Top Things to do at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon

Crater Lake National Park in Oregon is a true natural and geological wonder. At its core lies Crater Lake, a pristine jewel formed within the heart of a dormant volcano. It is one of the world’s deepest and clearest lakes. In this article, we’ll review the top things to do inside this spectacular national park in the heart of the Pacific Northwest. 

About Crater Lake National Park in Oregon

deep blue waters of Crater Lake in oregon
The deep blue waters of Crater Lake are a sight unlike any other.

The park’s landscape, shaped by an explosive eruption over 7,000 years ago, offers a window into Earth’s history. This geological marvel, combined with the delicate ecosystems that blossom here, underlines the park’s significance as both a natural sanctuary and a living laboratory of Earth’s past.

Every corner of Crater Lake National Park has something to explore, from stunning panoramic vistas to hiking trails that weave through ancient forests and ascend rugged peaks. The crystal-clear waters are ideal for boating adventures and even brave swims. As winter blankets the landscape in glistening snow, the park transforms into a playground for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Scenic Views and Photography

As you explore Crater Lake, you’ll come across different spots that are picture-perfect windows to its striking beauty. I’ve listed ten places below that are perfect for taking awesome photos.

  • Rim Village: Not far from where you start, there are cool places to stop. Try the Sinnott Memorial Overlook for pictures of the lake surrounded by trees.
  • Watchman Overlook: This is a good spot if you’re up for a bit of walking. Take pics of the deep blue lake and Wizard Island with the Cascade Mountains in the background.
  • Cloudcap Overlook: It’s the highest point on the road. Get shots of the Phantom Ship, a rocky outcrop in the water, against the lake’s blue color.
  • Pinnacles Overlook: Here, the remarkable shapes of the Pinnacles rocks make a neat picture with the lake in the background.
  • Phantom Ship Overlook: Imagine taking a photo of a “ghost ship” rock in the water. You can see it here, with the calm lake behind it.
  • Discovery Point: If you take a short hike, you’ll reach this spot. It’s a good place for pics of the cliffs dropping into the lake.
  • Sun Notch Viewpoint: This view looks like a big hole in the rock. It’s a great way to show the lake against the cliffs.
  • Munson Valley Overlook: For quieter pics, this spot is nice. You can see the meadows and forests around the lake.
  • Cleetwood Cove: This is the only place where you can reach the lake’s edge. Get creative with shots of the water and maybe even your reflection.
  • Wizard Island Viewpoints: You can’t go right to Wizard Island, but you can take faraway pics of it from certain spots.

Each spot is like a new chapter in your photo story of Crater Lake. The way the light hits the water, the shapes of the rocks, and the peacefulness of the scene – it’s all waiting to be captured with your camera.

Scenic Rim Drive 

View of the scenic Rim Drive from Watchman Peak at crater lake in oregon
View of the scenic Rim Drive from Watchman Peak. NPS Photo

The captivating Scenic Rim Drive allows you to journey around the lake on a 33-mile road, revealing the park’s breathtaking beauty and fascinating geological aspects. 

Begin your adventure at Rim Village, where you’ll find the Sinnott Memorial Overlook. This spot offers a postcard-worthy view of the lake’s deep blue expanse, surrounded by lush forests. 

Exploring Exciting Hiking Trails

rocky trail along the way to the summit of Garfield Peak
The rocky trail along the way to the summit of Garfield Peak.

Get ready to explore Crater Lake National Park through its gorgeous hiking trails, each offering a distinct adventure and unique sights. Here are some of the most notable ones:

Cleetwood Cove Trail: Lakeshore Vista

Embark on the Cleetwood Cove Trail, the sole path leading to the lake’s edge. Descend to witness the awe-inspiring waters up close and even take a dip if you dare. This trail covers 2.2 miles round trip and is considered moderately difficult.

Garfield Peak Trail: Panoramic Summit 

For wide-reaching views, opt for the Garfield Peak Trail. This 3.4-mile round-trip hike takes you to the summit, offering awe-inspiring vistas of the lake, Wizard Island, and surrounding landscapes. The trail is moderately strenuous but rewards your efforts with remarkable scenery.

