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Crater Lake National Park Visitor Guide

Travelers from all across the globe travel to the United States each year to enjoy one or many of the country’s amazing national parklands.  Many of these parklands are located to the West of the Mississippi River, which has long acted as a divider between the Eastern and the Western United States.  Both halves of the United States are wonderful for their own reasons, but it is the Western United States that is world-renown for its rough wilderness, beautiful landscapes, and diverse range of wildlife.  The Western United States is also where you will find a majority of the country’s national parklands.

While Crater Lake National Park in southern Oregon may not be as well-known as some of the other parks in the Western United States, that doesn’t mean it isn’t every bit as beautiful.  In fact, as lake parks go, it may be the most beautiful in America.  Centered around a deep, water-filled volcanic crater that has formed the deepest lake in North America, Crater Lake is also well-known for its rough wilderness and great hiking and snowshoeing trails.  If you aren’t into hiking, getting out on the crystal blue waters of Crater Lake to Kayak or go for a swim may be just what you are looking for.  Regardless of what you do when you visit, one thing that won’t be in short supply during your stay is tranquility.

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In this guide, I am going to give you all of the information you need to plan a successful trip to Crater Lake National Park.  I will review the best times to visit the park and what the top things to see and do are while you are there.  I will also cover where you can stay while you are visiting the park and what other attractions in the area are worthy of visiting.  With this information in hand, you can be assured that you will get the most out of your visit to one of America’s most beautiful national parks.

How to Get There

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Crater Lake National Park is located in the Southern part of the state of Oregon, about a three-hour drive from the Pacific coast.  Roughly a three-hour drive from the Pacific Coast, Crater Lake National Park is one of the more remote parks in the Western states but is still close enough to major cities to not be inconvenient to visit.  You get the peace and tranquility that its remoteness brings without being so far away from the large cities where it is hard to get to.

Crater Lake National Park US Map

If you are traveling to Crater Lake National Park from outside of Oregon, the closest large city with an airport to fly into is Portland, Oregon.  If you are planning on visiting other parks in California, the cities of Sacramento and San Francisco are also a reasonably short drive away from Crater Lake as well.  For those who are planning on visiting the Seattle area and the national parks in Washington State, flying into Seattle and driving down to see Crater Lake is a reasonable option.  For information on how long of a drive it is to Crater Lake from various cities in the Western United States, I have included a map for you to review below.

Crater Lake National Park Driving Time Map

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Crater Lake National Park is accessible from the South and the West year-round and the North and the Northwest during the warmer months of the year.  If you are traveling to Crater Lake from the South, take Highway 97 to Highway 62 and then to the park’s South Entrance.  For those visiting from the West, simply follow Highway 62 to the park’s West Entrance.  If you are visiting during the warmer months of the year, the North Entrance of the park is accessible.  To get to the park, leave Interstate 5 just south of Eugene.   Then, take Highway 58 to Highway 97 to Highway 138.   Finally, follow Highway 138 to the park’s North Entrance.  If the North Entrance is closed (it is seven months of the year), then enter either through the West Entrance or South Entrance.

Crater Lake National Park Map - Preview

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When to Visit

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When you should visit Crater Lake National Park largely depends on what you want to do in the park.  For instance, if you are looking to get into the water, then you will undoubtedly want to visit when the temperatures are the warmest.  However, if you are interested in snowshoeing on some of the park’s amazing snowshoe trails, then the winter months when snow is on the ground would be ideal for your visit.  In order to assist you in determining which time of the year is best for your visit, I have included some key weather and attendance information for you to review below.

Average Temperature (°F)

Temperatures at Crater Lake can get fairly warm during the summer months, with the average high temperature getting above 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the months of July and August.  If you are planning on doing a lot of hiking outdoors, this is something to keep in mind.  On the other hand, the winter months of January thru February can see low temperatures that dip below freezing.  The park is beautiful in the winter, but if you don’t like cold temperatures you should steer clear of these months.

In my opinion, the ideal time to visit Crater Lake from a temperature standpoint is during the late spring month of May or the early autumn months of September and October.  During these months the high temperatures aren’t too hot and the low temperatures aren’t too cold.

Average Precipitation (Inches)

If you are into snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, then you will be excited to hear that a majority of the precipitation that Crater Lake National Park gets is during the late autumn and winter months of November thru February.  The park gets quite a bit of snow during these months, which is why it is considered one of the best snowshoeing and cross-country skiing parks in the United States.

