How to Spend One Day at Crater Lake National Park (2024)

one day at crater lake national park
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Crater Lake is one of the most unique national parks I’ve ever visited, and I’ve been to quite a few at this point. It’s a crater lake formed when the original Mount Mazama erupted and exploded thousands of years ago, leaving behind a volcanic caldera. It’s also the only national park in Oregon, making it even more unique. That’s why I recommend that everyone spend at least one day at Crater Lake as they explore the beautiful state of Oregon.

As its deep blue color has always fascinated me, I was thrilled to finally see Crater Lake in person on a summer road trip last year. At 1,949 feet, it is the deepest lake in the United States, which is another fun fact. I went all out and stayed at Crater Lake Lodge, the only resort on the lake so that I could stare at the water from the comfort of my room.

While I could have spent a week there, I know not many people have a ton of time off from work, which is why this guide will show you how to spend one day at Crater Lake National Park, including what to do, how to get there, and where to stay.

Things to Do in Crater Lake National Park in One Day

hiking by crater lake

Crater Lake is an amazing tourist attraction with lots to do, even if you’re short on time. Because of its magnificent natural beauty, it is an ideal stop on your PNW road trip. Depending on the time of year, you can go skiing or hiking, or enjoy a leisurely drive around the lake.

However, I’ll be honest – this park isn’t near many other towns, meaning it’ll take you a while to get here, no matter where you’re starting from. I highly recommend spending at least a night or two here, if possible.

That said, here’s what I suggest doing if you only have a day at Crater Lake.

Try Your Hand at Fishing

crater lake ferry

While fishing is one of Crater Lake’s most popular hobbies, I didn’t know that until I visited. It was widely thought in the late 1800s that the lake was fishless, but they were wrong, and the lake has been stocked with species like Kokanee salmon and rainbow trout ever since. If you’re an early riser, you’ll love trying your hand at fishing here.

There is no minimum age or maximum catch limit, and no license is required. However, there is one restriction: no live bait is permitted, as this could attract unwanted wildlife to the lake. You can fish for as long as you like, whenever you like, if the weather permits, during your one day trip to Crater Lake.

Fishing is permitted in all of the park’s waterways, with the exception of Sun Creek and Lost Creek. Because native bull trout use these two creeks as breeding grounds, access to them has been restricted. Crater Lake National Park is working on a long-term project to bring back a healthy population of bull trout, the only fish that naturally occurs in the park’s streams.

Head Out on a Hike

Hiking is one of the best things to do in Crater Lake in a day. The park has over ten different hiking trails that vary in difficulty, elevation gain, and distance, so there are options for everyone. You should note that snow is often present until late summer, so you’ll likely need snowshoes if hiking during springtime in Oregon.

Here are some Crater Lake hikes that I recommend checking out (and make sure to have your America the Beautiful pass with you).

Cleetwood Cove

Cleetwood Cove Trail is by far my favorite hike in Crater Lake that I did, as it’s the only one where you can actually walk down to the lake. It’s only 1.1 miles but has some pretty steep switchbacks to get there. That said, it’s more than worth it and a great spot to have a picnic, especially if doing a day trip to Crater Lake.

Watchman Peak

Classified as a moderate hike, Watchman Peak is perfect for your list of things to do at Crater Lake. The trail is 1.6 miles long, and the elevation gain is 415 feet.

The trail starts with a nice uphill climb on rocky surfaces, but as you get to the peak, you’ll feel that all was worth it. At the peak, you get an incredible view of the entire lake, making taking the trail a lot more worth it—one of the best areas to watch the sunset from during one day at Crater Lake.

The Pinnacles 

The Pinnacles is a lot easier to hike than Watchman Peak. The trail is less than one mile long, and the elevation gain is only 60 feet, so perfect for a Crater Lake day trip.

The trail is more for those who would like to see more of the remnants of the explosion. Although short, this trail is still unique, as you can see how the explosion affected the park’s surrounding areas. 

Plaikni Falls

Plaikni Falls is a short trail with some of the best natural beauty out of all the trails in the park. The two-mile-long trail isn’t a strenuous one, with an elevation gain of only 200 feet, so easy to add to your one day at Crater Lake National Park.

It’s a relatively new trail, but it is a beautiful one. Old forest growth surrounds you as you walk through it, and at the end, on your one day in Crater Lake, you’ll find a lovely little waterfall with stunning wildflowers surrounding it.

Garfield Peak

This is a more intimidating hike, but another one that is well worth it. The hike is 3.6 miles, but the elevation gain is over 1000 feet. The trailhead is located behind Crater Lake Lodge, making it a great place to grab a bite to eat after your hike. As you hit the peak, you’ll get a fantastic view of the lake that will make it well worth the journey on a day in Crater Lake.

