Visiting Crater Lake National Park in Oregon
Crater Lake Natural Beauty in Oregon
Put this place at the top of your must-see natural sights in the United States!
Crater Lake, Oregon is the deepest lake in America - one of the deepest in the world, in fact. The amazingly crystal clear, blue water and stunning geological formations will delight you no matter what time of year you visit.
Crater Lake was formed 7,700 years ago when a 12,000 foot mountain imploded on itself. Mt. Mazama was once the highest peak in Oregon prior to the volcanic activity that rocked the region and continues to create amazing peaks and buttes along the West Coast.
Where the mountain once stood is now a caldera that includes Crater Lake. Fed entirely by rain and snow run-off, there are no rivers or streams that reach the lake. Wizard Island, in the southwest area of the lake is actually a small volcanic cinder cone, formed by eruptions subsequent to the collapse of Mount Mazama.
Crater Lake National Park is a national treasure, protected by the National Park Service. Famous for its intensely blue color and amazing clarity, its no wonder that millions of people visit the area to hike, camp and photograph its natural beauty.
Facts About Crater Lake, Oregon
- Depth of Crater Lake (deepest in U.S.): 1,943 feet (592 meters)
- Width of Crater Lake: 4.5 to 6 miles
- Average surface elevation of the lake: 6173 feet above sea level
- Watchman Overlook has an elevation of 8013 feet (2000 feet between the top of the crater and the lake below!)
- Crater Lake National Park was established in 1902 - one of the oldest National Parks
- Size of the National Park is 183,000 acres
- Annual snowfall in the region: 44 feet
- River Rim drive around the lake is 33 miles (only parts are open year round)
- Crater Lake Caldera was formed 7,700 years ago
- The eruption and collapse of 12,000 foot tall Mt. Mazama created the caldera into which precipitation waters filled it, becoming Crater Lake
- The Mt. Mazama eruption may have been the largest in North America in over 1/2 million years!
- Crater Lake National Park is open year-round
- Over 500,000 visitors come to the Park each year
- Cost to enter the park: $10 for a passenger vehicle
Tour Crater Lake Around the Rim Drive
Our family visited Crater Lake National Park in August, which is a good time of the year to get to the National Park. From our hometown of Bend, Oregon, it was just under a 2-hour drive to the park's north entrance. Summer crowds are still heavy in August, but the park's peak visit month is July.
From June until October, the roads are generally clear of snow and the Rim Drive around the lake should be entirely open. Although Crater Lake National Park is open year-round, portions of Rim Drive are often closed due to weather conditions through the winter and early spring.
We drove the entire 33-mile loop along Crater Lake Rim Drive. Often windy and narrow, if you are afraid of heights, just slow down and use one of the many pull-outs from which you can enjoy the magnificent scenery and take photographs.
If you want to let someone else do the driving, consider a Ranger-guided trolley tour around the Rim. Tours depart from Rim Village and take about 2 hours total. The trolley seats 25 passengers in a wheel-chair accessible ride. To help keep the air clean around Crater Lake, the trolleys are powered by compressed natural gas, which is 30-40% cleaner than comparable gas or diesel vehicles!
Tickets are $25 per adult, $15 for kids ages 5-13. Under age 5 is free, and seniors are only $22. Tours leave each hour from 10-3 from late-May until mid-October.
Hiking Trails at Crater Lake, Oregon
When we visited Crater Lake, we did three of the numerous hikes in the area, including the strenuous 2.2 mile Cleetwood Cove Trail down to the lake shore (the only access to the lake itself in the entire park). While steep, the trail is relatively short - just over a mile each direction. Four children ages 7-13 were able to easily navigate the trail.
In addition to the Rim Drive, you can experience a 2-hour guided tour of Crater Lake by boat. This will require you to hike down and back along Cleetwood Cove Trail to access the boat. A limited number of tickets each day will allow those who wish to disembark at Wizard Island for a 3-hour stay to allow hiking, fishing and swimming on the island, and then get picked up by a later boat.
We decided not to mortgage our home so we could do the boat tour, which is operated by Xanterra Parks and Resorts in cooperation with the Park Service (adults are $28 per person and children are $15 each - our family of 6 would need over $100 for the experience).
We will have to go back to Crater Lake for another visit someday, as there are about 90 miles of maintained hiking trails around the lake! Day hikes range from 1/2 hour to 6 hours round trip. The Park Service has detailed trail information, including distances, elevation gain, estimated hike time and a rating of each hike from easy to moderate to strenuous.
