Crater Lake National Park, established in 1902, is famously home to its namesake lake – the deepest in the United States at around 1,950 feet (it’s the ninth deepest lake in the entire world). While that fact alone makes this blue beauty worth visiting, there are a number of reasons to visit during both the summer and winter seasons.
Crater Lake itself is a remnant of Mount Mazama, a volcano that erupted around 7,700 years ago. The eruption formed the large caldera that was filled in less than 1,000 years with the marvelous water we see today – all of which comes from rain and snowmelt.
While Crater Lake is open year-round, snow covers it most of the time (snowfall averages about 41 feet a year). The park’s North Entrance is typically closed from Nov. 1 through June 15. Ahead-of-time planning for weather is usually necessary outside of a summer visit.
Coming in from the North Entrance, you’ll pass the cross-country Pacific Crest Trail, which runs West of the lake. A nice first stop to take in the views s Merriam Point. From there, you have the choice of driving clockwise or counterclockwise around the lake.
Going the entire Scenic Rim Drive will be a must for most travelers. It’s a 33-mile drive with 30 overlooks that offer panoramic vistas, forests and meadows. One such overlook is at Watchman Observation Station with its fantastic view of Wizard Island, which juts out 763 feet above Crater Lake.
Rim Drive will also take you anywhere you want to go in the park, including to all of its hiking trails. An easy and rewarding one is Plaikini Falls, a 2-mile roundtrip hike that goes to that waterfall.
With an elevation gain of 1,250 feet and a roundtrip jaunt of 4.4 miles, the Mount Scott Trail may have the park’s best incentive. It’s the only view of the entire lake from within the park. Plus, it’s the park’s highest peak at 8,929 feet and its oldest at 425,000 years old.
Among other trails with lake views are Discovery Point (2 miles roundtrip) and Garfield Peak (3.6 miles roundtrip).
Fishing is also an enjoyable activity in the park (no license required). While there’s no evidence that Crater Lake ever had native fish, it was stocked with seven different species between 1888 and 1941 – today supporting approximately 60,000 kokanee salmon and rainbow trout.
But aside from the lake, Crater Lake National Park is mainly managed as a wilderness area (more than 95% of its land).
For serious campers, that means incredible backcountry experiences. There are a few designated sites, but dispersed camping is also allowed with a permit (which can be obtained day-of or day before a trip start date).
During the summer season, camping is not allowed inside of Rim Drive. However, it is allowed during the winter season, so long as you are at least 100 feet from the caldera rim, out of sight of any other campers and out of sight of the trail.
Whatever you end up doing, and there’s much more to see and do, remember this 1869 quote from Oregon Sentinel editor Jim Sutton: “To say that this wonderful lake is grand, beyond description, is to give an idea of its magnificence. Everyone gazes at it in almost tearful astonishment.”