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An Outlandish Guide to Crater Lake National Park | USA

Overlooking Crater Lake & Wizard Island from Garfield Peak, one of the best hikes in Crater Lake National Park

Some 7,700 years ago, Mount Mazama collapsed and left a 655 m caldera in its place. It may have taken 700 long years for the crater to stabilize and fill to its current depth of 594 meters, but damn… the primary blue waters of Crater Lake are totally worth the wait. It’s a lake you might see in the Andes or the Himalayas, but a lake unlike many others in North America.

Oregon’s only National Park – Crater Lake National Park – sits some 400km south of Portland. Since it’s a small park, it’s well suited for day-trippers or Pacific Northwest road trippers just passing through, but there are plenty of things to do in Crater Lake if you decide to stay awhile, too. Wanna check it out for yourself? Here’s everything you need to know to visit Crater Lake.

Read on for cost of entrance, park highlights, and best campsites, plus information on hiking, scenic drives, boat tours, and other things to do in Crater Lake. 

At a Glance

Crater Lake is a crater lake (duh!) and National Park located in Southwestern Oregon. There are three entrances into the park; while the South and West entrances are open year-round, the North entrance is only open June – November.

Crater Lake & Wizard Island
Brilliant blue water at Crater Lake National Park

Entrance to Crater Lake National Park costs $25 per vehicle or $12 per individual. If you’re planning to visit 3+ National Parks, you should consider buying the America the Beautiful National Parks Pass ($79) which includes access to all US National Parks and Federal Lands!

Reasons to Dig Crater Lake

Driving or Riding the Rim

The Crater Lake Rim Drive is a 53 km loop around the rim of the crater. There are 30+ overlooks and pulloffs where you’ll find different perspectives on the lake, picnic areas, and short trails through wildflowers or old-growth forest.

A couple of the more memorable stops on the two-hour drive are Discovery Point, Watchman Overlook, Devils Backbone, Cloud Cap Overlook, Phantom Ship Overlook, The Pinnacles and Plaikni Falls, and Vidae Falls.

View out the window on the Crater Lake Rim Drive, one of the best things to do in Crater Lake National Park

Like to cycle? You can ride the rim instead. Twice a year, Ride the Rim closes off the East Rim to traffic and you can ride the periphery without any competing traffic. For the rest of the summer, you can share the road with cars if you prefer to bike around Crater Lake.

Going Down to the Lake

Crater Lake is, perhaps obviously, the highlight of Crater Lake National Park. While driving around the rim is the most common way to experience it, there are actually plenty of things to do on Crater Lake itself.

The only way to access the lakeshore is by hiking the Cleetwood Cove Trail, a 1.7 km hike that drops down to the lake through a series of switchbacks.  Once you get to the lake, you can best explore it on one of the eight ranger-led boat tours that depart daily.

During summer, there’s a standard 2-hour boat cruise that visits Wizard Island and Phantom Ship without deboarding or a Wizard Island tour which will allow you to spend a few hours hiking and swimming on the island before returning to shore. Tickets cost between $37-$52.

Boat Tour on Crater Lake circles Phantom Island

Visiting on a hot day? Even though it’s COLD ALL THE TIME, you can swim in Crater Lake where the boats dock at the bottom of the Cleetwood Cove Trail or off the shore of Wizard Island.

Exploring Wizard Island

Wizard Island is the tip of a submerged volcano, and because it’s sitting within the basin of a caldera,  it’s a real natural anomaly. Once on the island, you can go for a swim off the shore or hike the Wizard Island Summit Trail. You’ll get views of the lake at eye-level and have a chance to look into Wizard Island Crater from 27 m above.

Wizard Island at Crater Lake

To get to Wizard Island, you can either take a boat tour or use the Wizard Island Shuttle boat that leaves Cleetwood Cove twice a day. Shuttles from $28.00.

