Updated: Oct 13, 2021
Crater Lake sits in the caldera left behind by the eruption of Mount Mazama nearly 8,000 years ago. The eruption left behind a huge crater at the top of the mountain, which eventually filled with water, forming Crater Lake. With a depth of 1,943 feet, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States, and ninth deepest lake in the world.
Due to its high elevation, the lake’s only sources are rainfall and snowmelt. The unpolluted waters make for one of the clearest lakes in the world, with stunning deep blue waters that will stand out in every photo you take.
Read on for our top things to do in Crater Lake National Park!
1. Drive Rim Drive
Rim Drive is the 33 mile scenic road that encircles Crater Lake. There are more than 30 overlooks to enjoy the views, take photos, or just have a snack.
Many of these overlooks have information on the geology and history of Crater Lake, and I suggest reading every one that you can. Learning about the lake makes the experience even more magical.
Many of these overlooks have hikes that begin directly from the overlook parking area.
The road is technically divided into West Rim Drive (9 miles) and East Rim Drive (24 miles). While both roads are closed seasonally due to snowfall, East Rim Drive tends to close earlier and open later in the season.
2. Go on a hike
Crater Lake has more than 90 miles of trails to hike. Here are some of the best:
Garfield Peak: This 3.4 mile (milage denoted is round-trip for each hike in this section) trail begins next to the Crater Lake Lodge and ascends more than 1,000 feet, ending with a beautiful view of the lake from the edge of the caldera.
Watchman Peak: This is a 1.7 mile trail that climbs 400 feet to the Watchman Lookout Station. It is a good alternative to Garfield Peak for those who want a more moderate hike.
Cleetwood Cove Trail: If you want to hike down to the shore of Crater Lake, there’s only one way to do it - the Cleetwood Cove Trail. This trail is 2.0 miles long, but you will have to climb 700 feet on the way back. For those wanting to take the plunge into Crater Lake’s icy waters, it’s totally worth it.
Pinnacles Valley Trail: This flat trail is less than a mile, and is more of a leisurely stroll than a hike. However, it comes with other-worldly views of 100-foot tall spires made of volcanic rock. It’s easy to forget you’re in Crater Lake National Park when you’re on this hike.
3. Bike Rim Drive
Rim Drive is a fantastic drive, with twists and turns and incredible views of Crater Lake and the surrounding mountains. Like any good road, driving on Rim Drive immediately made me want to bike it.
The best time to bike Rim Drive is the during annual Ride the Rim event. Each September, East Rim Drive is closed off to vehicular traffic so that bikers can ride the length of East Rim Drive safely and in large numbers. There are organized rest stops, and a shuttle that can take you to your car if you choose not to ride West Rim Drive.
East Rim Drive is 25 miles with 3500 feet of elevation gain; biking the entire Rim Drive is more than 33 miles and 4,100 feet of elevation gain. Only experienced bikers should attempt to complete the route - but anyone can do a portion of the ride.
Rim Drive is steep, windy, and does not have shoulders or bike lanes. Exercise caution and remember to follow all park rules and regulations.
4. Take a boat to Wizard Island
Take a boat tour to Wizard Island! The island in the center of the lake was made by repeated volcanic activity after the eruption that created the lake itself. You first must hike down the Cleetwood Cove Trail to the shore of the lake. Then you hop on a boat where a park ranger will provide an overview of the Crater Lake’s history, all while taking in a unique view of the lake.
Two boat tours each day include a stop at Wizard Island - be sure to book one of these, and take some time to hike to the peak of Wizard Island. See the National Park Service website for more info or to book a tour.
5. Take the plunge
Jumping into the frigid waters of Crater Lake is something of a rite of passage for visitors to the lake. Luckily, there is an easy way to do it.
Once the Cleetwood Cove Trail is accessible, usually in late June, it is just a short hike down to the shore. From there, you can leap into the crystal clear waters from any of several ledges, or you can walk down along the rocks and simply wade in.
Even in the summer, the water is only 57 deg. F, so be careful jumping, and always have a friend nearby.
6. Watch the sun rise
Sunrise at Crater Lake is an amazing experience. The sky lights up with shades of pink and orange, before opening up and giving way to the characteristic Crater Lake shades of deep blue. When the sun first hits the water, it is usually still enough to give you picturesque reflections of the surrounding caldera and sky.
And best of all, you’ll have the lake to yourself!
7. Spend the night in the park
It’s hard to beat the solitude of camping in Crater Lake National Park. Crater Lake boasts some of the darkest skies in the United States, giving you the opportunity to see stars, planets, and the Milky Way. Staying in the park also means having a fantastic sunrise and sunset to watch, every day.
Mazama Campground has 214 sites, which are first-come, first-served in June and booked by reservation afterwards.
Lost Creek Campground has 16 first-come, first-served sites.
The Crater Lake Lodge and Mazama Village are also options, for those who prefer a little more comfort. I suggest enjoying a drink with a view of the lake from the rocking chairs on the Crater Lake Lodge’s patio.
Are you planning a trip to Crater Lake National Park? Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments!