In this guide we’re sharing the best things to do at Crater Lake National Park, plus how to get to the park, where to stay, & a one day itinerary!
Back in September 2018 we visited Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, which at the time, was actually our 10th national park. And we couldn’t think of a more memorable park to plunge (literally!) into the double digits!
Crater Lake holds some impressive titles. It is not only the deepest lake in the United States, but the seventh deepest in the world, at 1,943 feet deep, plus is named one of the 7 Wonders of Oregon. And while the star of the park may be Crater Lake, the park offers a very well rounded park experience, in a small, easy to visit package.
Here you can experience epic sunrises and sunsets, boat tours, the chance to swim in the deepest lake in the US (how often can you say that?!), fun hiking trails, a waterfall, mountain views, and unique rock formations.
And in this guide we’re sharing the best things to do at Crater Lake National Park, plus important things to know before visiting and a one day itinerary to help you plan your own adventure!
Looking for more things to do in Oregon? Check out these guides & videos:
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- 20+ AMAZING things to do in Bend, Oregon
- How to visit Tumalo Falls in Bend, Oregon (ANY time of the year!)
- A weekend in Portland itinerary
- The best things to do in Cannon Beach on the Oregon Coast!
- Watch our Oregon vlogs
- About Crater Lake National Park
- The best things to do at Crater Lake National Park
- Getting to + around Crater Lake National Park
- When to visit Crater Lake National Park
- Where to Stay near Crater Lake National Park
- What to bring with you to Crater Lake National Park
- Other things to know before visiting Crater Lake National Park
- One Day in Crater Lake Itinerary
About Crater Lake National Park
The history of Crater Lake dates back 7,700 years ago, when a 12,000 foot volcano named Mount Mazama erupted and collapsed, forming the lake.
While the area around Mount Mazama was frequented by the Makalak people both before and during the eruption, Crater Lake wasn’t known by others until 1853 when gold prospectors discovered the lake. By 1865, multiple other groups had come across the lake and it was given the name Lake Majesty, which was later changed to Crater Lake after a visit in 1869 by a newspaper editor.
Just one year later, after reading the newspaper that his lunch was wrapped in, William Gladstone Steel learned about the lake and started his quest to see the lake for himself. 15 years later, he finally made it to Crater Lake and upon seeing it, declared that it should be a public park. And after years of campaigning, his dream came true in 1902 when Crater Lake became the 5th national park in the United States and the only national park in Oregon.
Besides being known for being the deepest lake in the US, it is also known for its color. Crater Lake has a rich, blue color, which is due to the fact that there are no inlets from other water sources into the lake, it only gets water from snow and rain. Because of this, it has a lack of sediment or mineral deposits, making it one of the cleanest lakes in the world.
Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!
These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors.
The best things to do at Crater Lake National Park
Watch the sunrise on Watchman Peak
Miles (round trip): 1.7
Elevation (feet): 400
Reviews & Current Conditions
One of our favorite things we did at Crater Lake National Park was hiking to Watchman Peak for sunrise. With an east-facing view, this is the perfect spot to watch the sunrise and based on our experience, the sunrises in the park are stunning!
And at only 1.7 miles round trip, this isn’t too daunting of a hike to tackle in the dark. At the top, you can see the Watchman Observation Station, which is a fire lookout that was built in the 1930s, plus has amazing views of Crater Lake and Wizard Island, which is a 763-foot cinder cone.
If hiking up for sunrise, besides a headlamp, make sure to bring a jacket or blanket! Crater Lake can be very chilly in the mornings, even in the summer.
Not up for the hike? You can see a similar view from the parking lot below. But we do recommend doing the hike if you can!
Drive Rim Drive
Rim Drive is a 33 mile road that goes around Crater Lake’s rim and has 30 overlooks to check out, making it a great way to see different perspectives of the lake! If you plan to hike multiple trails in the park, you will drive this road to get between trailheads, so make sure to build in some extra time to stop at the viewpoints.
Along the drive, make sure to stop at Phantom Ship, which is one of the lake’s two islands and has a unique, rocky appearance, resembling a ship in the water, plus Watchman Peak Trailhead, which as we mentioned above, has great views from the parking area.
And if you want a good spot to watch the sunset, we loved watching the sunset at the Cloudcap Overlook, which faces west!
Note: Rim Drive is closed during the winter season and doesn’t start to reopen until late May or early June, with the full road usually being open by July. You can see past opening dates here!