Watchman Trail: Sunset Magic 

The Watchman Trail treats you to an impressive sunset spectacle. With a moderate 1.6-mile round-trip hike, you’ll reach a viewpoint just in time to see the sun dip below the horizon, casting vibrant colors across the sky and reflecting on the lake.

Plaikni Falls Trail: Serene Meadow Walk 

Discover tranquility on the Plaikni Falls Trail. This easy 2-mile round-trip hike leads you through meadows and forests to the serene Plaikni Falls. Immerse yourself in nature’s beauty and enjoy the soothing sounds of the falls.

Annie Creek Canyon Trail: Geological Insights 

Uncover geological features on the Annie Creek Canyon Trail. Covering 1.7 miles round trip, this easy hike showcases the park’s volcanic history with unique rock formations. It’s a great chance to explore the region’s intriguing past.

Boat Tours and Activities on the Lake

Prepare for an unforgettable experience as you delve into the wonders of Crater Lake through its boat tours and activities, offering a unique perspective on this natural gem.

Guided Boat Tours: A Narrated Journey 

Embark on a guided boat tour led by knowledgeable rangers who share fascinating insights about the lake’s history and geology. You’ll cruise the clear waters on this scenic excursion, passing by landmarks such as Wizard Island and the Phantom Ship. It’s a chance to experience the lake’s beauty while learning about its intriguing past.

Self-Guided Activities: Paddling and Exploring 

Consider self-guided options like kayaking or canoeing on the lake for a more independent adventure. Rent equipment and navigate the calm waters at your own pace. You can also explore the lake’s beauty by hiking the trails on Wizard Island near its volcanic features.

Cleetwood Cove Boating: Chilly Dip and Exploration 

If you’re feeling adventurous, the Cleetwood Cove Boating option is a must. This boat transports you to Cleetwood Cove, where you can brave the cold waters with a swim. Or, if you prefer to stay dry, you can explore the cove’s surroundings and admire the lake’s beauty from a different perspective.

Cleetwood Cove Trail and Swimming

The Cleetwood Cove Trail is a thrilling hike that descends to the lake’s edge. This 1.1-mile trail takes you through a picturesque forest, leading you to the tranquil cove where the lake’s cold waters await. Along the way, you’ll soak in the natural beauty of the surroundings, making it a memorable journey on its own.

Upon reaching Cleetwood Cove, you’re greeted by the sparkling waters of Crater Lake. While the lake’s average temperature hovers around 55°F, the opportunity to swim in its pristine depths is a rare and refreshing experience. The crystal-clear waters, surrounded by tremendous cliffs and sweeping views, create an unforgettable setting for a dip.

Embracing Winter Adventures

A visitor enjoys skiing around the rim of Crater Lake
A visitor enjoys skiing around the rim of Crater Lake.

Crater Lake transforms into a winter wonderland, offering a range of exciting activities that allow you to experience the park’s beauty in a whole new light.

Snowshoeing: Explore the Serenity

Strap on snowshoes and explore the park’s trails blanketed in snow. From easy routes to more challenging paths, snowshoeing opens up a world of serene landscapes and a chance to witness the park’s icy splendor up close.

Cross-Country Skiing: Glide Through Snowy Scenery

Go on a cross-country skiing adventure through the snowy terrain. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced skier, the park’s trails offer a variety of options for you to glide through the icy setting.

Snowmobiling: Whizz Through the Snow

Snowmobiling is an option for those seeking a bit of speed. Zoom through the snowy paths and open spaces, surrounded by the park’s fantastic views. It’s an exhilarating way to experience the park’s winter charm.

As you enjoy these winter activities, you’ll be treated to perfect vistas of snow-covered forests, glistening lake views, and the park’s iconic landmarks. 

Camp Crater Lake Oregon (or if you prefer lodging)

campsite at the Mazama Campground
A lovely campsite at the Mazama Campground.

When it comes to staying nearby, you have a variety of options to choose from. These range from camping beneath the stars to finding cozy lodging nearby.

