Crater Lake National Park: The Complete Guide

Crater Lake NP

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Crater Lake National Park

Oregon, USA
Phone +1 541-594-3000

Formed 7,700 years ago when a massive volcano collapsed in what is now the Cascade Mountain Range, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States (1,943 feet) and the ninth deepest in the world. Fed only by rain and snowmelt, the lake is considered to be one of the world's cleanest.

You can see this exceptionally clear and intensely blue lake at the eponymous Crater Lake National Park, spread across 183,224 acres in the state of Oregon. The park is home to more than 700 native plant species, like the rare and endangered whitebark pines that line the rim, and at least 72 types of mammals, including black bears, mountain lions, bald eagles, and owls. During your visit, enjoy a boat cruise, exploring Wizard Island (a cinder cone formed during a later eruption), and conquer some 90 miles of trails. 

This complete guide will cover must-see features, campground options, historic hotels, best hiking trails, and logistics like how to get there, seasonal closures, fees, and permits. 

History & Culture

Oregon's only national park was established in 1902 to protect the lake, the caldera it sits within, and the old-growth forests and mountain peaks that surround it. European contact is fairly recent compared to the lake’s creation; it started in 1853 when a group of prospectors looking for gold happened upon it.

The Native American connection to the region is much older. In fact, it can be traced back to before the eruption of Mount Mazama as artifacts were found under layers of ash and pumice. The volcano was used as a hunting ground and temporary camping site by the Makalak people who lived southeast of the present-day park. Accounts of the eruption, which are explained in a legend involving spirits named Llao and Skell at war after the Makalak chief’s daughter rebuked Llao’s advances, are found in the lore of Makalak descendants, the Klamath TribesThe Umpqua, who live in southwestern Oregon, tell a similar story with different spirits. After the eruption, the Makalaks believed the place was so holy that looking upon it would lead to death.

boat and Phantom Ship at Crater Lake NP

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Things to Do

There are a variety of things to do in Crater Lake National Park. First-time explorers should start at one of two visitor centers. Steel Visitor Center is open year-round while Rim is open in the summer only. Both have exhibits, ranger desks, a relief map, a park film, and a park store.

The best way to experience Crater Lake is by getting out on the water. Be sure to sign up for a boat tour, which will treat you to unparalleled views of the lake. Swimming can only be done from the rocky shore of Cleetwood Cove, but be prepared for an average water temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Fishing using only inorganic bait for the non-native rainbow trout and kokanee salmon is also allowed there without a license; fish can be kept or released. To do any of these activities, note that you’ll have to hike a 2.2-mile trail down to the boat dock (more info below).

Driving, biking, running, and walking the 33-mile scenic byway called Rim Drive are also fantastic ways to see the lake. The latter activities are especially fun (and safe) on “Ride The Rim” days when a good portion of the route is closed to motorized vehicles. 

Crater Lake Trolley tours are a good option for visitors who would like to take a day off from driving. Leaving from the Visitor Center and Mazama Campground, the ADA-compliant trolley offers a two-hour exploration via Rim Drive with a guide and stops at multiple points of interest. The company also runs a shuttle daily in season from the Klamath Falls Amtrak Station 65 miles away.

There are also trails to hike, picnic areas to nosh at, and ranger programs like summer bird talks and winter snowshoe treks to partake in. Ranger program variety and frequency differ throughout the year. Earn a badge by completing the Junior Ranger activity book.

forest hike at Crater Lake NP

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Best Hikes & Trails

Crater Lake has 90 miles of hiking trails to please every level of trekker. More than 95 percent of the park is managed as wilderness and there are plenty of opportunities for backcountry adventures in old-growth forests and volcanic landscapes.