For safety reasons, you are advised to stay on the trails and not attempt to rock climb or hike inside the caldera. Dogs are not allowed on any of the park trails, either!
If you want to do an overnight hike/camp, you need to get a permit at the park's Visitor Center, or at the ranger station at the Park Headquarters. The rangers can advise you about the areas of Crater Lake National Park that are not open to backcountry camping.
A final important note - even on a relatively short day hike, you should bring water and food with you. Its easy to become dehydrated along the trails!
How Crater Lake was Formed
Rim Village and Crater Lake Lodge
Rim Village is the main gathering/information spot at Crater Lake National Park. Located at the Southern side of the lake, it includes the Crater Lake Lodge, Annie Creek Restaurant, Rim Village Cafe, Mazama Village Store, two gift stores, two visitor centers and the Sinnott Memorial Overlook.
You will definitely want to visit the Sinnott Memorial Overlook. A set of fairly steep stairs takes you down to an open parapet, built into the rock cliffs. Spectacular views of the lake are enhanced with information and exhibits on the geologic history of Crater Lake. A relief model (shown to the right) explains the sights of the area. There is also an enclosed exhibit room. The overlook is open from June to October. Twice a day, you can listen to 20-minute ranger talks. The site is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
The Steel Visitor Center is at Park Headquarters and is open year-round. The Rim Visitor Center, on the other hand, is only open from June through late September.
The Crater Lake Lodge looks like a spectacular place at which to stay (we only visited the Park for the day). The historic lodge originally opened in 1915, and was extensively renovated in the 1990s. It has 71 rooms overlooking the lake!
As with many other portions of Rim Village, it is only open during summer months (late May through mid-October). If you want to stay at Crater Lake any other time of the year, you'll have to plan on camping!
More Information on the Formation and History of Crater Lake
Staying at Crater Lake, Oregon
As noted above, the Crater Lake Lodge is only open during summer months. The Cabins at Mazama Village is another lodging option - about 7 miles south of Rim Village - with 40 rooms. Again, the Cabins are available through the summer, and closed from October until late May.
Many people choose to camp at Crater Lake, and there are two campgrounds at opposite sides of the lake. Mazama Campground is south of Rim Village and has over 200 sites - both for RVs and tent camping. You can reserve campsites ahead of time by calling 1-888-774-2728. As of the date of this publication, prices are $27 per night for RV sites and $21 for tent sites. Food lockers, picnic tables and fire rings are at each site. Running water, sinks and flush toilets make this camping experience especially nice!
Lost Creek Campground only has 16 sites and is for tent camping alone. Like Mazama, it also has tables, fire rings, food lockers and running water/flush toilets. Get there before noon to get a spot on the weekend.
The campgrounds are open during summer months, and if you are particularly adventurous, you can always go camping in the backcountry around Crater Lake. Just don't forget to get your $10 permit ahead of time!
Things to Do at Crater Lake National Park
- Hiking - as noted above, there are over 90 maintained trails in Crater Lake National Park
- Swimming - very cold! Only allowed at Cleetwood Cove and Wizard Island
- Fishing (rainbow trout and kokanee salmon were introduced to the Lake between 1888 and 1941)
- Bicycling - around Rim Drive; no cycling on park hiking trails
- Backcountry Camping - need a permit first
- Campground Camping - only open during summer months; call to reserve a spot at Mazama Campground in advance
- Wildlife viewing - elk, bobcats, foxes, deer, squirrels, bald eagles and more!
- Sky gazing - light pollution is nonexistent, so you can marvel at astronomical events in the heavens above
- Photography - so much natural beauty!
Review of Crater Lake, Oregon
Its hard to believe that, although we've lived in Oregon for several, we had not visited Crater Lake until this summer. I hope that the photographs in this Hub does it justice - but I have to say that you really should plan on visiting this natural jewel in person!
Whether you want to hike, bicycle or just drive around the lake, there are many ways to enjoy the beauty of Crater Lake National Park.
I'd like to go back early in the year when the Rim Drive first opens so I can see the snow-covered peaks around the lake. Wildflowers are at their peak from mid-July to mid-August, as well. Since Crater Lake is less than 2 hours away from my home, we are certain to get back there for more adventure and fun!
How to Get to Crater Lake National Park
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