Discovery Point Trail
Miles (round trip): 2.4
Elevation (feet): 337
Reviews & Current Conditions
For an easier walk, check out the Discovery Point Trail! This is a pathway that goes along the rim of the lake, starting at the Visitor Center. While it does go close to the road at times and has some road noise, it offers some great views of the lake that you cannot get from the car. You don’t have to walk the entire trail to get the beautiful views, so feel free to go as far as you’d like!
Miles (round trip): 3.4
Elevation (feet): 1,069
Reviews & Current Conditions
Besides Watchman Peak, another must-do hike, in our opinion, is Garfield Peak! This is a bit steeper than Watchman Peak and pretty exposed (so bring lots of water and sun protection!), but takes you higher up above the lake, with Crater Lake right below you and a big open area to soak up the scenery at the top.
Mount Scott Trail
Miles (round trip): 4.2
Elevation (feet): 1,259
Reviews & Current Conditions
Another amazing option for a higher elevation hike in the park is Mount Scott! This is the tallest peak in the park at 8,929 ft and has a fire tower at the top, with vast views of Crater Lake, plus sweeping views of the surrounding area.
Compared to Garfield Peak, the view from the top is a bit further away from the lake, so keep that in mind!
Swim in Cleetwood Cove
Miles (round trip): 2.0
Elevation (feet): 620
Reviews & Current Conditions
Hands down our favorite experience at Crater Lake National Park was getting IN the lake! This is a very cold experience, as Crater Lake has an average temperature of 38ºF at 300 feet, with the surface temperatures warming up to 55ºF-60ºF in the summer. But it is SO worth it!
The only legal area to access the shoreline of Crater Lake is at Cleetwood Cove, which requires a steep 1 mile (one way) hike, with about 600 feet of elevation loss. It may be an easy hike down, but remember, you have to go back up!
Once at the cove, there are a couple swimming areas, plus a big rock that you can jump off of! Adam was brave and jumped off the rock into the cold waters, while I chose to torture myself by slowly entering the water. It may feel ice cold at first, but on a hot summer day, it quickly becomes very refreshing!
Pinnacles Valley Trail
Miles (round trip): 0.8
Elevation (feet): 42
Reviews & Current Conditions
While most visitors come to Crater Lake for the lake, there are a couple other types of scenery to see in the park as well…like the Pinnacles Valley Trail! This is an easy walk from a parking area that takes you to spires that are made up of volcanic particles from the Mount Mazama eruption, which formed over time through erosion. It’s a quick stop, but well worth it for how unique it is!
Plaikni Falls Trail
Miles (round trip): 2.0
Elevation (feet): 137
Reviews & Current Conditions
Although Crater Lake is not filled by rivers or streams, you can find some nearby! Just a little bit inland from the lake is Plaikni Falls, which is a beautiful waterfall tucked in a forest. This trail opened in 2012, so it’s relatively new compared to the age of the park and gets the name Plaikni after the Klamath word that means “from the high country.”
Go on a Boat Tour
While most of Crater Lake is viewed from the rim, there is also a chance to view the lake from the water as well (no swimming required!). Crater Lake offers a variety of boat tours, including a two hour cruise ($44 per adult) around the lake, plus a cruise to Wizard Island ($55 per adult), where you can get off at the island and hike to the top (2.3 miles round trip), swim, or fish.
If you don’t want to go on an actual cruise, there is also a Wizard Island Shuttle, which will drop you off on the island, where you’ll have plenty of time to hike, swim, and fish. This option is $28 per adult and is the best choice for those who want to explore vs. spend time cruising around the lake.
These tours, plus the shuttle, run from July-mid September, so make sure to plan your trip for that timeframe to partake in them!
Catch some fish
Between 1888 and 1941, Crater Lake was stocked with both rainbow trout and kokanee salmon, which can still be caught today!
Fishing is allowed at Cleetwood Cove, Wizard Island, and on various streams, with some restrictions in specific creeks. While no license is required, you are only allowed to use artificial bait. You can find out more about fishing in the park here!
Ride the Rim
If you want to experience Rim Drive by bike, without any cars, make sure to visit during Ride the Rim! For two days in September, Crater Lake closes East Rim Drive to vehicles and opens it to cyclists and walkers. This is a free event, but donations of $10 are very much appreciated.
You can bike Rim Drive outside of Ride the Rim as well, but you will have to navigate vehicular traffic, so this is only suggested for those with biking experience. You can see more rules for cycling in the park here.