Camping in the Park: 

If you’re all about spending time outdoors, Crater Lake has two campgrounds: Mazama Campground and Lost Creek Campground. 

Nearby Lodging: Comfort and Convenience

For those who prefer a roof over their heads, the nearby Crater Lake Lodge offers comfortable accommodations with magnificent lake views. This historic lodge is a cozy retreat with the charm of a bygone era. Additionally, cabins and motels are available in the surrounding area, providing a range of options.

Discovering Wildlife and Birding Adventures

A curious pika emerges from his rocky hideout to observe his surroundings
A curious pika emerges from his rocky hideout to observe his surroundings. NPS Photo by Janette Perez-Jimenez 2018

As you explore Crater Lake National Park, watch for the diverse wildlife that calls this landscape home. The park contains exciting opportunities for wildlife watching and birding, from large mammals to graceful birds.

You may see some other animals during your visit, including majestic elk, curious mule deer, and the elusive bobcat. The park is also home to squirrels, chipmunks, pikas, and black bears. 

The park’s diverse habitats also provide an excellent environment for birdwatching enthusiasts. 

Keep an eye out for the striking Steller’s jay, known for its vibrant blue plumage and the elusive gray jay. The park’s clear waters attract species like the common loon, while open areas offer a chance to spot the soaring bald eagle. Be sure to bring your binoculars and listen to the sweet melodies of various songbirds that fill the air.

Final Thoughts

In this journey through Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, you’ve uncovered a variety of experiences waiting for you, from the breathtaking viewpoints along the Rim Drive to the exciting Cleetwood Cove Trail and its icy waters.

Guided boat tours and self-guided activities offer new perspectives on the lake’s beauty. At the same time, winter adventures like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing let you view the season’s beauty. You can camp under the stars or enjoy nearby lodgings. Either way, your stay here will surely leave you with unforgettable memories. 

National Parks List, Map, and Complete Guide (All 63 Parks + Downloadable List & Map)

Want a FREE complete list and recap of all our US National Parks as well as downloadable maps and other great resources? Check out our US National Parks List and Map guide!

national parks map and list
Visit our complete National Parks Guide for FREE Downloadable National Parks List & Map (multiple versions)

FAQs

What is the best time of year to visit Crater Lake?

The best time to visit is during the summer when most facilities are open, and the weather is favorable for outdoor activities.

What is the Weather like in Crater Lake National Park? 

The weather in Crater Lake National Park varies, with cold winters and mild summers. Snow covers the area for much of the year.

Is Crater Lake worth a day trip?

Absolutely! You can experience its stunning beauty and enjoy various activities even in a single day.

Can you still swim in Crater Lake?

Yes, you can still swim in Crater Lake but be prepared for cold waters due to the high elevation.

Is Crater Lake National Park free to visit?

No, the park isn’t free to visit. There’s an entrance fee to support park maintenance and services.

How deep is Crater Lake?

Crater Lake is approximately 1,943 feet deep, ranking as one of the world’s deepest lakes.

What can people do at Crater Lake National Park?

At the park, you can hike, take boat tours, watch wildlife, and enjoy snowshoeing in the winter.

How much time should you spend at Crater Lake National Park?

Plan to spend several hours to a whole day here to fully appreciate its beauty and attractions.

How do you spend a day at Crater Lake National Park?

Spend your day driving around Rim Drive, stopping at viewpoints, hiking, and maybe enjoying a boat tour to fully experience the park’s wonders.

Is Crater Lake National Park worth visiting?

Yes, the park is worth visiting for its unique features, beautiful scenery, and outdoor activities.

Is there a Crater Lake National Park campsite? 

Crater Lake offers two campgrounds: Mazama Campground and Lost Creek Campground. These sites let you set up your tent in the heart of nature, surrounded by the park’s beauty. 

About Me

My husband and I have three precious daughters and live in the Kansas City, KS area. One of our favorite things to do is travel across the country visiting our extraordinary US National Parks!

Let us know what you think about our content and if you have any questions, suggestions, or have any favorite memories or tips you would like to share. We would love to hear from you!

Happy Travels! Sandy

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