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Allowed with Restrictions
Guided tours
Yes
Backcountry camping
Yes
Lodging
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Crater Lake National Park Overview | Attractions and Activities | Camping, Backpacking, and Lodging | Winter Access | Pets

Crater Lake National Park Overview

At 1,943 feet deep, Crater Lake is the deepest* lake in the United States and the principal feature of Crater Lake National Park.

Approximately 7,700 years ago, Mount Mazama, a stratovolcano with a summit estimated at 12,000 feet, violently erupted in one of the most explosive geological events in human history.  During the eruption, roughly 14 cubic miles of debris were discharged into the atmosphere and the surrounding landscape, and enough of the volcano's magma chamber was emptied that the remnants of the mountain collapsed, opening an enormous crater over 5 miles in diameter and nearly 4,000 feet deep.  Ash from the eruption is estimated to have been 150 times the quantity created by the 1980 explosion of Mount St. Helens, and it landed as far east as Wyoming and as far north as British Columbia. Between 200 to 300 feet of ash settled at Mazama's base. 

Years of heavy precipitation and snowfall filled the crater and eventually formed the deep blue** lake we see today.  With no external sources or outlets, Crater Lake maintains a relatively stable surface level as yearly precipitation is balanced with evaporation and ground seepage.

The legend of the massive volcano and the cataclysmic eruption was always well known to Native Americans. In 1853 the lake was first discovered by settlers (gold prospectors), but little attention was given to the lake due to its remote location.  The fate of the area forever changed, however, when William Gladstone Steel first visited the lake in 1885.  After 17 years of lobbying, the lake, the imploded volcano, and the surrounding area were eventually protected and recognized in 1902 as the country’s fifth national park.

Attractions and Activities

Today, Crater Lake National Park still stands as Oregon’s only national park. Key attractions include:

  • The 33-mile Rim Drive that switchbacks around the volcano’s caldera, featuring interpretive signage at all of the lake’s key vantage points.
  • Snowshoeing and/or cross-country skiing along the caldera rim during winter months on the Garfield Peak Snowshoe or the Watchman Snowshoe.
  • A boat tour of Crater Lake that departs from Cleetwood Cove and stops at Wizard Island and the Phantom Ship.
  • Hiking trails up to numerous peaks along the caldera's rim that boast some of the most panoramic and best views of the lake, including: Garfield Peak, Discovery Point, The Watchman, and Sun Notch.
  • The 5.0 mile round-trip hike up Mount Scott, the park’s highest point at 8,929 feet.
  • The Rim Village Visitor Center and the historic Crater Lake Lodge.
  • Striking eroded ash formations and pillars at The Pinnacles, Annie Creek Canyon, Godfrey Glen, and at Sand Creek across from Lost Creek Campground.
  • Vidae and Plaikni Falls
  • Giant old-growth stands of California red fir along the Godfrey Glen Loop Trail.
  • Wildflower viewing from mid to late June along the hike to Crater Peak and on the Castle Crest Wildflower Trail.
  • The strenuous, 11-mile round-trip hike up 7,709-foot Union Peak, the eroded remnants of a volcanic plug deep in the park’s southwestern corner.
  • The arid Pumice Desert on Mount Mazama’s northern flanks.

Camping, Backpacking, and Lodging

Designated camping in the park is extremely limited, particularly during summer break and given the closure of Lost Creek CampgroundMazama Village Campground is currently the park’s only operating campground.

Backcountry campsites are available at Lightning Springs (0.8 mile hike in) and along the Pacific Crest Trail, but a special overnight permit  which can be obtained at the park headquarters is required.

Lodging is available at Crater Lake National Park mid-May to mid-October, with specific opening and closure dates depending on snowpack. Crater Lake Lodge features 71 rooms, and the Mazama Village Campground has 40 guestrooms in cabins.

Winter Access

Rim Drive and the park’s northern entrance are only open seasonally, typically mid-June to mid-October, due to extensive snowpack. Winter access to the park and rim are only possible via OR Hwy 62, the park's southern entrance. Both of the campgrounds and all lodging is closed during the winter.

* Crater Lake is the ninth deepest lake in the world (Russia's Lake Baikal is the deepest at 5,387 feet), and the second deepest in North America (Canada's Great Slave Lake, 2,014 feet, is first).  In terms of average depth, however, Crater Lake's 1,148 feet makes it the deepest lake in the Western Hemisphere and the third deepest in the world.

** One of the mesmerizing aspects of Crater Lake is its astonishingly deep blue color.  More than any other lake in the U.S., the lake's clarity and depth capture all other wavelengths of light on the color spectrum, while blue is scattered and reflected back to the human eye.

Pets

Dogs on-leash are permitted within the park but only within developed areas and within Mazama Village and Lost Creek Campground. Dogs are not permitted on any trails or in undeveloped areas.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Winter
Spring
Summer
Fall

Congestion

High

Parking Pass

National Park Pass

Pros

Deepest lake in the United States. Volcanic/geological landmarks.

Cons

Mosquitos near the rim. Limited camping/lodging options.

Features

Geologically significant
Showers
Campgrounds + Campsites
Amphitheater
Backcountry camping
Flushing toilets
Bicycling
Potable water
Picnic tables
Waterfalls
Old-growth forest
Guided tours

Location

Field Guide + Map

Nearby Lodging + Camping

Comments

If you're planning for short snowshoeing, plan your visit on a really sunny day. Snow will be there anytime in spring. You can see the reflection on the lake on a clear and low-wind day. (03/29/18)
And if you're planning for swimming, make a reservation for a boat. You can see the Crater lake in a different view and swim in the freezing-cold-but-worth-it water. (7/17/18)
08/28/2018
After Alex's Hoot to Coast Relay race.
07/05/2018
You'll find new areas to explore each and every revisit. I love our only National Park.
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