Go snowshoeing or cross country skiing
While most of the activities above are only doable in the summer season, Crater Lake National Park does offer a unique experience if visiting in the winter…seeing the rim covered in snow!
During the winter season, you will be much more limited as to what you can do in the park, as most roads and trails are closed, but there are a couple things to do, including snowshoeing and cross country skiing!
A common route for both cross country skiers and snowshoers is the West Rim Drive, which is unplowed during the winter season. You’ll be able to get great views of the lake and check out different viewpoints along the way!
For the extra ambitious, you can also cross country ski or snowshoe the entire rim! This 31 mile journey can take up to 3 days if the weather is good, but longer if not. It is most commonly done in March and April and does require a backcountry permit.
One day in Crater Lake itinerary
We visited Crater Lake National Park in one busy day, starting at sunrise and ending in the dark, and were able to do almost all of the hikes listed on this guide, plus go for a swim and drive Rim Drive. It was a busy day, but doable if you are fine moving at a quicker pace and driving at night. Here’s our exact itinerary!
- Start the morning with sunrise at Watchman Peak!
- Walk along the Discovery Point Trail.
- Hike up Garfield Peak or Mount Scott.
- After working up a sweat, hike down to Cleetwood Cove to go swim in the lake!
- Experience something different than the lake along the Pinnacles Valley Trail and Plaikni Falls Trail.
- Spend the rest of the afternoon visiting different overlooks along Rim Drive.
- End the day with sunset at the Cloudcap Overlook!
Have more than one day in the park? We’d suggest using your extra time to go on the Wizard Island boat tour or spreading out this itinerary to make it a bit more leisurely
Getting to + around Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake National Park is located in Southern Oregon and is close to a handful of smaller towns, but is a bit of a trek from any major cities. Here’s how you can get to the park, both by plane or car!
Flying to Crater Lake National Park
The closest airport to the park is the Rogue Valley-Medford Airport (MFR), which is in Medford, Oregon, about 1 hour and 40 minutes southwest of the park. However, this is a small airport and only offers nonstop flights to a handful of cities out west.
For a medium sized airport, the Eugene Airport (EUG), which is 3.5 hours northwest of Crater Lake may be a good option, with a handful of nonstop flights on American, Alaska, Delta, United, and Southwest.
The largest airport though will be the Portland International Airport (PDX), which is just over 5 hours north of the park and offers tons of airline and flight options across the US!
Driving to Crater Lake National Park
For those wanting to road trip to Crater Lake National Park, here is how long you can expect to drive from nearby popular destinations!
- Bend, OR: 2 hours (105 miles)
- Eugene, OR: 3 hours (142 miles)
- Redwood National Park: 4.5-5 hours (217 miles)
- Portland, OR: 4.5-5 hours (247 miles)
- Boise, ID: 7.5 hours (414 miles)
Getting around Crater Lake National Park
Unlike some national parks, Crater Lake does not have a park shuttle, however, there is a trolley tour that you can go on if you’d like to leave the driving to someone else and learn more about the park. For those who prefer to get around on their own, you will either need your own car or a rental car (any kind will work fine!) to visit the park.
When to visit Crater Lake National Park
Although Crater Lake National Park is open year round, the best time to visit the park is in the summer, specifically July-mid September. This is when the trails are snow free, the park roads are fully open, and boat tours are running. If going on a boat tour isn’t top priority for you, you could visit in June or October, but keep in mind that some parts of the park road may be closed.
We visited the park in early September and it was perfect! The weather was nice and sunny, which made jumping into the lake more bearable, and the crowds weren’t too bad.
If you choose to visit in the winter, you’ll be treated to a winter wonderland, which is a unique experience that not many get to have! The park can receive up to 41 feet of snow (WOAH!) and certain entrances are closed, as well as all of Rim Drive. This means that the best way to get around will be by cross country skiing or snowshoes.
We’d love to return in the winter someday to see the blue lake pop against the bright, white snow, but if it’s your first visit, you’ll get the most out of the park by going in the summer!
Where to Stay near Crater Lake National Park
Lodging in Crater Lake National Park
One amazing thing about Crater Lake National Park is that there are many lodging options in the park, making it super easy to visit!
Crater Lake Lodge
Inside the park you can find the Crater Lake Lodge, which is open from mid-May to mid-October and has 71 rooms, some of which have a lake view, plus a restaurant.
Cabins at Mazama Village
Crater Lake also has a total of 10 cabins at Mazama Village, each with 4 private rooms. These rooms have two queen beds, plus a private bathroom and have recently been redone. The property itself is a little bit away from the lake and next to both the Mazama Campground and the Annie Creek Restaurant.
