Established in 1902, Crater Lake is one of the most visited parks in the United States. The area attracts tons of visitors yearly with stunning views, a natural wildlife appeal, and an unimaginable amount of water. With over 20 square miles to explore, it is easy to find things to do at Crater Lake National Park.
The park was formed by the volcano known as Mount Mazama, which collapsed during an extensive series of explosive eruptions thousands of years ago. Now, the park is home to a terrain that has become an adventurous dream. With views from just about every side of the lake, the park has become a favorite when deciding which U.S. National Park to visit.
The lake is the deepest in the country at 1,949 feet and hardly ever freezes. Its beautiful dark blue color makes it very photogenic any time of the year. The drive around the lake also offers over 30 different areas that will make you want to stop and take a picture.
This guide will show you what to do in Crater Lake, how to get there, and where to stay during your trip.
7 Things to Do in Crater Lake National Park
There is an abundance of things to do around Crater Lake. It’s well known for being a picture-perfect attraction, from the lake itself to the amazing nature that surrounds it, so you’ll want to put it on your Pacific Northwest road trip.
Activities are available all year round so you’ll always be able to find something to do. Crater Lake has hiking and skiing areas during the different seasons and is excellent for fishing. So when it comes to things to do in Crater Lake, you’re in for a real treat. Here is what to do at Crater Lake during your visit.
1. Go on a Bike Ride
If you are a biker and wondering what to do in Crater Lake, there are two fantastic routes you can take on. The first is the eight-mile-long Grayback Drive. It’s a lot less famous, but the biggest benefit is that the path is closed to vehicles and is open to mountain bikes. It gives you a lot of freedom when cycling and is a good, quick ride through an unpaved road.
Secondly, the magnificent 33-mile Rim Drive is the most attractive cycling route that Crater Lake has. Roads are steep hills with high elevations, making it a very physically demanding ride.
What makes it Crater Lake’s best is that there are 30 overlook sites en-route. These vantage points are spectacular for catching a breather and taking in the jaw-dropping views. It’s best to take the path during the winter months when many roads are closed for a lot more freedom.
2. Try Your Hand at Fishing
Crater Lake activities are very popular, and it comes as no surprise that fishing is one of them. Back in the late 1800s, it was believed that there were no fish in the lake at all. However, they were wrong and have also stocked the lake since then so you can fish for kokanee salmon and rainbow trout.
Visitors are encouraged to fish here since these fish aren’t native to the lake. You don’t need a license, and there is no limit to how many you can catch. They do, however, have one rule: only artificial bait is allowed to avoid any other species coming into the lake.
Depending on the weather, you can fish as long as you want to and whenever you want to. If you are looking at things to do near Crater Lake, Wizard Island is also available if you’re going to fish there. It’s located at the west end of Crater Lake.
3. Get a Boat Tour of the Lake
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 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 really close up. You’ll be accompanied by a ranger that will share all the information about the lake, its geology, and 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. This is one of the more unique places for what to see at Crater Lake.
4. Check Out a Hike
Hiking is one of the best things to do in Crater Lake, Oregon. The park has over ten different hiking trails, and choosing one to do could be difficult. They all vary in difficulty, elevation gain, and distance, so there are options for everyone. Here are some that I recommend checking out.
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.
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 at 60 feet.
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 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 elevation gain only being 200 feet.
It’s a relatively new trail, but it is a beautiful one. As you walk through, you are surrounded by old forest growth, and at the end, you’ll find a beautiful small waterfall with amazing wildflowers surrounding it.
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.
5. Take the Scenic Rim Drive
One of the best things to do in Crater Lake when you want to take pictures is going 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 off at. You can expect this to take about two hours depending on how many stops you visit and how long you spend at each one.
While the road is two ways, you can make it easier on yourself by doing it clockwise. That way the parking will always be on the right side of the road each time you want to stop. This road is open seasonally and closed during the winter months, so make sure to check the official website before planning your drive.
6. Spend the Night Camping
If you want to really experience the outdoors and are looking for active things to do at Crater Lake, you can choose to spend the night in a tent instead of a hotel. You’ll need to get a backcountry permit first, which you can obtain by going to the Ranger Station at Park Headquarters. The permits are free, but you’ll still need to have your entrance pass or America the Beautiful pass.
You can camp both in the summer and during the snowy winter, but make sure you know winter camping safety if you choose to go then. As always, I’d advise going with someone else when camping in the backcountry and knowing general camping tips.
7. Watch the Sunset
One of my favorite activities to do anywhere I go is 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 well for 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 love this idea of what to do in Crater Lake National Park if you like photography.
How to Get to Crater Lake
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 find things to do in the Pacific Northwest 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 we will list the easiest way to get to the lake for most modes of transportation and which entrances to use:
You’ll need a car to get around and explore, so this is the best option. 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 the 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.
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.
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
Technically, Crater Lake has four seasons, but it only feels like it has two. Nine months of the year are considered as 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 in snow.
Winter sees a decline in people visiting the park, as it’s a bit harder to get around. 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 gear.
Spring – March to May
Similar to parks like Mount Rainier, 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.
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
Excellent 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. This hotel is right on the lake, and you can spend extra money to upgrade to a room with a view of the lake. 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.
Close To Crater Lake
Spending a weekend close to the National Park is most 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. There is plenty of roaming space around the resort, with barbeque areas well-marked as well.
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. There is also a fully equipped kitchen ideal for anyone who prefers to cook rather than go out to restaurants for a bite.
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.
The inn has a spacious and pet-friendly outdoor space with a garden, play area, and barbeque facilities. Aspen Inn also has tons of options to choose from, accommodating up to six people. With the free wifi and free parking, it’s a convenient place to stay and very affordable.
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 has an outdoor patio where you can catch a breather. The patio is also a good spot to have a relaxing coffee in the morning before heading out.
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.
This five-bedroom cabin has enough space for a group of eight, which is perfect for a family or friends traveling together. The property is just an hour away from the airport, so only a short drive if you do fly into the area.
No matter what things to do at Crater Lake that you choose, you’ll love exploring this unique national park.