Crater Lake National Park


Read Time

Crater Lake National Park

Explore Oregon’s only national park

In the mood for a scenic road trip starting in Bend, Oregon, and ending in one of the most pristine national parks on earth? Crater Lake National Park features towering cliffs, stunning volcanic islands, and water so shockingly blue, you’ll stand blinking in the sun trying to clear your vision in case the whole thing is one big, beautiful mirage.

Established in 1902, Crater Lake National Park is in the Cascade Mountains of southern Oregon, and it’s an incredible must-see day trip from your Bend home base. At 1,943 feet deep, it’s the deepest lake in the United States and the seventh deepest in the world. 

Crater Lake formed when Mt. Mazama blew its top about 7,700 years ago in a massive volcanic eruption. Then the whole thing collapsed on itself, creating a big hole, or caldera, that eventually filled with water to become the amazing lake you see today.

Located in Southern Oregon, the north entrance to Crater Lake is about 100 miles from Bend and takes around two hours to get there. The south entrance—which is how you access it in the winter—is around 140 miles from Bend and takes about three hours. 

The park is open year-round. However, many of the park’s roads, trails, and facilities are closed seasonally due to snow. You’ll need an America the Beautiful Annual Interagency Pass, a Crater Lake Annual Pass, or a day pass which you can purchase at the entrance station or online. Cell reception in the park and surrounding areas is limited. Be sure to carry a map or GPS.

Are you ready to explore the wonders of Crater Lake? Here are some highlights to help you make the most out of your visit. 

Pro Tip

The weather at Crater Lake can easily change from one minute to the next. Wind, precipitation, and temperature can quickly shift along the rim and at varying elevations. For extended outdoor adventures like hiking or a boat tour, grab some layers, wear sturdy footwear, and pack the 10 essentials. And remember to treat our national parks like the treasures they are by practicing the Leave No Trace principles.

The blue water of Crater Lake.

What to do at Crater Lake National Park in the summer

Summer is the most popular season for visiting Crater Lake, and for good reason. There are loads of scenic outdoor activities to choose from. Here are a few of our favorites:

Scenic drive: This is a must! The 33-mile drive loops the entire lake and doles out breathtaking panoramic views. In fact, it’s considered one of the most scenic drives in the US, if not the world. Explore over 30 vista stops where you can go Instagram crazy, enjoy a picnic, or set off on a hike. Because of heavy snowfall in the winter, the entire loop is typically open from July through October. On the first and third Saturdays in September, East Rim Drive closes to cars in order for bikes and pedestrians to enjoy the rim without traffic.

Hiking: The park has a number of breathtaking hiking trails, from family-friendly rim trails to strenuous mountain summit hikes. Discovery Point, Plaikni Falls, and Pinnacles Trail are three well-known easy and scenic hikes in the area. If you’re up for something a little steeper with sweeping views, check out Garfield Peak, Cleetwood Cove (which accesses the lake), and the Watchman Peak Trail. For accessible hiking, Plaikni Falls (except for the last ¼ mile), the Pinnacles, and Godfrey Glen trails are accessible to all-terrain wheelchairs. Dogs are not permitted on park trails.

Birding: Crater Lake National Park is a birder’s paradise. With over 250 species of birds in the park, there’s a feathered friend for everyone to discover. Some of the most common birds seen at Crater Lake include bald eagles, osprey, peregrine falcons, Clark’s nutcrackers, ravens, and hummingbirds. The park is also home to a variety of warblers, thrushes, jays, and sparrows. Don’t forget your binoculars and patience. 

Boat tour: Crater Lake Hospitality offers boat tours around Crater Lake for a captivating and educational experience. Tours are narrated by park rangers and provide up-close views of Wizard Island, Phantom Ship, and the dazzling deep blue waters. There are several tours to choose from, all starting from the boat dock at the bottom of the Cleetwood Cove Trail. You must be able to navigate over 700 feet of steep, downhill (uphill on the way back) switchbacks to reach the dock. Tours are typically available from July through October.

Swimming: The average lake temperature below 300 feet is a chilly 38 degrees, but the surface can warm to 55 or 60 degrees during the summer months. There’s only one spot where it’s safe and legal to access the lake shore for swimming, The Cleetwood Cove Trail. The trail opens mid to late June, is 1.1 miles long, and drops nearly 700 feet to the shoreline, where you can safely swim. If you dare, dive into the crystal clear lake water from the 20-foot rock ledge, which has become a ritual for many brave swimmers.

Keep in mind the summer season is short, generally spanning from June until the first snowfall, which usually hits in September. Check the website’s current conditions page to find out what’s open in the park each day. 

Backcountry skiing at Crater Lake, near Bend, OR

What to do at Crater Lake National Park in the winter

You can visit Crater Lake any time of year, though some of the roads and facilities are closed during the winter when the area gets an average of 44 feet of snow. But all that snow makes it a great time to enjoy Crater Lake’s popular ranger-guided snowshoe walks between November and April. The walks last two hours ​over a mile of moderately strenuous terrain while exploring forests and meadows along the rim of Crater Lake. You can also bring snowshoes or your cross-country skis from home and set out exploring on your own. The park’s north entrance is closed during the winter months, but the national park can still be accessed by using the southern entrance.

Staying in or around Crater Lake

The historic Crater Lake Lodge is the only hotel located within the national park. It was constructed in 1915 by William Gladstone Steel, who also spearheaded the park’s designation as a national park in 1902. After some major renovations throughout the decades, the lodge reopened to the public in 1995. Now, you can enjoy fine and casual dining, lodging, visitor information, a gift shop, and, of course, endless blue vistas. It does fill up quickly, so a reservation is highly recommended. 

Because the lodge is so popular, many visitors choose to stay at hotels and motels in nearby Bend or Klamath Falls. Within the park, camping is available at Mazama Village, which is seven miles from the lake rim near the south entrance. The Mazama Village Campground and RV Park has tent and RV sites or, for a little extra comfort, cabins. And there’s even a camp store for firewood and marshmallows. Sites fill up quickly, but you can check availability or make an online reservation in advance.