The Mazama Campground is the largest campground in the park, with 214 sites, some of which have partial or full hookups for RVs!
The campground is typically open from June to late September and is the only reservable campground in the park. We highly suggest making reservations as early as you can!
Lost Creek Campground
The Lost Creek Campground is another campground option in the park, but it is only for tent campers and is first-come, first-served, with 16 sites total.
Boondocking near Crater Lake National Park
If you’re like us and prefer free camping, plus the flexibility of not having to reserve a site, there are a handful of boondocking spots near Crater Lake National Park!
Curious how we find free campsites? Check out our detailed guide to free camping to learn which tools we use, rules to follow, and other tips! And if you want to try one of our favorite camping apps, The Dyrt PRO, you can get a FREE 30 day trial of their PRO version using our code AplusK!
Lodging outside of Crater Lake National Park
Want to stay outside of the park? We suggest staying in Bend, which is 2 hours northeast of the park, and visit as a long day trip. Bend is one of our favorite cities in the Pacific Northwest and offers so much to do (check out our detailed guide to Bend to learn all about it!), making it a great destination to combine with Crater Lake.
If you choose to stay in Bend, here are some lodging suggestions!
Hampton Inn & Suites
McMenamins Old St. Francis School
Quiet 1/1 Near River & Old Mill (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom)
Cozy and Convenient Downtown Cottage (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom)
The August (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom)
Dome Sweet Dome (Studio, 1 bathroom)
Branch & Thistle (3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms)
The Camp: This is an old RV park from the 50s that has been completely redone and is the ONLY RV park allowed in town! They have RV sites with full hookups, as well as a tiny cottage and some super cool renovated trailers. The Camp also has showers, restrooms, and laundry, plus an area to let your dog play and a communal fire pit + two grills. Oh, and they have FREE coffee in the mornings!
Oregon Badlands Wilderness (FREE): This is a great boondocking spot a bit east of town, but it didn’t take too long to get into town and offered a good amount of solitude. It doesn’t have any restrooms and the cell service wasn’t the best (AT&T was better than Verizon).
Lava Lake Campground: We stayed here the first time we went to Bend and Crater Lake and it’s a beautiful spot!
What to bring with you to Crater Lake National Park
To see everything we take hiking, check out our hiking gear as well as our guide about how to make a 10 essentials kit. But for this specific area, we have a few items we really want to stress bringing with you.
Food and snacks
There are three restaurants in the park, but based on our experiences eating in national parks, we’d suggest saving money and packing your own food! You can see some of our favorite hiking meals and snack options here!
While there are some water fill up stations in the park, we suggest carrying a good amount of water on you. We like to hike with our 3L Camelbak bladders, which makes it easy to drink and hike at the same time.
Flashlight or headlamp
If you plan on doing any sunrise or sunset hikes, you’ll need some sort of light source, like a flashlight or headlamp.
If you plan to jump into Crater Lake, make sure to bring a swimsuit! There are restrooms down in Cleetwood Cove, but they may not be very clean, so we suggest changing before getting down there.
With lots of exposed trails and sunny summer weather, make sure to bring sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and any other sun protection!
Cell service is very spotty in the park, so we highly suggest downloading the offline AllTrails map in advance for any trails that you’d like to hike!
Want to get 30% off an AllTrails+ membership? Click this link or use our code aplusk30 (you must redeem this code on the website, not the app)!
We use AllTrails+ on every single hike and it is the most helpful hiking tool out there! Some of the features we love are offline maps (so we can navigate even without cell service), wrong-turn alerts, and its 3D maps feature, so we can get a feel for trails before we hike.
Other things to know before visiting Crater Lake National Park
It costs $30 per vehicle to enter Crater Lake National Park from mid-May to October 31 ($20 in the winter), which lasts for 7 days. We recommend getting the America the Beautiful Pass, which is $80 per year and gets you into all National Park Service managed sites and federal lands for free.
Dogs are not allowed
While dogs are not allowed on trails in the park, they are allowed in the campgrounds, parking lots, on paved walkways, and within 50 feet of paved surfaces. If you plan to visit the paved overlooks, they can join you for those!
The summertime means wildfire season and Crater Lake often experiences smoky skies due to nearby fires. Be prepared to encounter wildfire smoke and make sure to check for any closures before your visit.
Ready to experience the deepest lake in the US?
Pin this guide with the best things to do at Crater Lake to help plan your trip!