Crater Lake is Oregon's only national park, and it can get quite busy in the summer months. The winter, however, is an entirely different story. With the historic Crater Lake Lodge closed for the season, the parade of cars gives way to an average of 44 feet of snow each season, making Crater Lake an ideal winter playground for outdoor enthusiasts. There is no entrance fee in the winter months.
Most wintertime travelers stop at the Steel Information Center or the Rim Village Cafe and Gift Shop, both which are open year round and are the only facilities accessible by car in the winter. Either spot is a great opportunity to take a short walk to peer over the caldera rim and snap a photo of the deepest lake in the United States. Visitors can join a complimentary ranger-led mile-long snowshoe walk at 1:00 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday. Snowshoes are provided, and no experience is required. Space on the tours is limited, and advance reservations are required. Call the visitor center at 541.594.3100 for more information and to reserve your spot.
With Rim Drive closed to traffic from October through May or June depending on the snow levels, the park beyond Rim Village is incredibility quiet, peaceful and downright gorgeous. Using Rim Village as a starting point, there are plenty of day trips and overnight adventures to really experience Crater Lake in the winter. Snowshoes or skis (either cross-country or backcountry) are required for winter travel in the park. Rentals are available at the Steel Information Center.
The Garfield Peak Snowshoe is 6.5-mile there-and-back that will take travelers to one of the highpoints along the crater's rim. The ridge to the peak is exposed and can be quite windy, so be prepared for cold wind and blowing snow. The trail differs from the summer route as certain sections pose avalanche threats in the winter. Be sure to bring a map and GPS for off-trail navigation.
The Discovery Point Trail leaves from Rim Village and parallels Rim Drive going clockwise. You can either follow the unplowed road to the parking area for Discovery Point or the actual trail just below the road. Both options are just over 2 miles there-and-back.
Following the Rim Drive will offer additional viewpoints beyond Discovery Point. The Wizard Island Overlook is about 4.6 miles there-and-back, Union Peak Overlook is 6.2, Watchman Overlook is 7.8, Diamond Lake Overlooks is 9.2, and North Junction is 12 miles.
For an even better view from the Watchman Overlook, climb to The Watchman lookout tower. This will end up being a 7.25-mile loop because you can cut off the road before the overlook.
Backcountry camping is allowed as long as campers are not within a mile of any plowed road, not within 100 feet of any water source, and not within visibility of any other backcountry campers or ski trails. All campers must register at the Steel Information Center for a free permit before camping. It is strongly recommended that campers have winter camping experience, winter survival skills and avalanche training as conditions can change quickly and without warning. Pets are not permitted in the backcountry.
Skiing or snowshoeing around Rim Drive is an unforgettable experience. The 30-mile loop is often completed in three to five days depending on the weather conditions. There are a few areas that are prone to avalanches, making it vital to familiarize yourself with avalanche safety precautions.
Be sure to check the current conditions at the park by calling the information center. As always, practice Leave No Trace Principles while backcountry camping.