was so obsessed with the tiny squirrels, I think he found a new pet/best friend.
- Long distance swimming, snorkelling or scuba diving are now prohibited inside of the lake and swimming is only allowed at Cleetwood Cove and at Wizard Island.
- Pets are allowed in the park but only in certain areas. Please check their website for current information on where.
- Avoid hiking off the trail paths. There is only one hike that allows you to access the lake’s edge (Cleetwood Cove Trail).
We were very lucky with our visit to Crater Lake and although it took us 4 hours driving from Roseburg, it was totally worth it.
Married Days Survived: 933