If you are planning on visiting during the warmer months and would like to stay dry, then I would suggest visiting during the summer months of July and August or the early autumn months of September and October.  The spring months of March thru May can get a fair amount of rain, so they aren’t the ideal months to visit if you are planning on doing a lot of hiking within the park.

Average Visitors (1,000 visitors Per Day)

When visiting any national park in the United States, it is important to understand how many other visitors will likely be at the park when you are planning to visit.  At most parks, the amount of parking, campgrounds, and other services are limited.  If you look at the average attendance for Crater Lake National Park throughout the year, it starts out small and then builds throughout the year.  This means that the best times to have the park to yourself are in the early months of the year.

If you are planning on visiting to go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, then you will practically have the park to yourself in January or February.  However, if you are planning on visiting when the weather is warmer to do some hiking, visiting in the summer or autumn months could leave you battling with large crowds.  The early spring months are much better from an attendance standpoint at Crater Lake National Park, which is another factor that you should consider when deciding when it would be best for you to visit.

Other Things to See in the Area

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The Pacific coastline in the states of Oregon and Washington are some of the most beautiful coastlines in all of North America.  If you are looking for a great road trip to take in the United States, there is no shortage of stunning landscapes to see up-and-down this coastline.  For those of you who are planning to visit Crater Lake National Park and are looking for some additional things to add to your itinerary while you are in the area, I have included links to visitor guides for some of the other popular attractions in the area for you to review below.

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Ecola State Park and Canon Beach Visitor Guide Heceta Head Lighthouse Visitor Guide Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument Visitor Guide Multnomah Falls Visitor Guide

Where to Stay

Crater Lake Patio

When planning a trip to Crater Lake National Park, one of the most important decisions that you will have to make is where you will stay while you visit.  Whether you are looking to go camping in the beautiful wilderness surrounding the park or looking for a hotel or lodge to stay at during your visit, I have a number of recommendations for you to review in this section of my visitor guide.

Hotels and Lodges

Crater Lake National Park Hotels and Lodges Map

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Union Creek Resort ($$)
Dawson House Lodge ($$)
Rocky Point Resort ($$$)
Diamond Lake Resort ($$$)
Whispering Pines Motel ($$$)
Crescent Lake Lodge & Resort ($$$)
Crater Lake Resort ($$$$)
Prospect Historic Hotel Bed and Breakfast Inn ($$$$)
Crater Lake Lodge ($$$$$)
Harriman Springs Resort & Marina ($$$$$)

Campgrounds

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If you would prefer to camp out during your visit to Crater Lake National Park, there are a number of great campsites in the area.  The closest campgrounds to the park are the Lost Creek Campground and the infamous Mazama Campground.  The Mazama Campground is famous among national park enthusiasts because of its perfect blend of privacy and amenities.  Few other campgrounds offer as nice of amenities while still making you feel like you are alone in the woods.  If you would like to review all of the campground options in the Crater Lake vicinity, I have included a map for you to review below.

Crater Lake National Park Campground Map

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Resources

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There are a lot of amazing things to see and do in Crater Lake National Park.  While I have outlined some of my favorite things to see and do in the park in this guide, I wanted to also provide you with some additional park resources for you to review when planning your trip.  I have included a list of those resources below for you to review.

In addition to the National Park Services resources that I have listed above, I have also included links to a number of other valuable resources that I have created for you to review below.  These resources include an itinerary that I created for a Northwest United States National Parks road trip and several guides on the best views and hikes to see in America’s national parks system.

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Ecola State Park Bryce Canyon National Park Grand Teton Grand Teton
Pacific Northwest National Parks Road Trip Top 10 National Parks to Visit in the Wintertime The Top 20 Views to See in America’s National Parks Best Hikes in the National Parks System

Top Things to See and Do

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If you are an outdoor enthusiast, you will have no trouble finding things to see and do in Crater Lake National Park.  In order to help you start to fill out your itinerary for your trip, I have included a list of my favorite things to see and do in the park for you to review below.

Drive the Rim Drive

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One of the biggest draws of Crater Lake National Park is the absolute beauty of the area.  One of the best ways to see and appreciate the beauty of the park is to drive the rim road around Crater Lake.  In addition to being able to scout out the area before you plan which hikes to take, it is also a great way to quickly see the park and get some great photos of the lake.