Mt. Rainier in the winter is another fun place to visit.

Get a Boat Tour of the Lake

wizard island

One of the most popular things for what to do at Crater Lake is going on a boat tour. There are only two different boat tours available during your one day at Crater Lake – a standard lake cruise and the Wizard Island tour.

On the standard cruise, you’ll circle the lake’s perimeter and get views of Wizard Island and Phantom Ship from close-up. You’ll be accompanied by a ranger that will share all the information about the lake, its geology, and its culture.

The Wizard Island tour takes you to the cinder cone created years ago after the volcano collapsed. In summer, there is a package where you get to explore the perimeter and spend some time on the island for any visitors who can only be there for one day.

On the island, they also have a Wizard Island Summer Trail that will take you to the island’s summit. The boat tours are one of the more unique places for what to see at Crater Lake in one day.

Prefer a tour guide? Join this Crater Lake day tour to have the full experience.

Take the Scenic Rim Drive

scenic rim drive viewpoint

One of the best things to do in Crater Lake when you want to take pictures is go on the Scenic Rim Drive. This 33-mile drive takes you all the way around the lake and has multiple viewpoints where you can stop, learn more about the lake, and take pictures on your Crater Lake 1 day itinerary.

Curious how long the Scenic Rim Drive takes to drive around? You can expect this to take about two hours, depending on how many stops you visit and how long you spend at each one. This is the perfect way to relax on a Portland weekend trip away from the city, particularly during summer in Portland.

While the road is two ways, you can make it easier on yourself by doing it clockwise. That way, parking will always be on the right side of the road each time you want to stop. I did it this way and was glad I did, as I didn’t have to worry about turning into oncoming traffic each time.

This road is open seasonally and closed during the winter months, so make sure to check the official website before planning your drive and list of what to do in Crater Lake in one day.

Watch the Sunset

crater lake sunset

One of my favorite activities to do anywhere I go is to watch the sunset, and Crater Lake is no exception. There are so many beautiful places you can stop at on the Scenic Rim Drive to watch the sun go down over the lake. If you’re an early bird and staying in the park, you can also choose to watch the sunrise, as it’s one of the best things to do at Crater Lake.

The lake can often have clouds over it, which is why I advise staying in the park for a few days so you’ll have multiple chances of getting sunset or sunrise pictures. You’ll want to add this to your one day Crater Lake itinerary if you have time. I could have been out here for days on end, photographing the insane colors that fell over the lake.

Make sure you have your America the Beautiful Pass! For only one price, you can visit all the national parks over and over throughout the year. I renew mine every year.

How to Get to Crater Lake 

crater lake trolley

Crater Lake is in southern Oregon, home to the Rouge River, tons of vineyards, and the Oregon Caves. If you are traveling from the north, why not check it off your Pacific Northwest bucket list on your way down to the National Park?

Crater Lake is easy to gain access to and accessible by most modes of transport. It has four different entrances, north, south, east, and west. Here are the different ways to get here when planning a Crater Lake one day itinerary.

By Car

You’ll need a car to get around and explore, so this is the best option. I did this on a Seattle to Portland drive and then continued on. Depending on which direction you are coming from, getting onto Highway 62 West or East is the best option, as these roads are open year-round. The entrances from the South and North are closed during the snowy winter months from early November to late June. 

Alternatively, you can use Highway 138 West or East. If you find yourself at a closed South or North park entrance, drive to the East or West entrances. 

If traveling by car, carry a map or GPS with you since there is limited cell phone signal on the routes. Also, note that Mazama Village only carries unleaded gas seasonally, so be sure to fuel up. Crater Lake is about four hours south of Portland, so it’s not quite a Portland day trip and it’s best to stay in the area overnight.

Need help planning out your road trip? I’ve been using Roadtrippers for years to see exactly how long it’ll take from one point to the next and find new places to add to my itinerary!

By Plane

The closest airport to Crater Lake is Medford’s Rogue Valley International Airport, so you can fly in there if you need to. The airport is located over 60 miles away from the National Park, so it’s a better option if a long trip by car is out of the question. As soon as you land, rent a car at the airport and take a drive down to the lake or your accommodation and start your adventure.  

By Train 

You can take the Amtrak train from places like Seattle or Portland to Klamath Falls, and from there, take a trolley to the lake. However, the Crater Lake Trolley is only available from July 1st until Labor Day weekend, so plan accordingly.

Best Time to Visit Crater Lake 

crater lake in the winter

Technically, Crater Lake has four seasons, but it only feels like it has two. Nine months of the year are considered winter, and only three as summer. There isn’t that big of a change in the temperatures throughout the seasons, especially from September to mid-April. 

