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Cheap, free, and local-endorsed things to do in beautiful places

Crater Lake National Park

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  • The deepest lake in the U.S.
  • The Rim Road allows you to drive the entire circumference of the lake
  • Boat tours to iconic Wizard Island available during summer

When To Visit: June-September

Climate: Very cold and snowy in late fall, winter, and spring. Cool and mostly sunny in summer and early fall.

Location: Southern Oregon

Crater Lake, formed when a volcano exploded and left a large crater on the earth, is one of the most magical places on the planet. Due to extreme winter weather, activities are limited for much of fall, winter, and spring; visit during summer so you can hike down and touch the lake’s water and take a boat tour to beautiful, quiet Wizard Island.

Photo: Wizard Island from The Watchman

What To See & Do in Crater Lake

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Phantom Ship

A drive around the Rim Road takes you to most of the park’s landmarks and countless viewpoints where you can stop and snap scenic shots of this awe-inspiring lake. To get the full experience, you must get out of the car and take some of the lake’s walks and hikes.

Crater Lake Walks

These very short, easy hikes ranked in order of scenery will take you less than a half-hour to complete.

  1. Sun Notch Trail
    • 0.8 mile loop, 150 foot elevation gain, 15-30 minutes, easy
    • This is the only spot along the Rim Road to get a view of Crater Lake’s only other island (besides Wizard) – Phantom Ship. It’s a must-see!
  2. The Pinnacles Trail
    • 0.8 miles round trip, out & back, 10 foot elevation gain, 15-30 minutes, easy
    • You’ll see The Pinnacles – colorful volcanic spires on the rim of the lake
  3. Godfrey Glen Trail
    • 1.1 mile loop, 50 foot elevation gain, 30 minutes, easy
    • A pleasant forest walk that shows you a tree-filled canyon
    • No views of Crater Lake
  4. Castle Crest Trail
    • 0.5 mile loop, 100 foot elevation gain, 15-30 minutes, easy
    • A wonderful walk through a quiet meadow with great wildflowers during summer
    • No views of Crater Lake

Crater Lake Hikes

Due to heavy snow, most trails are only accessible from mid-June to mid-October. I’ve ranked the park’s best trails in order of scenery.

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Cleetwood Cove Trail
  1. Cleetwood Cove Trail
    • 2.2 miles round trip, out & back, 700 foot elevation gain, 1-2 hours, strenuous
    • A must-do trail – the only way to access the lake’s shore and touch the water
    • Excellent views of the lake along the way and a rocky beach area where you can hang out at the bottom
    • This trail takes you to the boat tours – allow an hour to get down from your car to the boat to be safe
    • The hike down is easy; the hike back up is a fairly challenging steep walk
  2. Watchman Peak Trail
    • 1.6 miles round trip, out & back, 420 foot elevation gain, 1-1.5 hours, moderately strenuous
    • You’ll end at a fire lookout with some of the best views of Crater Lake due to its position next to Wizard Island
    • One of the best spots to watch the sunset
  3. Garfield Peak Trail
    • 3.6 miles round trip, out & back, 1,010 foot elevation gain, 2-4 hours, strenuous
    • Some of the highest-up views of Crater Lake you can find
    • Lots of wildflowers during summer
  4. Plaikni Falls Trail
    • 2 miles round trip, out & back, 100 foot elevation gain, 45 minutes-1.5 hours, easy
    • No views of Crater Lake, but you’ll end at a small tranquil waterfall
    • Tons of wildflowers during summer
  5. Annie Creek Trail
    • 1.7 mile loop, 200 foot elevation gain, 1-2 hours, easy to moderately strenuous
    • No views of Crater Lake, but this loop trail takes you along a wonderful creek with lots of wildflowers

Crater Lake Boat Tours

A boat tour is a remarkable experience that allows you to see this amazing lake from a totally different perspective from the Rim Road. Tours are only available late June through mid September and should be reserved in advance. To access any of these boat tours, you must hike down the Cleetwood Cove Trail (see above).

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Crater Lake from Wizard Island

Wizard Island Tours

  • 5 hours, $57
  • Get a tour of the entire lake – in the middle, you’ll get dropped off on Wizard Island for 3 hours, where you can hike to the top and/or to a quiet cove (if you’re fast, you can fit both hikes in).
    • The Wizard Island Summit hike is 2.2 miles round trip with a 760 foot elevation gain. You’ll find yourself in a cinder cone at the top – it’s a very unique and memorable place
    • The Fumarole Bay hike is 1.7 miles round trip with a 150 foot elevation gain. Since most visitors only do the (admittedly more epic) summit hike, you’ll end in a very peaceful cove with lots of rocks which you might have to yourself.
  • This is the only way to access Wizard Island and the vast majority of visitors to Crater Lake don’t step onto it so it is an amazing experience

Standard Lake Cruises

  • 2 hours, $41
  • You’ll get the same tour of the entire lake but no stop at Wizard Island
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A cove at Wizard Island

Where To Stay & Eat in Crater Lake

The Rim Village Cafe located by the Visitor Center on the South Rim of the lake is open year-round serving quick and to-go breakfasts, lunches and dinners (hours vary by time of year). The Annie Creek Restaurant a few miles south of the lake has simple American food and is open late May-October. For fine dining, the Crater Lake Lodge‘s restaurant (casual dress permitted) is open mid-May through mid-October.

There are two campgrounds in the park – Mazama which has 214 reservable sites open June-October and Lost Creek which has 16 first-come, first-serve year-round sites open July-October.

The Crater Lake Lodge, a stunning historic building on the lake, has 70 rooms. There are also 40 cabins available 7 miles from the lake at Mazama Village. Both of these are usually booked far in advance, but there are some simple lodging options 30 minutes south of the lake in the tiny town of Fort Klamath and many more in the city of Klamath Falls 1.5 hours south.

Nearby Side Trips from Crater Lake

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Painted Hills

Cascade Lakes: Just north of the park, this series of lakes has stunning mountain views and amazing hiking and boating opportunities. Read more.

Bend: Oregon’s most popular resort city 1.5 hours north with endless winter sports, golfing, hiking, and more. Bend is situated in high desert on the beautiful Deschutes River below the Cascade Mountains. Read more.

Smith Rock State Park: Dramatic rock formations formed next to stunning river bends make this park 2 hours north of Crater Lake a must-see. Read more.

Painted Hills: Located in a section of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument 3.5 hours northeast, this unique and remote natural feature exposes the changing colors of geology. Read more.

 

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