Some favorite day hikes include:

  • Castle Crest: This half-mile loop through a verdant meadow is a must for wildflower lovers. Peak bloom is from late June to late July.
  • Cleetwood Cove Trail: The only hike allowed within the caldera, this taxing 2.2-mile, out-and-back trail has a 700-foot elevation change. It is the only legal access to the rocky shore and is required for boat tours, swimming, and fishing.
  • Wizard Island Summit Trail: Take the boat to Wizard Island and climb the moderate path to the cinder cone’s summit where a 90-foot-deep crater awaits. The round trip is 2.2 miles.
  • Sun Notch: A short (0.8 miles) uphill stroll to the rim that provides a great view of the Phantom Ship.
  • Godfrey Glen: This easy and accessible 1.1-mile trek takes walkers through an old-growth forest and has some canyon views.
  • Boundary Springs: This is a moderate, often flower-filled 5-mile trek to the Rogue River’s headwaters. It starts outside the park at a pullout on Highway 230.
  • Plaikni Falls: Climbing only 100 feet in elevation, this 2-mile journey leads hikers through the forest to a snowmelt-fed waterfall.
  • Mount Scott: It’s a challenging 4.4-mile round trip that ascends 1,250 feet up the park’s tallest peak (8,928 feet) and takes around three hours. Those who reach the top are rewarded with 360-degree panoramic views. The morning light is best for lake viewing. 
  • Union Peak: Take a long forest walk before climbing to the top of a steep old volcano core that has been eroded by glaciers. You can’t see the lake on this 9.8-mile path, but there is plenty of other interesting geology as well as views for miles. 

For those hiking the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), the park has two PCT trailheads. However, keep in mind that you will have to leave the official trail if you want to get a glimpse of Crater Lake. 

Boat Tours

Crater Lake Hospitality runs two types of boat tours. To do either, passengers must be able to hike the strenuous 2.2-mile Cleetwood Cove Trail down to the boat dock and back. The standard lake cruise is a leisurely two-hour tour around the lake to get close-up views of Wizard Island, Phantom Ship, and other natural points of interest. Those who sign up for a Wizard Island tour will cruise the lake’s perimeter before spending three hours hiking, fishing, or swimming on the titular 763-foot cinder cone.

Scenic Drives

The full, 33-mile Rim Drive loop is usually open from July to October. Without stopping, the loop takes about an hour but you should allocate a few extra hours as there are more than 30 pullouts offering striking panoramas and roadside exhibits. At the very least, make sure to leave time to hit the seven must-see stops: Discovery Point, Watchman Overlook, Cloudcap Overlook, Pumice Castle Overlook, Vidae Falls, Phantom Ship Overlook, and Pinnacles Overlook.

Thanks to its secluded location and clean air, Crater Lake National Park is a great place to go stargazing or observe celestial events. Discovery Point is a favorite sunrise spot while Watchman Overlook, Cloudcap Overlook, and Watchman Peak are better for catching sunset and moonrise. 

milky way over Crater Lake NP

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Where to Camp

There are a couple of places to set up camp within the park’s borders: Lost Creek Campground and Mazama Campground. 

Seven miles south of Rim Village and just past the park’s southern entrance sits the Mazama Campground. Each of the 214 sites features a picnic table, fire ring with a grill, and a bear-proof food locker. Rates range from $21 a night for a tent site to $42 for an RV site with full hookups. There are restrooms, potable water, a gas station, and a dump station at the campground. It shuts down in the winter. Reservations can be made online, although 25 percent of the sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Lost Creek is comprised of tent-only, no-frills sites (i.e. no potable water, wood fires, or showers), which rent for $5 a night. They offer portable toilets only. Each site also has a bear-resistant locker where all food, toiletries, and cooking equipment must be kept when not in use. Reservations can not be made in advance; registration is self-serve on arrival day. On weekends and peak season dates, it’s usually filled by mid-afternoon. Typically open from July 1 through mid-October, the opening and closing dates are based on weather conditions and snow/debris removal.

Backcountry camping requires a permit year-round; permits must be obtained in person from the ranger station at park headquarters. PCT through-hikers do not need to get a permit, but they must sign the register as they enter the park. You can learn more about the process on the NPS website.

