Crater Lake National Park is so beautiful that it’s truly difficult to describe. This is some of the bluest water you will ever see! The crater has been filled exclusively with rainwater and melted snow over hundreds of years so the water is about as clear as it gets.
Crater Lake’s History:
Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the U.S., formed when Mt. Mazama erupted and collapsed. The Klamath tribe called the lake Giiwaas and considered it a powerful and sacred place. The lake has two islands: Wizard Island, which is also a volcano, and Phantom Ship, a natural rock formation that resembles a ghost ship in the fog. It was given the name Crater Lake in 1869 and became a national park in 1902.
Crater Lake Visitor Guide:
Peak season at Crater Lake is from July to September, because snow is still being plowed during May and June. It’s worth the wait though, because our favorite lookout points were on East Rim Drive, which is the last portion of Rim Drive to be plowed.
If you don’t have a national parks pass, the entrance fee is $30 (May 22 to October 31) for a 7 day pass. November 1 to May 21 the pass is $20. When entering, you’ll be given a newspaper visitor guide, which contains a lot of really helpful information (like where the bathrooms are!), trail descriptions, and a map detailing many of the popular overlooks.
Where to stay around Crater Lake National Park:
Stay inside the national park at Crater Lake Lodge or at Mazama Village Cabins and Campground. (Backpackers are also able to camp with a permit.) We stayed in Eugene, which has a big selection of Airbnbs as well as several great hotels. Eugene is a 2-2.5 hour drive to Crater Lake National Park. There are also a few bed and breakfasts in Prospect and Fort Klamath. If you’re going during peak season, you’ll need to plan well in advance if you want to book nearby lodging.
Things to do at Crater Lake National Park:
When you visit Crater Lake National Park, you can drive either direction around the Crater Lake caldera. National Parks Service recommends allowing 2 hours for the drive, but we spent 4 and we didn’t stop at every overlook. If you want to do some hiking on your visit to Crater Lake, I’d recommend allowing for 6 or more hours here.
Must stop overlooks (going counterclockwise from the North Entrance, since that’s the route we took): Watchman overlook, Lightning Springs overlook, Sinnott Memorial Observation Station, Phantom Ship Overlook, Victor View, Pumice Castle Overlook, Cloudcap Overlook.
Some of the overlooks (like Cloudcap Overlook) will have small trails leading off to the side. We enjoyed taking some of these for a different view of the lake as well as a more private nature experience than the parking area provides. Victor View was my favorite, because we walked out on the point and sat on a rock enjoying a view of the entire lake. Ryan’s favorite was the trail to the right of Cloudcap Overlook. This was the only spot where I felt like I was standing right on the edge of a precipice, but the view was truly spectacular.
Take a break from your drive by hiking one of the many trails throughout the park, which range from a half mile loop to nearly 10 miles. If I could pick just one to do on our next trip, I would choose Watchman Peak. It’s a 1.6 mile out and back trail to a fire lookout with panoramic views of the entire lake with Wizard Island front and center.
If you want to get closer to the breathtaking beauty of Crater Lake, hike the Cleetwood Cove Trail to access the shoreline. Swimming and fishing are permitted. But reaching the shoreline is no easy feat. The 1.1 mile trail descends 700 feet to the shore and then of course, you have to take the switchbacks all the way back up. That’s the equivalent of 65 flights of stairs!
You’ll see more than just blue water at Crater Lake National Park. Driving around the caldera, you’ll also pass Vidae Falls, a roadside waterfall in the forested part of Rim Drive. A hike to Plaikni Falls is just a short detour off of the main road.
If you love narrated tours, boat and trolley tours are also available during summer months. To take the boat tour, you must take the Cleetwood Cove Trail down to the shoreline.
What to Bring:
We highly recommend bringing your own picnic lunch. You could also eat at Annie Creek Restaurant or Rim Village Café, but both will be very crowded during lunch hours. If you’re in a pinch like we were, you can purchase pre-made sandwiches at Mazama Village.
If you have a wide angle lens for either your camera or cell phone, bring it. I took most of my images at 24mm and it wasn’t wide enough to capture the entire lake in one shot.
Crater Lake is such a beautiful spot for a day trip from Portland! But next time I hope we can bring the boys (and Bex!) and camp in the park for a few days. It’s hard to see all of Crater Lake in one day!
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