Ready for a road trip to one of Oregon’s most beautiful national parks? Use this guide to explore the 33-miles in and around Crater Lake National Park.
Nestled in the Cascade Mountains of southern Oregon, Crater Lake offers abundant opportunities for a memorable road trip. Formed 7,700 years ago by a volcanic eruption, Crater Lake is the deepest and most pristine lake in the country. Because of its mountainous location, winter conditions play a big role in any visit. Due to an annual average of 44 feet of snow, many of the seasonal roads into and around the lake are closed each year from October to June. Plan your visit in the summer for the best chance at exploring the magnificent scenery. Once in the park, you can find plenty of ways to see and experience the beauty that is Crater Lake.
Take a Drive
One of the best ways to see Crater Lake National Park Oregon in its entirety is to take the scenic Rim Drive, which winds its way around the lake’s perimeter. Take the 33-mile drive counterclockwise to avoid being on the wrong side of several one-way-only sections. Along the way, enjoy more than 30 photo-worthy points where you can stop and drink in the beauty – and take a selfie or two. If you’d rather keep your eyes on your surroundings rather than the road, hop on the trolley and experience the view on a guided tour around the rim.
Hike or Bike
For a little exercise, get out of the car and hit one of the park’s many hiking trails. Castle Crest Wildflower Garden trail offers an easy 0.5-mile round-trip trail that winds through some of the best wildflower sections of the park. If you want something more challenging, try Crater Peak trail, a 6.4-mile round-trip climb that takes you to astounding panoramic views of Crater Lake, Klamath Basin, Arant Point, and Grayback Ridge. If you prefer to get your workout on two wheels, cycling is also a popular way to see the park. Bicyclists aren’t allowed on any of the park trails, but Rim Drive is a popular route for cyclists.
Explore an Island
Looking at the lake is one thing, but exploring it from an island is quite another. Take a guided boat tour to Wizard Island, one of only two islands on Crater Lake. With a guided cruise, you get a full tour of the lake and several hours to spend on Wizard Island, where you can hike the forest trails, experience panoramic views, fish in the water, or explore the interesting geology around the summit crater.
Go for a Swim
There are no beaches on the lake, but swimming is allowed at Cleetwood Cove and Wizard Island. If you decide to spend the day exploring Wizard Island, you will have plenty of time for a dip, but if you prefer to remain shoreside, take the Cleetwood Cove Trail, a 2-mile round-trip jaunt that’s also the only legal trail to the lakeshore. If you opt to bring your bathing suit, be prepared — the water is often icy cold, and brave swimmers take the plunge more for the street cred than for summer enjoyment.
See the View
There are numerous spots to get a good look at the lake, especially if you take Rim Drive, but if you want a photo without a hike or drive involved, head to Sinnott Memorial Overlook, an out-of-the-way viewpoint that offers an expansive view of the lake from atop a perch with a 900-foot drop. Another top viewpoint is Watchman Overlook, a commanding vista along Rim Drive that lets you look almost straight down to Wizard Island. Hoping to see the sunset? Make your way to Cloudcap Overlook, which sits 7,685 feet in elevation along the lake’s eastern side.
Spend the Night
To make the most of your trip, plan to spend at least one night at the park. If the whole outdoor experience is your style, set up your tent at one of the 213 sites in Mazama Campground, or opt for one of the more remote campsites at Lost Creek Campground. For more comfortable lodging, book a room at Prospect Historic Hotel, a bed and breakfast that lays claim to famous former guests like Teddy Roosevelt and Jack London, or Crater Lake Lodge, a log cabin built in 1915 that retains much of its old-world charm — no televisions or phones in these rooms.
Whether you are just passing through or able to spend some quality time in Crater Lake National Park, there are innumerable gorgeous views of nature that will stay with you for a lifetime.
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