Crater Lake Lodge

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Where to Stay

There are two accommodation options inside the park if you prefer not to rough it. Both are operated by Crater Lake Hospitality and can be reserved up to 365 days in advance online.

Overlooking the lake from Rim Village, the 71-room Crater Lake Lodge opened in 1915. It is usually open from early May to mid-October. The historic lodge features rooms with one king, one queen, or two queen beds as well as ADA-accessible units. It also features a dining room that serves breakfast and dinner, as well as a patio offering lake views.

Nestled among the Ponderosa pines, the Cabins at Mazama Village are 7 miles from Rim Village and recently underwent an interior renovation. They feature two queen beds and private bathrooms but do not have phones, TVs, or air conditioning. Mazama Village is also home to Annie Creek Restaurant and Gift Shop, plus a camp store carrying groceries, firewood, gas, and camping supplies. The cabins close seasonally.

How to Get There

The park sits in the middle of three highways: OR-230, OR-138, and OR-62. The park’s west and south entrances are located off Highway 62 while the north entrance is accessed from the 138. Klamath Falls, Ore., is 44 miles from the park and Bend is 90 miles northeast on US-97. Although Bend is a bigger city, both have municipal airports and are on an Amtrak route. College town Eugen is also an option to fly into and is still less than two-and-a-half hours away. Portland and PDX are four hours away by car but will obviously offer the most flight options.


Although much of the park’s backcountry is generally inaccessible to visitors with mobility issues, the NPS has instituted several features to make commercial facilities and several front-country trails accessible including:

  • Mazama Village’s campground, store, and restaurant are accessible. All commercial facilities including the visitor centers and most administrative buildings are as well.
  • Godfrey Glen is the park’s fully accessible trail as it has minimal cross-slopes and no grades higher than nine percent. The first three-fourths of Plaikni Falls is accessible to wheelchairs users with assistance. Other partially accessible trails include Pinnacles, Sun Notch, Crater Peak, Lady of the Woods, and Grayback Road.
  • Some picnic areas like Vidae Falls have designated parking, tables, and restrooms. 
  • There are two ADA cabins in Mazama Village and ADA rooms at the Crater Lake Lodge. Lost Creek has no specifically designated campsites, although some of the portable toilets are accessible.  
  • Service animals are allowed in buildings, on trails, and on boat tours.
Winter in Crater Lake NP

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Tips for Your Visit

  • Seven-day passes are $15 per pedestrian or bicyclist, $25 per motorcycle, or $30 per car. There is an annual pass for $55, which also covers entry to Lava Beds National Monument. Guests can also use the system-wide annual passes ($80). Purchase passes online in advance or pay at entrance gates. Special permits must be obtained for commercial photography, weddings, ash scattering, or special events like large picnics or group camping. Download mobile passes before you arrive as cell service is spotty at best.
  • The park is open 24 hours a day. The visitor center, however, maintains hours, which are reduced in the winter; it is also closed on major holidays. 
  • Weather plays a large part in what you will be able to see or do at Crater Lake. When it rains or snows, clouds hide the lake, making it invisible 50 percent of the time in winter. Snow or inclement weather often makes roads impassable and most of the hotels or campgrounds in the park close seasonally. Crater Lake averages 42 feet of snow annually.
  • Pets are allowed on leash on the Rim Village paved promenade, the Mazama Campground loop, paved roads or parking lots without significant snow, and up to 50 feet away from those aforementioned paved areas. In the summer, they are welcome on several trails, none of which offer lake views. These include Godfrey Glen, Lady of the Woods, Grayback Road, and the Pacific Coast Trail. 
Article Sources
TripSavvy uses only high-quality, trusted sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior. "Crater Lake." Accessed April 20, 2022.

  2. U.S. Department of the Interior. "12 Things You Didn't Know About Crater Lake National Park." Accessed April 20, 2022.

  3. National Park Service. "Crater Lake: History & Culture." Accessed April 20, 2022.

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Crater Lake National Park: The Complete Guide