Crater Lake National Park is a stunning natural wonder in southern Oregon, boasting crystal clear blue waters surrounded by sheer cliffs and forests. The lake was formed 7,700 years ago after a volcano (Mount Mazama) collapsed into itself, creating a massive crater. Over the centuries, the crater has filled with rainwater, and the lake has now become the deepest lake in the United States.
We visited Crater Lake National Park several years ago with our camper van and want to share some of the highlights of our trip here in this post. We’ll include several of our favorite activities and where we recommend sleeping while at the park.
So, if you’re ready, let’s get to it!
Best Time To Visit Crater Lake National Park
The best time to visit Crater Lake National Park is during the summer months, between late June and early September. This is when the weather is the best for hiking, camping, and awesome blue views of the lake. However, Yuko and I visited the park in late September. During this time period, there were considerably fewer tourists, which was a relief, but temperatures were already starting to plunge! So, if you aren’t afraid of a little cold, going later in the season can be a great way to skip the crowds.
However, be sure not to visit the park too late in the year. Although the national park is ‘technically’ open all year round, most of the scenic roads do close once the first snowfall hits. Crater Lake is actually one of the snowiest places in the United States, and once it starts to snow, it can be dangerous to drive.
For more weather-related information, be sure to check out Crater Lake’s national park page.
Top 4 Sights To See In The Park
For a small park, you can choose from a surprisingly large number of activities. We always recommend visiting the Interpretation Center first, located at the southern end of the park, for more detailed information. Below are the top activities that we did while at the park.
1. Driving The Rim
Driving along Crater Lake’s 33-mile-long rim road is THE top experience at the park. If you only have time for one activity in the park, this should be what you do. This well-maintained road circles the entirety of Crater Lake and offers many scenic pull-out areas to stop for photos. Though you could rush and drive the entire circuit in about an hour, you should plan for a whole day, which should include several short hikes, photo-ops, and hopefully a plunge into the frigid waters.
Below is a short list of some of our favorite scenic stops along the way. We recommend plotting these points on Google Maps ahead of time so you know when you’re about to arrive at one of these lookout points.
- Merriam Point
- Cloudcap Overlook
- Phantom Ship Overlook
- The Watchman Peak
2. Mount Scott Day Hike
The Mount Scott Trail offers absolutely stunning views of the lake once you reach the peak, but the trail is considered one of the most difficult day hikes in Crater Lake National Park. Don’t be discouraged, however. Yuko and I don’t consider ourselves hiking experts, yet we still managed to summit the top in under 2 hours.
It’s a 4.2-mile hike that starts along the east side of the rim drive. There is a bumpy, dusty “parking lot” pullout, and the trailhead to Mount Scott starts right there. You can even see the peak from the parking lot. It gets quite cold at the top, so be sure to bring a down jacket and a hat!
3. Boat Trip and Swim In The Lake
No trip to Crater Lake is complete without hiking down the ridge and getting up close and personal with the lake. At the north end of the rim drive, there is a sign for the famous “Cleetwood Cove Trail.” You can’t miss it because the parking lot is one of the biggest within the national park.
The hike down to the late is only 1 mile long, but it’s a steep 620-foot descent.
Once at the bottom, you can take a 2-hour boat trip that rides along the lake’s perimeter. The tour hits all the main attractions on the lake, such as Wizard Island and the Phantom Ship natural formation. Be sure to book well in advance as the boat tour only operates during the summer months.
If the boat tour is sold out, fear not. You can still take a plunge into the lake. And best of all, it’s completely free! However, be aware that even if the outside air temperature is hot, the lake water will be frigid. So you may not want to stay too long in the water once you jump in!
Where To Sleep
Pay To Camp
For camper van and RV travelers, there is only one main campground within the National Park boundaries: the Mazama Village Campground. The campground is a 4-mile drive south from the southern end of the rim drive.
The campground offers 214 sites, many with electrical and water hookups. The campground has modern restrooms with hot showers, laundry facilities, and a camp store for basic supplies. As with all National Park campsites, we recommend reserving your spot using the Recreation.gov app. It’s easy to use and ensures you always have a camp spot before you arrive at the park.
Just like with the rim drive, this campsite does close for the winter season. So plan accordingly.
Although you cannot legally free camp within the Crater Lake park boundaries, there are ample free camping opportunities right when you leave the national park on both the north and south exits.
One of our favorite camping places was south of the national park. We used the iOverlander app to find it, and the marker was called Sunny Side Up. It was a secluded spot in a small clearing within the greater Umpqua National Park. Highly recommended for a peaceful and free night!
How Many Days Do You Need?
To adequately see this National Park’s main sights, we recommend spending at least one full day driving along the rim road and hiking down to the lake waters. If you want to mix in several longer day hikes and a nice peaceful picnic at a scenic pull-out, consider staying an extra day. As always, we find that staying one day longer at national parks is usually the smart choice to better take in the natural beauty without the stress of being pressed for time!
We hope you enjoyed our guide to visiting Crater Lake National Park! During our road trip through the United States, we visited over 20 National Parks throughout the country. But Crater Lake was one of our favorites for its fantastic rim road drive and bluer-than-blue lake water.
If you have any questions regarding how to visit the park or what to see, please email us.
How To Contact Us
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