Crater Lake National Park
Guide

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Introduction

The adventures to be had here include discovering one of America's deepest lakes. The collapsed, dormant volcano of Crater Lake National Park is a stunning landmark and a unique location for guests to get aquatic. Encircling the great lake are old growth forests, towering high above as watchful towers. Also, as part of the park landscape, spectacular cliffs help to solidify Crater Lake National Park as a piece of Oregon with some of the most awe-inspiring, beautiful vistas.

While open all year round, there are certain areas and facilities of the park that close down during winter months. The drastic differences in elevation creates rather rapid changes in weather conditions, so travelers are cautioned when visiting outside of peak seasons. This varied landscape creates not only a challenging escape for guests, but also a sheltered retreat for an array of wildlife. The many winding trails that carve through Crater Lake National Park provide ample opportunity to get face-to-face with nature at its best.

It is advised to begin your travels at one of Crater Lake's two Visitor Centers. Here, after gathering all sorts of details and information about the park's other facilities, visitors can make well-educated decisions over which recreational opportunities to pursue. There is a whole list to enjoy out here, and the fun doesn't stop even as the temperature starts to go down. Guests can expect plenty of opportunity for hiking, backcountry backpacking, camping, sightseeing, picnicking, and all sorts of other popular pursuits. The long summer days pair perfectly with Crater Lake's waters and winter brings a whole other crowd of cross-country skiers and other winter-time outdoor enthusiasts. Make sure you've got everything packed up and ready to go, your four wheels are about to take you to a whole other part of Oregon that you won't soon forget.

Park Alerts (1)

[Park Closure] North Entrance and Most of Rim Drive are Closed to Cars

Some winter road closures are still in effect. You can enter the park from the south or the west on Highway 62, but the North Entrance and most of the Rim Drive are closed due to snow.

RV Rentals in Crater Lake National Park

Transportation in Crater Lake National Park

Driving

There are three entrances to the park - North, South, and West. It's important to note that the North Entrance tends to remain closed for about 7 months out of the year, due to significant snowfall amounts. Typically, guests can expect to gain entrance to the North Entrance sometime between mid-May and throughout June. Luckily, this isn't the only way to get your rig into Crater Lake National Park. The park's South and West Entrances are open all year round. Trailers, RVs, and buses will find no restrictions in travel to, and inside, the park. Roads within the park do tend to run a bit narrow, so it is advised for RVs and larger hauls to drive at a steady, careful speed. Always be on the lookout for area wildlife, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

Parking

There are no travel or length restrictions for RVs, campers, or buses that navigate throughout the park. However, parking at any of the scenic overlooks can be quite limited, especially when traveling with a larger haul. It's advised to get going early and plan your day accordingly, especially when visiting during the peak months in Summer. If you're coming in for a day-trip, you can expect a decent line. Guests staying overnight can get comfortable in either Lost Creek or Mazama Campground (RV-friendly.) Sites provide plenty of space to park and Mazama Campground hosts Loops that are specific to RV travel.

Public Transport

There is no public transportation advertised in the vicinity of the park, however, AmTrak provides a daily service run to Klamath Falls. A shuttle bus runs from the AmTrak station to Rim Village from late June through to early October. Most transportation around the park is done by foot or bicycle.

Campgrounds and parking in Crater Lake National Park

Campsites in Crater Lake National Park

Reservations camping

Mazama Campground

The campgrounds take reservations year-round, except in June. Both standard tents and RVs are welcome here, with over 200 sites available. Each site offers a picnic table, fire ring with grill, and metal bear box for storing food. The campground also provides flush and vault toilets, pay showers, laundry services, fully accessible sites, and a dump station located nearby. While the park is open all year, the campground only runs from June into late September. You may bring your own approved firewood or purchase firewood at the Mazama Camper Store to help keep you cozy and warm overnight. Leashed pets are always welcome to accompany you during your stay. Sites can accommodate campers, RVs, or trailers up to 50 feet in length. Generators are allowed, though strict quiet hours are enforced between 10pm and 7am.

First-come first-served

Mazama Campground

The Mazama Campground is a popularly-visited setting with over 200 sites to choose from for tent, trailer, and RV camping. This campground remains open only throughout the Summer months of June through September, which is plenty of reason why most get their reservations in early for this one. However, in June, all sites are open as first-come, first-serve only. This is a great opportunity for those on the road to make a stop for a few nights and really get to dig into Oregon a bit more before continuing a nomadic quest.

If Mazama Campground has caught your attention, be sure to stake your claim early, especially when traveling in June and August. The beautiful weather and all-around inviting atmosphere for adventure means this campground is typically filled to capacity by mid-afternoon. Sites will accommodate rather robust rigs (up to 50 feet), but trailers are permitted only up to 35 feet. While no hookups are advertised, guests can expect to stay with the added amenities of the Mazama Camper Store, where camping supplies, propane, firewood, basic groceries, and unleaded gasoline are provided. Each site has a standard fire ring, picnic table, and bear-resistant lockers for food storage.

