Crater Lake, high in the Cascade Mountains range, is Oregon’s shimmering blue gem. It’s a must-see landmark during any trip to Southern Oregon.
There are two ways many people enjoy the lake, according to Craig Ackerman, Crater Lake National Park superintendent. One is to drive the 33-mile Rim Drive and stop at the many vista points overlooking the water. The other is to make the one-mile hike down a switchback trail to the water’s edge.
People who have never ventured down to the water level are really missing something special,” the superintendent says. But remember, he cautions, the hike back to the rim is steep.
To appreciate Crater Lake, it may help to understand how it came to be. Crater Lake National Park rangers are on hand to explain the eruption of Mt. Mazama about 7,700 years ago and how the mountain collapsed, creating a 2,000-foot deep crater.
The end result is a lake created solely from snow melt, there is no river flowing in. Scientists have measured the water’s clarity to as deep as 120 feet.
The national park becomes a natural play land throughout the year. Heavy snowfall lingering through spring makes this a winter getaway. In the summer, hikers and cyclists take advantage.
It snows at Crater Lake National Park. It snows a lot. The white stuff falls each fall and the roads normally are not open again until June. The park is open every day of the year, but vehicle access is limited in the winter months to the South gate via Route 62, Munson Valley Road and the Rim Village area. It’s difficult to predict an opening date for the North Entrance or Rim Drive because spring weather each year varies.
Once the snow melts, the park becomes a playground for campers, hikers and bird watchers. You can fish and swim in the very cold water. Or, you can stay above the water on a boat tour. To protect the lake and the environment, only national park boats are allowed on the water.
How To Get There
Crater Lake National Park is accessible from the north and south. Most people arrive by car. Here are driving directions provided the national Park Service. For additional information about transportation, visit this web site.
Reaching the park by car
Roads inside and close to the park are typical mountain roads with many curves and a number of drop-offs. Weather can change suddenly, with snowstorms even in August. Drive cautiously especially if you're not used to mountain driving.
From the South - This is accessible year round.
From Medford - Route 62 north and east to the park's west entrance.
From Klamath Falls - Route 97 north to Route 62 north and west to the park's south entrance.
From the North during the summer
The park's north entrance is closed in the winter and spring. Dates can vary, but typically the north entrance is closed from early November to June. Please call park dispatch for the latest road status (541)594-3000.
From Roseburg - Route 138 east to the park's north entrance.
From Bend - Route 97 south to Route 138 west to the park's north entrance.
From the North during the winter
From Roseburg - Route 138 east to Route 230 south to Route 62 east to the park's west entrance.
From Bend - Route 97 south to Route 62 north and west to the park's south entrance.
There are two visitor centers in the park. The Steel Visitor Center at Park Headquarters is open 9 am–5 pm daily all year. A 22-minute film is shown every 30 minutes explains the park’s significance and the lake’s violent, volcanic past.
The Rim Visitor Center at Rim Village is open 9:30 am–5 pm late May to late September.
Car - $15 (7-day pass)
Motorcycles, bicycles &pedestrians - $10 per person (7-day pass)
- Capacity of 1 to 6 individuals - $25 + passenger fee ($5)
- Capacity of 7 to 15 individuals - $75
- Capacity of 16 to 25 individuals - $100
- Capacity of 26 or more individual - $200
For more information on commercial vehicles, buses, and school fee waivers, click here.
- January 18: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
- April 16-24: National Park Week
- August 25-28: National Park Service Birthday
- September 24: National Public Lands Day
- November 11: Veterans Day
Things To Do at Crater Lake
The park is open all year but access is limited to the south gate during the winter. Snow piles deep and trails for Nordic skiing and snowshoeing may be closed depending on conditions.
Free ranger-led snowshoe hikes are offered on weekends, usually from late November through late April. Snowshoes are provided at no cost. Call 541-594-3100 for details and reservations.
Nordic or cross-country skiing is available on some trails and on Rim Drive - when the road is closed.
Snowmobiling is only permitted from the North Entrance.
In the summer, activities include hiking, boat tours, trolley tours, ranger-guided programs, swimming, fishing, ranger talks, evening programs, camping and other activities are offered. Some activities require tickets or reservations. Please check park schedules for dates and times.