To help you determine the best season to travel to Crater Lake, let’s go over the temperatures and climate of each season below. This will largely influence the things to do at Crater Lake you choose for your itinerary.

Winter – December to February 

Winter at the lake can still be enjoyable, especially with the range of winter activities available. Temperatures reach a high of 34°F on average or can drop as low as 19°F during the day, and they can get up to 100 inches of snow.

Winter sees a decline in people visiting the park, as it’s a bit harder to get around, but there are still a handful of visitors coming during wintertime in Portland. Things to do in Crater Lake are also limited, but the park is still very much operational. Check the visitors center to determine what activities are still available and if the tours are still ongoing.

Not all the routes and trails are plowed, and the Northern and Southern entrances to the park are closed during this time. You’ll also want to dress accordingly and wear your winter hiking clothes and gear.

Spring – March to May 

Similar to parks like Mount Rainier (which I highly recommend checking out my Mount Rainier National Park one-day itinerary if you haven’t been), springtime is still a cold one at the lake. Month after month, you can feel it slowly getting slightly warmer, and the weather can reach up to 50°F. There’s also a steady incline of visitors as the season welcomes spring. 

May is the final month of the season and sees a steady climb in temperature as it turns into summer. Snowfall will drop lower by the day, where you should see no more than 19 inches. 

Summer – June to August 

Summer is the busiest month in the park and sees a high rise in visits, as many people consider it the best time to visit Crater Lake. The sunny weather will bring in flocks of people to view the lake at its brightest. 

During summer, June sees warmer days, and as we enter July and August, highs of 69°F are expected. This is a hectic period for the park but a still enjoyable one.   

Fall – September to November

September is still a high-traffic month until the midway mark, as the weather is beautiful. The cold and snowy weather will slowly come back by late September, and fewer people are expected to be at Crater Lake, making it a bit easier to get a room when spending one day at Crater Lake.

Expect a bit of wind and rain for the first two months of the season. As you get into November, snowfall will occur more, and you may see days with a low 30-34°F. 

Where to Stay at Crater Lake

crater lake lodge exterior

Good accommodation is hard to come by, especially when trying to get a place close to any Crater Lake attractions. During the high season period, between June to August, it becomes tough to get accommodation. An easy way to secure a perfect spot is to plan and book well in advance. 

Since Crater Lake is a bit of a drive out from its closest city, getting a place to stay in one of the nearby towns is ideal. Prospect or Shady Cove can be great alternatives if there is nothing closer available.

I’ve compiled a list of some of the best places to stay in Crater Lake to make finding accommodation easier for you.

At Crater Lake

The best place to stay at Crater Lake when you want to be as close as possible is Crater Lake Lodge. I never stay right at national parks, but made an exception for this trip.

The hotel is right on the lake, and you can spend extra money to upgrade to a room with a view of the lake (which I highly recommend). It’s a gorgeous place to stay and has a restaurant on-site, so you don’t have to go too far for dinner after a day of adventuring.

Because this is technically the only hotel in the park, rooms book up quickly here. I recommend booking your room as soon as you know you want to come here, and at least six months out for a summer visit. You also do need to book dinner reservations in advance if you want to eat at the hotel.

Book your room here or read reviews

Close To Crater Lake

Spending a weekend close to the National Park is ideal for any traveler. It makes traveling far less strenuous when you want to do any of the Crater Lake activities. The following is a list of the best places near Crater Lake to stay. 

  • Crater Lake Resort is the perfect lounging experience just 20 miles away from Crater Lake. The resort offers tons of accommodation options and is right next to Fort Creek. They have playground areas for the little ones nearby, while skiing and hiking areas are also close.
  • This lake property in Chiloquin is a perfect spot if you want to limit your traveling costs by a ton. Just a 21-minute drive from Crater Lake, the home has a great porch view over the lake, with a good amount of roaming space. It has two bedrooms and two bathrooms that can sleep four.
  • Located in Fort Klamath, Aspen Inn is a stone’s throw away from Crater Lake. Just a quick 7-minute drive away, Aspen Inn is an excellent option if you want an affordable place to sleep in between your adventures.

Prospect 

If you can’t find anything close to Crater Lake, looking at places in Prospect is the next best thing. A small city just 23 miles outside of the National Park, this spot is still an ideal range away, especially if you want to spend an entire day at Crater Lake. 

  • If an isolated weekend stay is more up your alley, then this red blanket cabin is the perfect place. The rental has everything needed for a good stay in the woods. The well-crafted cabin has great outdoor space and an outdoor patio where you can catch a breather.
  • Located 33 miles away from the park in Prospect, this lake cabin is next to Mill Creek. Sitting on the patio will give you a feeling of peace and serenity as you look down into the creek right next to you. 

No matter how you spend your one day at Crater Lake, you’ll love exploring this unique national park.

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