Alternate camping

Lost Creek Campground

This campground is for tents only, so no RVing here! The sites here are located south of Crater Lake and provide flush toilets. There are only 16 sites and generators are not permitted for use here. For a hot shower, overnight tent campers can visit nearby Mazama Campground where the coin-operated laundry machines can also be used. A change machine is provided near the showers. Leashed pets are also welcome to attend. All sites offer a picnic table, fire ring with grill, and metal bear box for food storage.

Backcountry Camping

Snow-heavy winters tend to keep the backpacking season at Crater Lake National Park rather short. Most trails situated at lower elevations are free from snow by late June; however, trails at higher elevations tend to remain snow-covered into July. Most guests suggest visiting the park's backcountry from mid-July and throughout September, when trails are clear and weather conditions are a little more consistent. Since many of the trails range across changing elevation, travelers should be wary of the weather, as conditions can rapidly decline. It's important for backcountry campers to come prepared with adequate food, water, and clothing. Here is where both skill level and supplies are crucial components before any hazardous areas are entered. Five designated backcounty campsites are found within the park. All are primitive and include only a fire ring and flattened area for tent camping. Sites are assigned with a backcountry permit, which is required to stay out here overnight. Permits are on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Off Park Camping

There is plenty to do throughout the year, including while the park is still blanketed in all that white stuff. Unfortunately, RV camping only becomes available in the summer months when Mazama Campground is open. That doesn't mean you're without options for your stay. Several locations, while not directly inside the park, at least lie just on the outskirts. Winter guests aren't the only ones who may be on the lookout for other options. Crater Lake National Park is often open as first-come, first-serve, with reservations only becoming available as summer begins to close out. If you're left with no more room to park within the grounds, there is no need to fret. Sno-Parks (available in winter), resorts, and other family campgrounds can be located less than 15 miles from Park Headquarters. From late June and through to early October, there is even an AmTrak service that runs daily to Klamath Falls and a shuttle bus that runs from the AmTrak station to Rim Village, making it a bit easier for guests to feel better about parking their wheels outside the park.

Seasonal activities in Crater Lake National Park

Spring

Volcano Boat Tour

This tour provides you with a different view of Crater Lake’s unique scenery. Usually, visitors look down from the caldera rim, not up it. A park ranger will accompany you on each trip and educate tour-goers of the park and lake’s rich history. The tour makes its end at Wizard Island, where those with advanced reservations can spend a few hours exploring. It’s not a tour for everyone, as its beginning and end involve a steep hike that is a good mile or better to get to and from the boat.

Bicycling

While bikes are not allowed on trails, bicycling is encouraged on all paved roads and even the unpaved Grayback Drive. The park’s roads are rather narrow and can carry heavy automobile traffic, so riders are advised to follow all safety precautions when traveling. If you didn’t bring your bike, rentals can be found nearby, a mere 5 miles north of Crater Lake. Bicycling can be quite physically demanding, but the views are worth it. The most popular of the more difficult rides is the 33-mile long Rim Drive, where climbs can gain almost 4,000 feet in elevation. For those who seek a more relaxed ride, a paved 11-mile long biking path circles Diamond Lake.

Wildlife Viewing

Crater Lake is home to so many different types of animals, though they can can be quite tricky to spot. It’s quite common to come across a friendly squirrel or quiet doe. Elk may be seen at times in the meadows along Rim Drive and lucky observers may even catch a glimpse of fox, black bear, wolves, porcupines, bobcats, or eagles. The best times to witness the most elusive are at dusk and dawn.

Trolley Tour

As one of America’s most scenic routes, Rim Drive is well visited but may be hard to appreciate for those doing the driving. With a trolley tour, you can leave all that driving to someone else while you take in the views. These are ranger-guided tours that circle Crater Lake and begin and end at Rim Village. Each tour usually takes about 2 hours to complete a clockwise ride around the lake. There is always a minimum of 5 stops at scenic overlooks. Buses are enclosed and climate controlled, as well as fully accessible.

Backcountry Camping

Most of the park, a good 95%, is managed wilderness, though there are some areas that are closed off specifically for backcountry camping. Coming to these areas can be quite rewarding for the adventurous. The old growth forests and volcanic landscapes hold much to be explored. All campers who wish to stay outside the park’s developed campground must obtain a permit with the exception of hikers coming through the Pacific Crest Trail. Permits are free of charge and made available at the Park Headquarters.

Summer

Fishing

Fishing is allowed at the bottom of Cleetwood Cove Trail, where a short stretch of rocky shoreline can be found. Another area open to fishing is Wizard Island, which is only reachable by tour boat. These waters hold a good amount of rainbow trout and kokanee salmon, sure to keep any luring enthusiast happy. Fishing licenses are not necessary here and there are no restrictions on size, number, or the type of fish taken from the lake. However, the only rule is that fishing is limited to artificial flies and lures. No organic bait of any kind may be used.

