There's something compelling about a high-elevation lake located in the caldera of an old volcano. The reality of Crater Lake, just under 2,000 feet deep, is even more spectacular. The intense blue water of Crater Lake can't be found anywhere else in the United States.
Although visitors flock to the park throughout the year, if you have boating or hiking on the mind, summer is the best time to come to the park. The Rim Drives and other upper-elevation roads can open sometime in June, but exactly when varies each year depending on the timing and amount of winter snowfall. Winter season starts early and ends late at the park, and the abundant snowfall closes many roads and facilities. Every effort is made to keep Highway 62 and the road to Rim Village open throughout the year.
No matter when you visit, there's something to explore. Read on for a few ideas for some of the best things you can see and do during a visit to Crater Lake National Park.
Sinnott Memorial Overlook & Rim Village Visitor Center
The Rim Village Visitor Center, a charming old stone structure, sits above Sinnott Memorial Overlook. Here you can learn about the geology of the lake and volcano before stepping out onto an open-air viewing area. You'll be treated to a spectacular view of Crater Lake's blue water across to Wizard Island (that's the volcanic cone rising out of the center of of the lake) and the surrounding rim. During the warmer months, park rangers give daily geology-focused talks at the overlook.
Take a Scenic Drive Around Crater Lake
Roads circle the entire lake and are typically open July through October. You'll get sweeping views of the lake from the numerous scenic overlooks where you can stop and explore, capturing the vista in photographs or enjoying a hike or picnic. Many of these overlooks are unmarked or at the end of a spur road, so be sure to pick up a "Crater Lake Reflections" newsletter or purchase a detailed guide at one of the visitor centers. Plan to spend at least a half day driving if you plan to stop at more than a couple of the overlooks.
Located toward the end of the road that leads up to Rim Drive, this year-round facility is not only a Crater Lake National Park visitor center, but the park headquarters, a book store, and a post office. In short, it's an all-around great place to stop at the beginning of your visit. Sure, you can enjoy the beautiful lake without knowing much about it, but orient yourself with some knowledge about Crater Lake and Mount Mazama through interpretive exhibits and a film and you can appreciate it even more. Expert park rangers can provide information about trail and road conditions, recreation trails, and campgrounds. And pick up a copy of "Crater Lake Reflections" so you've got the latest and greatest information and maps for the park.
Waterfalls, wildflowers, and volcanic spires. Wooded landscapes that open up to awesome Crater Lake views. These are all great reasons to enjoy a hike during your visit to Crater Lake National Park. The easier nature trails include the Lady of the Woods loop at the Steel Visitor Center or the accessible Godfrey Glen. From Rim Village you can enjoy the 2.4-mile Discovery Point trail that skirts the caldera rim and offers great lake and Wizard Island views. Whether in sight of the lake or among down-slope woods and meadows, once in the park you'll find many hiking options.
The Volcano Boat Tour allows you to experience Crater Lake's unique scenery looking around and up from the water rather than down from the caldera rim. A knowledgeable park ranger comes along on each trip to fill you in on the lake and park's history and science. The tour stops at Wizard Island, where adventurous guests can—with advanced reservations—spend a few hours hiking and exploring the island. The Crater Lake boat tour is not for everyone. It begins and ends with a steep, mile-plus hike; the boat dock is located 700 feet down at Cleetwood Cove on the north side of the lake.
You can stop to eat at a few restaurants within the park. For quick bites or a light lunch, look to the Annie Creek Restaurant and Gift Shop or Rim Village Cafe and Gift Shop. But if you want to dine in style, look to the Crater Lake Lodge Dining Room. With its huge stone fireplace and rough log columns, the Dining Room is a cozy and charming place to enjoy breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Reserve or ask for one of the window tables and enjoy your meal paired with splendid Crater Lake views. (Or walk-ins can ask for a seat on the outdoor terrace for light happy hour bites.) The menu features such fresh Oregon foods as local cheese and marionberries, and many menu items are sustainably sourced or organic.
Winter brings abundant snow, making parts of Crater Lake National Park a fun winter playground. The park's North Entrance Road is groomed for snowmobiling. While there are no designated sledding areas, you'll find nice slopes in open, snow-covered meadows. Portions of the Rim Drives and some recreation trails are available to cross-country skiers during winter. Crater Lake National Park provides great terrain for snowshoeing.