A good way to start your visit is to make your way to the Steel Visitor Center near the south entrance. The visitor center is open year round. Rangers and staff can answer questions, plan hikes and offer some advice on lodging and camping, and tell you where to access the popular Cleetwood Trail - the only trail to the lake surface.
Questions? Call 541-594-3100. rangers and staff are available to help.
Drive Around The Rim - One of the most popular ways to see Crater Lake is to circle the caldera on the 33-mile Rim Drive by car. There are several turnouts along the way to stop, take pictures and just soak up the one-of-a-kind scenery. Rim Drive is usually cleared of snow by July and stay s clear into October.
Cleetwood Trail - There's only one way to get to the lake shore. You must hike 1.1 mile (down on the switchback Cleetwood Trail to Cleetwood Cove. To find the trailhead, drive to the lake's north side, 11 miles (17.6 km) from Rim Village if traveling clockwise on Rim Drive.
It's a nice hike down and once at the bottom you can fish, swim or take a boat tour (ticket required). Returning to the top is a challenge for some. The switchbacks make the climb easier but it's still equivalent to climbing 65 flights of stairs, park officials say. The trail is not accessible for people with mobility impairments.
Other Hikes - There are 16 official hiking trails with Crater Lake National Park ranging from easy to moderate and strenuous. The National Park Service provides information on each in this PDF document.
Boat Tours - Join a park ranger for a 2-hour cruise around Crater Lake. Boat tours on Crater Lake are operated by Xanterra Parks & Resorts in partnership with the National Park Service. Here's a description.
Each boat holds 37 passengers. Tickets are available for advance purchase by calling 888-774-2728 and at automated kiosks inside Crater Lake Lodge and the Annie Creek Gift Shop. These tickets go on sale exactly 24 hours in advance of each tour. Sales continue until the tour is sold out or until 2 hours remain before departure.
Cycling - Road cyclists are permitted on paved roads and on the unpaved Grayback Drive. Bicycles are not allowed on park trails, with one exception: the Pinnacles Trail. Serious road cyclists love riding on Rim Drive but anyone thinking of taking on this challenge should know the road's long, steep and frequent climbs total 3,800 feet.
Each year, the National Park Service schedules two "vehicle-free" Saturdays in September when motorized vehicles are banned from East Rim Drive. It's a great opportunity for cyclists and pedestrians to enjoy the views without worrying about traffic. Vehicle-free days in 2016 are September 17 and 24.
Where To Sleep In The Park
Crater Lake Lodge features 71 rooms overlooks the lake at Rim Village. In 2015, it usually opens in May and closes in October, weather permitting. Rooms start at about $180 per night and advance reservations are highly recommended.
The Cabins at Mazama Village (40 rooms, rates starting at about $152 per night) are located 7 miles south of Rim Village. Operating dates for 2015 are April 24–October 4.There are two motels in the park.
For reservations, visit www.craterlakelodges.com or call 888- 774-2728.
The park has two campgrounds, both south of the lake. Mazama Campground (214 sites) is located 7 miles south of Rim Village near Highway 62 and is operated by Xanterra, the official concessionaire. Tent sites are $23 per night and RV sites are $32.50 per night. For reservations, visit www.craterlakelodges.com or call 888- 774-2728.
Lost Creek Campground (16 sites) is a small campground for tents only on the road to Pinnacles Overlook ($10 per night). It usually opens in early July and closes in mid-October. Registration is self-service, and reservations are not taken. The campground typically fills up, so arrive early to secure a site. It has running water, sinks, and flush toilets. This campground is operated by the National Park Service.
Where To Eat
Annie Creek Restaurant in Mazama Village features hearty breakfasts, a variety of entrees, burgers, pizza, and a soup & salad bar. Late April to early October.
Rim Village Café serves lighter fare including grab-and-go sandwiches, salads, soup, and snacks. Open all year, weather permitting.
Crater Lake Lodge offers fine dining in a casual atmosphere, with gourmet cuisine made from local ingredients. Reservations are recommended for dinner (541-594-2255 ext. 3217) but are not taken for breakfast or lunch. May through mid-October.