Visiting the Deepest Lake in America: A Guide to Crater Lake National Park


As the deepest lake in America and the third deepest lake in the world at 1,943 feet (592 m) deep, Crater Lake is quite a pure blue sight to see. Rain and snow are its only two sources.

Spend your time hiking, camping, backpacking, taking boat and trolley tours, and even swimming here during the summer. You can also visit in the winter, where you can snowshoe and ski, but there will be limited amenities.

I have visited it multiple times in the summer and the winter. This park is also the closest National Park, as we live in Southern Oregon now. We have enjoyed staying the night on a connecting trail to the PCT, a day hike above the rim, and a cautious snowy walk along the crater.

In the future, I hope to swim in Cleetwood Cove, bike on the day when there are no cars, and snowshoe on the West Rim. This park may be small, but there is plenty to enjoy.

This park is one of the more accessible parks, in my opinion. The seasonal 33-mile (53 km) scenic Rim Drive circles the lake and has 30 pullouts to see the lake from various vantage points.

You can also book a 2-hour trolley tour with Crater Lake Trolley that goes around the Rim Drive with a guide. It typically runs from July 1 through September 30. Tickets for adults are $36, and $25 for children ages 6-13.

View of Phantom Ship rock formation in the water and Mount Scott in the background; (photo/Xiaoling Keller)

Another option is the boat tour. The tour runs from late August to mid-September at four different times a day. The hike down is a steep one-mile trail to the boat dock.

The boat then cruises around the lake for 2 hours and gives you views of Wizard Island and Phantom Ship. You might even see the mysterious floating log. Tickets for adults are $44 and for children ages 3-12, $30.

Biking the rim is also a possibility. There is even a specific set of weekend dates, September 9 and 16, 2023, called Ride the Rim, when the East Rim Drive to the North Junction is closed to all motorized vehicles for people to bike, hike, or run it. The route is 23.5 miles (37.8 km) around the east side with an elevation change of over 1,300 feet. Register on April 1, 2023, or volunteer.

A Guide to Crater Lake National Park

Carter Lake
Crater Lake reflection; (photo/Xiaoling Keller)

How to get there

The closest major airport is in Eugene, 6.5 hours away, northwest of the park. There are two smaller airports, one in Klamath Falls, an hour and a half away, and one in Medford, an hour and 40 minutes away.

There are three entrances. Highway 62 connects the West Entrance to the South Entrance. The Rim Drive goes around the lake with one road connecting to the North Entrance and one road connecting the South Entrance.

There are two visitor centres. The Steel Visitor Center is in the southern part of the park and will reopen in the spring of 2023. The Rim Visitor Center is on the southern part of the rim. At these visitor centers, you can pick up maps, explore exhibits about the park, fill up water bottles, and more.

When to Visit

  • July through September: These months are the most popular time to visit because all amenities are open and the tours are running. However, be aware of any wildfire alerts in the area.
  • May and June: These days are a mix of winter and summer conditions, so be prepared for anything.
  • October through April: Most likely snowy, and amenities will be limited.

You can always check the webcam before visiting to see the conditions.

Visiting in winter

crater lake pokey
Crater Lake in winter; (photo/Pokey McFarland)

Check the road status in addition to the weather conditions. The North Entrance and Rim Drive are closed to cars. Carry chains for your car, fill up on fuel, and bring a survivalkit that includes water, food, blankets, warm layers, flashlights, etc.

Head out on the West Rim Drive to winter hike, snowshoe, nordic ski, cross-country ski, or splitboard. While the park doesn’t offer snowshoe or ski equipment for rent, rangers do lead guided snowshoe walks, if you prefer a lower-mileage guided winter experience. This is a great choice for families.

Popular destinations in winter are Discovery Point, Wizard Island Overlook, Union Peak Overlook, and Watchman Peak overlook. You’ll want to be prepared for backcountry winter travel, and use a map and check the conditions before you go.

crater lake pokey mcfarland ski
Skiing to the rim of Crater Lake; (photo/Pokey McFarland)

Visiting in summer

Hiking

Garfield Peak
Hiking up Garfield Peak; (photo/Xiaoling Keller)

There are plenty of hiking trails within the park and seven with views of the lake. The most popular ones are Discovery Point, which goes along the west rim starting from the Rim Village, and Watchman Peak, a short hike up to a fire lookout, also on the west side. Mount Scott is the highest peak in the park, which offers views of the entire lake from above.

Swimming

The Cleetwood Cove Trail, a one-mile hike downhill, is the only way to get to the shore. The trailhead is east of the Northern Junction on the Scenic Rim Drive and is open from mid-June to late October.

Maria Katsantones, the author of “Hiking in Ashland: A Comprehensive Guidebook,” said that the water is as blue as it looks from above. During the summer, the water temperature is around 57 degrees Fahrenheit, 14 degrees Celsius.

camping

Mazama Campground has a total of 214 sites for tents and RVs. Typically open from July 1 to September 24, you can make a reservation in advance, with the remaining sites available first come, first serve. There are flush toilets, drinking water, picnic tables, fire rings, food lockers, and a dump station.

Backpacking

You will need a backcountry permit for all overnight trips. The permit is free and only available one day in advance or on the day of the trip (plan your travel dates accordingly). You can get them at the Ranger Station at Park Headquarters.

Crater Lake National Park is a relatively small National Park compared to the others in the system, but the size makes it easily accessible and enjoyable. While I love to get out and hike and camp, the scenic drive, trolley tour, and boat tours all provide unique experiences for visiting this beautiful lake.

And then, of course, you can always opt for something even more unique, and visit in winter!

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