Visiting Crater Lake

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Did you know Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States? It is also one of the cleanest large bodies of water in the world! The vibrant blue color of the lake comes from it’s cleanliness. An explosion of Mount Mazama, 7,700 years ago created what is now known as Crater Lake. Crater Lake is actually an active volcanic caldera! Thankfully it isn’t expected to erupt for another 1,000 years so you can visit without fear. We recently paid Crater Lake a visit and were absolutely blown away by the beauty. Read on for more on where to stay, when to visit, and what to do when planning your trip to Crater Lake National Park. For more tips and tricks, check out our guide to visiting National Parks.

Where To Stay in Crater Lake

There are two lodges in the park, Crater Lake Lodge and The Cabins at Mazama Village. If you are looking for a campground, there is the Mazama Village campground with RV and tent sites. You can obtain a back country permit for free between 8 AM at 4 PM from the Ranger Station. Finally, there multiple Sno-Parks near Crater Lake where you can stay for free May-October. There are a few dispersed camping sites also for free scattered outside the park. For more details on how we find free camp spots, check out this post.

Van in front of sunset at Crater Lake National Park
Our Van at Crater Lake

When To Visit Crater Lake National Park

If you want to get the full Crater Lake experience, you will want to visit between July and October when the full Rim Drive is open. Before and after then, the snowfall is too heavy to keep the roads plowed. Boat Tours to Wizard Island operate from July to early September. We visited in mid October and loved that we were able to do just about everything and have less crowds than the height of the summer. Trails do start closing in mid October so you will want to get there before that time.

Wizard Island Crater Lake National Park
Wizard Island formed from an eruption within the caldera

Rim Drive

This drive is typically open from July until October and closes due to snowfall. Crater Lake gets an average of 510 inches of snow per year! The Rim Drive circumnavigates the 33 miles around the lake with several scenic places to stop along the way. The Watchman Overlook is one of the most beautiful as it overlooks Wizard Island. This island erupted about 7,300 years ago out of the Crater Lake Caldera. Don’t miss Cloudcap Overlook, it is a short detour off the Rim Drive that leads to the highest paved road in Oregon. The Phantom Ship Overlook offers views of the oldest visible rocks in the caldera. Phantom Ship is an island made out of lava which has resisted erosion. Last but not least, The Pumice Castle is a formation reminiscent of Bryce Canyon. The unique orange rock formation appears like a sandcastle on the cliffside.

Vanlife Couple at Crater Lake National Park
Enjoying the views on the Rim Drive

Cleetwood Cove

This hike is the only place you can legally access the lake shore so it is well worth it! It is a quick but steep hike down at 1.1 miles with 750 feet of elevation drop. You can access the shore from July to October. At the lake shore you can swim, join a boating tour to Wizard Island, fish, and explore. The water gets quite cold, down to 60 degrees in October, it makes for a refreshing swim! To preserve the cleanliness of the lake, personal watercraft like kayaks and paddle boards are not permitted. Fishing is legal without a fishing license and you are able to keep whatever you catch! In the 1880s-1940s, the lake was stocked with several kinds of fish. Today, Rainbow Trout and Kokanee Salmon survive. The National Park prohibits organic bait. We saw fish in the water but sadly they wanted nothing to do with the bait we had with us.

Cliff Jumping (at your own risk!) at Cleetwood Cove
Fishing at Cleetwood Cove

Related post: Katmai National Park: The Bear viewing Capitol of the World

Watchman Overlook

This hike provides stunning views of the lake from a fire tower lookout that is still in use today! The hike is 1.6 miles round trip with 420 feet of elevation gain. From the lookout you can see Wizard Island. Additionally you can see panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. Be sure to look to the north to see Diamond Lake and Mt. Thiesen in the distance. This is a great spot to catch sunset to the west as it drops behind the mountains.

Watchman Lookout Tower at Crater Lake National Park
Fire Tower Lookout at Crater Lake

The Pinnacles

This detour off of the Rim Road is well worth the trip! Six miles off the main drive lie some incredibly unique rock formations. They appear like the hoodoos of the American Southwest only taller and skinner. They are actually “fossil fumaroles.” These are areas where gases escaped from the earth and cemented volcanic ash. You can see the formations right next to the parking area or hike a short 0.4 miles to see more.

The Pinnacles at Crater Lake National Park
The Pinnacles

Catch Sunset

Sunsets at Crater Lake are incredibly special. To get the best view over the lake, you will want to be on the east side of the lake at any of the pullouts. The Cloudcap Overlook will give you the highest view. If you want to see sunset over the surrounding mountains rather than over the lake, head up to Watchman Peak for a stunning view.

Sunset over Crater Lake National Park
Sunset over Crater Lake
Sunset at Crater Lake National Park
Stick around for the afterglow!

Star Gazing at Crater Lake

Crater Lake is one of the greatest places for star gazing. The lack of light pollution, pristine air, and lack of tree cover combine for the perfect conditions. If you are lucky enough to be there with a new moon and little cloud cover, you can see the Milky Way with your naked eye. It is well worth staying in the park after dark!

Milky Way over Crater Lake
Star Gazing with Casper

As you can see, Crater Lake is an absolutely amazing place to visit. We hope this post has helped you figure out where to stay, when to visit, and what to do. For more information to plan your trip, visit the National Park Crater Lake page. As always, get out there and Create Your Own Roadshow! Be sure to subscribe below so you never miss a post.

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Debbie Pfitzner

    Beautiful pictures. Glad you are enjoying your travels.

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