Sky Gazing

The rim of Crater Lake is the perfect place to observe the night sky’s astronomical events. However, sky gazing is not only limited to the night. Discovery Point offers spectacular views of the sunrise, while Watchman Overlook provides dramatic sunsets and moon-rises. It’s best to inquire at the Visitor Center for optimal time for sky viewing.

Swimming

While swimming is something fun to do mid-Summer in Crater Lake, be advised - the water is still rather cold. Swimming is only permitted at Cleetwood Cove and Wizard Island, however, the island requires a boat tour to reach as well as an advance permit. Neither of the shorelines make for any “proper” beaches, but are quaint and rocky.

Cleetwood Cove Trail

This trail provides the only legal access to Crater Lake’s shore. The hike is one that is rather steep and strenuous, so it isn’t for everyone. In just a little over 1 mile, the trail drops a good 700 feet in elevation. Walking back up is a whole other feat in itself. It’s a trail that is recommended for those who are in good physical condition and should not be attempted by anyone with breathing difficulties, heart problems, or any issues with walking. Hikers are encouraged to bring a good amount of water along for the trek and should wear reliable, sturdy shoes. You’ll find vault toilets at both the top and bottom of the trail. It is usually open from mid-June into late October.

Evening Programs

These ranger-led activities are a perfect way to learn about the park. Evening Programs allow you to relax under the stars and discuss a whole variety of topics. Groups meet at the Mazama Campground Amphitheater, between loops D and E. Typically, programs run close to an hour and are made accessible to everyone.

Fall

Scenic Drive

The roads that circle the entire lake are typically open from July and throughout October. It’s a drive you won’t soon forget, with incredible scenic views of the lake. There are numerous overlooks to stop and take in what’s around you. Feel free to explore as you continue on this journey around the lake. The drive showcases many areas that are perfect for picnics or a start to a day hike. Plan on spending at least half of a day driving around if you plan on stopping at multiple overlooks.

Dine at Crater Lake Lodge

The Dining Room of Crater Lake Lodge is the perfect spot to dine in style. Its massive stone fireplace and rough, rustic log columns make the Dining Room a superbly charming (and quite cozy) environment to get out of the crisp fall air. Come here to enjoy breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with reservations available for window-view tables that pair your meal with views of Crater Lake.

View the Lake

Exceptional views of Crater Lake can be enjoyed at Rim Village when the skies are clear. The lake is rather elusive; invisible about half the time in Winter and early Spring. Fall makes for the perfect time to catch a glimpse of the lake’s pristine waters before losing sight as winter’s storms roll in.

The Rim Cafe

The cafe and gift shop are open daily, with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas day and when roads to Rim Village are closed off. Here, you can enjoy quick meals to help you regain your strength after a day out enjoying the landscape. Warm up from the crisp fall air with hot sandwiches, bowls of chili, and comforting soup. The gift shop also provides snowshoe rentals and winter clothing to help you bundle up, as well as wonderful trinkets and souvenirs.

Lunch Along the Rogue River

This trip along the river valley is certainly a beautiful one. It is an enchanting area with gorgeous forests and intriguing hiking trails. Many enjoy challenging the waters of the Rogue River by facing its roaring rapids. Others find the whimsy of the area’s waterfalls quite alluring. It’s a perfect destination to spend the day.

Winter

Snowshoe With a Park Ranger

These ranger-led walks are a perfect way to experience Crater Lake’s winter wonderland. Walks are offered every weekend and holiday at 1pm from late in November until the end of April. Check in with either of the two Visitor Centers, as some walks may even be taking place during weekdays from December through January. Snowshoes are provided free of charge and no experience is necessary to join in. The walks typically last about two hours and cover roughly 1 to 2 miles of terrain. It’s a somewhat strenuous trek but one that is very fulfilling. Space to join in on tours tends to be rather limited, so advanced reservations are highly recommended.

Watch the Park’s Film

Steel Visitor Center offers a 22 minute long introductory film that examines the park’s rich geologic history. It includes dramatic underwater footage and state-of-the-art animations that depict Crater Lake’s violent and volcanic past. When you want to learn about the park’s past, it’s a perfect place to start.

Snowmobiling

Every winter, the park’s Northern entrance is groomed for snowmobiling. Travelers can go as far as the rim of Crater Lake, however, all snowmobiles must adhere to marked routes and are not allowed access on Rim Drive. Snowmobile routes are typically open from December through March, as weather permits. Rentals are provided nearby and guided snowmobiling tours are also available.

Skiing

You’ll find a wide variety of marked and unmarked routes for cross-country skiing. Trails are not groomed, so skiers should be prepared to break trail, sometimes even through some fairly deep snow. Conditions will vary from slush to powder to ice. Trail recommendations are readily given from the friendly staff of Steel Visitor Center.

Sledding

This fun side sport can be enjoyed by many of any age. While there are no designated “sled hills”, many opportunities can be found where you can break out the sled and enjoy a fun ride. Several safe and sled-friendly areas can be found near Rim Village, with a popular location being the open meadow that sits south of Crater Lake Lodge.

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