Crater Lake in Oregon has been called one of America’s most beautiful places. A vividly blue lake is surrounded by stunning snow-peaked mountains, green Douglas Fir trees, and landscapes that rival Switzerland. The national park that surrounds it is filled with stunning vistas that will literally take your breath away. “Crater Lake…still defies the limited power of words to convey the full range of its magic” said a Paul M. Lewis (American diplomat). Nothing can be closer to the truth. The lake is so pure, fed by rainwater and melting snow only, and breathing in the fresh air in the park reminds you of why nature is so cleansing.
History & Geography
Crater Lake is located in central Oregon, about a 4 drive from Portland, USA, and is not far from the California border. The roads entering the National Park are very well maintained, and any car can access it. If you arrive anytime between October and June, expect some snow, however the park has excellent ploughing facilities and rod closures are well signed. The amount of people who visit this national park is staggering – there was a record breaking 33 million visitors in 2016! Incredible numbers how just how unique this national park is. There are two visitor centres in the park – the Steel Visitor Centre and the Rim Village Visitor Centre.
The lake itself is absolutely breathtaking and has been the topic of wonder and awe among all those who visit. The lake is 522m deep, making it the deepest lake in the United States, and the ninth deepest in the world. Founded May 22, 1902, Crater Lake National Park seeks to preserve these natural and cultural resources.
The interaction of people with this place is traceable at least as far back as the eruption of Mount Mazama. The lake lies inside the collapsed remnants of an ancient volcano, that erupted about 7,700 years ago, and was the largest to occur in North America for more than half a million years. Though the mountain has now been dormant for five thousand years, geologists do expect it to reawaken someday.
What To See and Do
We might be stating the obvious here – but have you seen photos of this lake? There are a few activities to do in the park, but once you’ve seen the lake, you’ll be hooked. There is plenty of things to do surrounding the lake.
Travel the circumference
The best way to visit Crater Lake is to travel the circumference of the lake. There is one road that traces the entire 39km rim of the lake, revealing incredible views along the way. Some of the best lookouts include Cloudcap Overlook, Phantom Ship, Pumice Castle Overlook and Vidae Falls. Keep in mind that this option is only available in the summer months (generally July, August and September), as snow causes road closures during the colder months. You can drive around the lake on the road, or you can bring your bike and ride. During the colder months, you can drive to Rim Village Lodge and Visitor Centre, so the best views of the lake. You can also get a plethora of information from the rangers here.
The East Rim is an excellent option for our adventurous hikers, as it provides access to some of the park’s best hiking trails. These include Plaikni Falls, Mount Scott, and Sun Notch. It also offers relative peace and quiet, since less than half of the cars that enter the park go there.
Sunset and Stargazing
One of the best experiences at Crater Lake is watching the sun set over this magnificent masterpiece. The best vantage points are Watchman Peak, and certain views from the East Rim Drive. The sun blazes over the lake, creating some incredible orange/red/pink colours, that combine with the brilliant blue of the lake to create an epic experience. Once the sun dips below the rim of the crater, stay outside (with a blanket!) and gaze up into the night sky. With hardly any light pollution, the night sky lights up with stars. A highlight will undoubtedly be the Milky Way, shining in all its glory.
Are you game?! Swimming is allowed in Crater Lake, but the water is freezing cold! Swimming is permitted only at Cleetwood Cove and at Wizard Island, which requires a boat tour to reach. The shoreline at both locations is rocky; there are no beaches. Snorkelling, scuba diving, and wetsuits are not allowed.
There are 16 hikes in the Crater Lake National Park, that range from easy to strenuous. Two of the best are the Wizard Island Hike and Garfield Peak.
This one is only 1.5kms, and will take about an hour. To begin, check the park tour boat schedule and buy a ticket to get to the island. You’ll hike down the rim on the trail to Cleetwood Cove at 6,176 feet, then ride the boat to Wizard Island. Then hike to the 6,940-foot top of the island, which got its name for its resemblance to a wizard’s hat. Then ride the boat back to Cleetwood Cove and hike the steepest part back to the start.
Begin this hike at Crater Lake Lodge, where you can park your car. Climb up this 8,054-foot summit to the unparalleled views of Crater Lake, in particular, Wizard Island. The entire trip is about 5kms, however the elevation will make it feel much longer.
Between 1888 and 1941, 6 species were introduced to the lake. Today, only rainbow trout and kokanee salmon remain. Fishing is allowed at the bottom of the Cleetwood Cove Trail, where you’ll find .25 miles (.4 km) of rocky shoreline. Fishing licenses are not required. There are no restrictions on the size, number, or species taken. Cleaning fish in the lake is prohibited; so pack out your catch and no organic bait of any kind may be used. Fishing is limited to artificial lures and flies only.
The Crater Lake National Park website also has valuable information about the lake, including a live webcam that looks out over the lake. As the lake is often covered in clouds and visibility is low, you can jump online and check the live video to assess conditions. You can also check road closures, weather patterns and general conditions. There are some excellent ranger’s programs, for both adults and kids, that teach about the national park, the lake’s explosive history and about wildlife protection and preservation.
Many of the parks facilities are closed in the colder winter months, due to less visitors and accessibility. So ensure that you time your trip to suit these dates. Many of the lodges available in the national park do not reopen after winter until the end of May, and camping doesn’t open until June/July. Restaurant options in the park, like Crater Lake Lodge Dining Room and Annie Creek Restaurant, open at the end of May, while the café in Rim Village is open all year round.
Accommodation and Camping
There are both lodging and camping available in Crater Lake National Park. Lodging is available at Crater Lake Lodge (rooms start at $190 per night) and The Cabins at Mazama Village(rooms start at $160 per night), which both open for the warmer months at the end of May.
Camping is available during the warmer months within the park, at Mazama Campground (opening in mid-June, located seven miles south of Rim Village) and Lost Creek Campground (opening mid-July). Both of these have excellent facilities and are easily accessible, with over 250 sites in total available. Mazama is the larger of the two grounds, and is reservation only after July, and it usually books out fast, so ensure that you’re organised. You should be fine in June to show up and get a site. Mazama campgrounds has flushing toilets, showers, water, laundry facilities and a small store. It also has lockable food storage for each site. An average camp site will cost $22 per night.
Lost Creek is ‘first come first serve’ and registration is self-service, costing $10 per night. Sites fill up very quickly in the summer months, so arrive early, as the grounds are usually full by early/mid-afternoon. There are only portable toilets and there is no water available. The closest water supply is Mazama Campgrounds.
In the summer months, backcountry camping is also available. You can stay in the designated ‘snow parks’ that dot the area leading up the national park. They have all the same facilities and are free. They also get taken pretty quickly, so keep that in mind.
What to pack
When you enter the park, and especially when you go on a hike, ensure that you have the following things:
- sufficient food
- layered clothing
- first aid kit
- sturdy shoes
- compass/maps/navigation device
- sun protection
- flash light
- hiking poles
For camping –
- gas stove (with extra propane gas)
- eating and drinking utensils
- camping chairs
- camping table
- camping hammock
- flashlight/camping light
- personal items/clothing
- sleeping bags (it gets cold at night, even in the summer!)
- travel pillow
- extra batteries for all devices
- solar powered battery charger (particularly useful for charging phone and navigation devices)
- dish washing liquid and dishcloth
- appropriate snow/ice equipment for your car and for hiking
- bear spray
Remember to appreciate the local wildlife, stick to the trails and enjoy every moment of this glorious lake. It truly is a magical experience, and people travel from all over the globe just to lay their eyes on this wonder.