Visiting in the Winter

While many parks shut down for winter, I’ve heard Crater Lake is one of the coolest winter destinations in the Pacific Northwest. The park gets an impressive 13 meters of snow each year, meaning it’s a paradise for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and even downhill skiing (though skiing into the caldera is not allowed). Most winter sports at Crater Lake require some experience and navigation skills, but Crater Lake does offer ranger-guided snowshoe trips all winter long. Tours are free, but you need to call the Visitor Center ahead of time to make reservations.

The Rim Drive and the north entrance are closed to cars in winter, but the south and west entrances are open all year.

Hiking & Backpacking in Crater Lake

Besides being a part of the Pacific Crest Trail, Crater Lake National Park isn’t much of a backpacking destination. That said, there are a few hikes that climb for views from the crater rim, dip down to the lake, or traverse Wizard Island that are worth doing. Here are a few of the more strenuous hikes available at Crater Lake.

Jake looking at the map for hikes in Crater Lake National Park

Mount Scott Trail

Mount Scott is the highest point in the park at 2,721 m. The Mount Scott Trail to the peak is about 8 km out-and-back hike that starts from the Mount Scott Trailhead on the east side of the lake. It’s a steep hike without much in the way of views on your way up, but the views from the top are without a doubt the best in Crater Lake.

Garfield Peak

Garfield Peak is one of the lowest-effort-with-high-reward viewpoints in the park. It’s only a 5.5 km roundtrip hike that climbs along the crater rim from the Crater Lake Lodge to a wide plateau. From Garfield Peak, you will get a panoramic view of the lake with unobstructed views of Wizard Island and Phantom Ship.

Looking down at Crater Lake from Garfield Peak

Cleetwood Cove + Wizard Island Summit Trail

Cleetwood Cove is the dusty, steep hike down to the Crater Lake dock where boat tours and ferries depart. Take the shuttle to Wizard Island where you can hike along the Wizard Island Summit Trail to the cinder cone. It’s a rocky 3.7 km hike that gains 228 m in elevation, but once you reach the summit, you’ll get unique views of Crater Lake. The shuttle will come back for you within 3 or 6 hours, and you’ll finish your hike with an ascent back up the Cleetwood Cove Trail. 

Accommodation on Crater Lake

There are two campgrounds inside Crater Lake National Park as well as a historic lodge and some cabins. Here’s a look at some of the accommodation options.

Lost Creek Campground | Lost Creek is a 16 site campground located near Pinnacles Overlook. Sites are basic but equipped with a food locker and picnic table. There are also portable toilets. Lost Creek is open in the summer months on a first-come-first-served basis. Sites from $5.

The Crater Lake Lodge | The Crater Lake Lodge is sought after because of its fantastic location overlooking the lake. The historic lodge was far from luxury when they first built in 1916, but today it’s outfitted with modern comforts. The lodge is a nice-enough stay, but the real reason to splurge is to wake up overlooking the massive crater. Rooms from $202.

Even if you can’t stay overnight, grabbing a beer in the bar and drinking it on the outdoor deck is one of the best things to do at Crater Lake.

The Crater Lake Lodge is more than just a historic structure where you can stay the night; one of the best things to do in Crater Lake is grabbing a drink on their outdoor deck overlooking the lake.

Mazama Campground & Cabins | Mazama is the largest campsite in Crater Lake with 214 sites located in a forested area near Mazama Village. The sites are well equipped with a fire pit and tables, but the showers, flush toilets, and easy access to the Village make this a plush spot to camp. In the summer months, 75% of sites are bookable online with the rest on a first-come-first-served basis. Sites from $21.

You can also stay the night amongst the pines inside a simple cabin at Mazama Village.

Crater Lake is as epic as you expect. Here's a look at campsites, reasons to dig the park, hiking trails, scenic drives, boat tours, and other cool things to do in Crater Lake National Park.
Crater Lake is as epic as you expect. Here's a look at campsites, reasons to dig the park, hiking trails, scenic drives, boat tours, and other cool things to do in Crater Lake National Park.
Crater Lake is as epic as you expect. Here's a look at campsites, reasons to dig the park, hiking trails, scenic drives, boat tours, and other cool things to do in Crater Lake National Park.

Ever been? What were your favorite things to do in Crater Lake National Park?

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