Crater Lake Trolly

If you don’t feel like driving around the rim of Crater Lake, another option that you have is to take one of the park’s trolleys around the rim.  Taking the trolley will free yourself up to enjoy the scenic trip and get some pictures of the beautiful lake and surrounding area.

Take a Boat Ride to Wizard Island

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One of the most famous features within Crater Lake National Park is Wizard Island.  The island makes a great subject for those who are photographing the lake, but if you want to get closer to get some good shots of the island you will have to take a boat.  There are boat tours that will take you out onto Crater Lake and near Wizard Island.  If you are visiting during the busy months of the year, I would try to book your boat tour in advance of your visit.

Hike to the Watchman Peak Trail Overlook

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One of my favorite viewpoints at Crater Lake National Park is the Watchman Trail Overlook viewpoint.  The short hike from the road to the overlook is relatively easy, so any visitor should be able to reach the overlook.  Once at the overlook, the stone structure allows you to get up high and get a really great view of Wizard Island and Crater Lake.  Even if you don’t plan on doing much hiking at the park, I would recommend at least stopping at this viewpoint.

Distance: 1.6 miles (2.8 kilometers)
Elevation Gain: 387 feet (118 meters)
Route Type: Out-and-Back
Difficulty Level: Easy

The Watchman Peak Trail Map

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Go Snow Shoeing in the Winter

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If you are fortunate enough to visit Crater Lake National Park during the winter months, I would strongly recommend that you try your hand at snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.  With some of the best winter trails in the US National Parks system, Crater Lake National Park is a great place to try the sports for the first time.  If you don’t have your own snowshoes or cross-country skis, you need not worry.  There are cross-country skis and snowshoes available for rental at the park.

Hike Up Garfield Peak

Garfield Peak

If you are up for completing a more challenging hike while visiting the park, I would strongly recommend looking at the Garfield Peak hike.  The hike is only 3.4 miles long (out-and-back), but it does have a decent amount of elevation gain.  The elevation gain is what classifies this hike as a moderately difficult hike.  It isn’t a technical hike that requires scrambling, so if you are in decent shape and have enough time to complete the hike, I would recommend giving it a try because the views from the top are amazing!

Distance: 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers)
Elevation Gain: 1,069 feet (326 meters)
Route Type: Out-and-Back
Difficulty Level: Moderate

Garfield Peak Trail Map

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Look for Wildlife

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In addition to the breathtaking views, Crater Lake National Park also has its fair share of amazing wildlife to see.  There is a wide range of mammals, birds, and amphibians that live within the park.  Some of the larger species that you have a chance of spotting when you visit include elk, black-tailed deer, black bear, mountain lion, and mule deer.  The most likely to be spotted during your visit are the mule deer, which are prevalent throughout the park.

There are also quite a few smaller carnivores that inhabit the park that you might spot during your visit.  These include pine marten, red fox, bobcat, striped skunk, and coyotes.  If you keep your eyes peeled, you could spot one of these amazing creatures as you hike or snowshoe.  There is also a good chance that you will spot one of the park’s twelve species of bats that like to roost in trees with thick bark or in rock crevices and caves.

Star Gaze at Night

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Because of the relative remoteness of Crater Lake National Park, it is a great place to do some stargazing.  You don’t get the levels of light pollution that you do when you are near big cities, so you can really see quite a few more of the stars in the night sky than you normally would.  Especially if you are planning on camping out by the park, taking some time at night to enjoy the beautiful star-filled sky is a great activity.

Photography Tips

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If you plan on visiting Crater Lake National Park, you will want to make sure you bring your camera with you.  The park is absolutely breathtaking and you will want to capture your time there in photographs to share with family and friends.  In an effort to assist you in getting the best possible photographs that you can, I have included links to some photography resources below for you to review.

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Tips For Shooting in Winter and Snow Tips for Photographing National Parks Predicting Amazing Sunrises and Sunsets How to Plan Your Travel Photography Shots

Photo Gallery

With so many amazing landscapes to photograph at Crater Lake National Park, I really enjoyed my time there as a photographer.  In case you would like to see some additional photographs that I took at the park, I have included a gallery of just some of the pictures I took during my visit for you to review below.

Crater Lake National Park

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6 replies »

  1. I’ve always wanted to get back to Oregon and see Crater Lake. We did the coast road from northern California and so we missed it. I’m really surprised to see that bar graph of most visited months. It just keeps going up, up, up steadily from about June on! Great post!

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