Article Overview: Things to Do in Crater Lake National Park
I still recall my first visit to Crater Lake wondering the whole way up if the water was really that blue. Spoiler alert: it is.
Beyond that, it’s pretty massive with more things to do than I expected. Prior to going for myself I figured the only things to do in Crater Lake were limited to just driving around the rim and seeing the different overlooks. Turns out I was wrong. There are a lot more activities at Crater Lake then you think.
In this article, I’ll highlight some of the best things to do in Crater Lake National Park based on my own personal experiences visiting the park.
Ready to get started? Let’s go!
Things to Do in Crater Lake National Park
Table of Contents: Best Things to Do in Crater Lake National Park
Table of Contents: Best Things to Do in Crater Lake
- Things to Do in Crater Lake National Park
- 3 Quick Things to Know Before Visiting Crater Lake National Park
- Top 20 Best Things to Do at Crater Lake
- Top 10 Best Things to Do at Crater Lake National Park
- Map of Best Things to Do at Crater Lake National Park
- Summary of the Best Things to Do at Crater Lake National Park
Interesting Facts About Crater Lake
Established: Crater Lake National Park was established in 1902 by Theodore Roosevelt.
Color of Crater Lake: The deep blue color of Crater Lake is caused by the water’s high purity and the lack of suspended sediment.
How Crater Lake Was Formed: The lake was formed when the Mount Mazama volcano erupted and collapsed, creating a caldera that filled with water over time.
Inlets and Outlets: The lake has no inlets or outlets, and it is fed solely by precipitation, making it one of the purest lakes in the world.
Elevation: The lake’s surface is at an elevation of 6,178 feet above sea level.
Are there fish in Crater Lake: The lake is home to several species of fish, including rainbow trout and kokanee salmon.
Depth of Crater Lake: Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and the seventh deepest in the world, with a depth of nearly 2,000 feet.
3 Quick Things to Know Before Visiting Crater Lake National Park
- Entrance fees are $30 per vehicle OR if you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months just buy the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks).
- Here’s my favorite Crater Lake Guide Book & Crater Lake Map
- The Best Time to Visit Crater Lake National Park is during the Summer when temperatures are warm, and the wildflower meadows are exploding with kaleidoscopic colors. For peak wildflower viewing I recommend the first couple of weeks in August when the mosquitoes are receding from their peak terror.
Top 20 Best Things to Do at Crater Lake
21. Camping at Crater Lake
Let’s start off our list of things to do at Crater Lake with a two day commitment to the park – we’re talking camping.
There are two campgrounds in Crater Lake National Park: Mazama Campground and Lost Creek Campground.
Mazama Campground is the larger of the two, with over 200 campsites available on a first-come, first-served basis. The campground is open from mid-June to mid-October and offers a variety of amenities, including showers, flush toilets, and bear-proof food storage.
Lost Creek Campground is a smaller, more rustic campground with only 16 campsites available by reservation only. The campground is open from July to September and offers only basic amenities, such as pit toilets and hand-pumped water.
Whether you choose to camp at the Mazama Campground or the Lost Creek Campground, you’ll be able to enjoy stunning views of the lake and the surrounding landscape, as well as the many things to do in Crater Lake National Park.
If you’re staying the night then you might as well add stargazing to your list of things to do at Crater Lake!
Crater Lake National Park is one of the best places in America for stargazing, offering clear and unobstructed views of the night sky.
The park’s remote location and lack of light pollution make it an ideal location for stargazing, and visitors can often see the Milky Way and other celestial phenomena with the naked eye.
In addition, the park offers ranger-led stargazing programs, where visitors can learn about the stars and planets and use telescopes to get a closer look at the night sky. In 2019, more than 5,000 people participated in these programs.
One of the best places to stargaze at Crater Lake National Park is at the Sinnott Memorial Overlook, which offers panoramic views of the lake and the surrounding landscape.
Another great spot for stargazing is at the Rim Village Visitor Center, where visitors can use the park’s telescopes and binoculars to get a closer look at the night sky.
19. See the Northern Lights
You may not know that Crater Lake National Park is actually one of the best places to see the northern lights in the United States. Many of the same reasons that make the park great for stargazing, make it an ideal location to catch a glimpse of the northern lights.
The best time to see the northern lights at Crater Lake National Park is during the winter months, when the nights are longest and the sky is the clearest.
To see the northern lights at Crater Lake National Park, it’s best to plan your visit during the winter months and to check the aurora forecast before you go. The aurora forecast will give you an idea of when the northern lights are likely to be visible and where the best viewing spots are in the park.
Once you’re at the park, head to a high point with a clear view of the sky, such as the Sinnott Memorial Overlook or the Rim Village Visitor Center. Bring warm clothing, a camera, and a pair of binoculars, and be prepared to stay out for several hours to see the northern lights in all their glory.
18. The Crater Lake Lodge (& Cabins)
Another must on your list of things to do at Crater Lake National Park is seeing the lodge. Built in 1915, the Crater Lake Lodge was designed by architect Frank Clark, and was constructed using local materials to blend in with the park’s natural surroundings.
As you step inside the lodge, you’ll be greeted by a warm and welcoming atmosphere. The cozy lobby, with its comfortable chairs and stone fireplace, is the perfect place to relax and unwind after a day of exploring the park.
The rooms are spacious and comfortable, with large windows that offer breathtaking views of the lake and surrounding landscape.
But the best part about staying at the Crater Lake Lodge is the access it provides to the incredible natural beauty of the park. From the lodge, you can easily explore the many hiking trails, take a boat tour on the lake, or simply relax on the shore and take in the stunning views.
It’s the perfect base for any adventure in the park. I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Crater Lake National Park – whether you’re staying at the lodge for the night or just stopping by for a meal or a drink.
17. The Pinnacles Trail
I know we’re all in a hurry to get to the lake itself but the Pinnacles Trail is a worthy addition to your list of things to do at Crater Lake National Park.
For starters, at just .8 miles long it’s a short easy trail. Next, you don’t even have to hike the trail to see the Pinnacles (although who couldn’t use a good stretch of the legs?)
The Pinnacles Overlook from the parking lot features “fossil fumeroles”, or pinnacles up to 100 feet tall, that are basically rock needles formed from volcanic ash.
16. Phantom Ship Island Overlook
Seeing Phantom Ship Overlook is one of the most popular things to do in Crater Lake National Park.
The overlook offers some pretty great views of Crater Lake and the surrounding landscape, as well as a close-up view of a small island known as Phantom Ship. And no, the island is not actually haunted by the ghost of a ship captain, despite what some people might tell you.
Phantom Ship Overlook is located on the southeast side of the park, near the Rim Village Visitor Center. The overlook is easily accessible by car, and offers plenty of parking.
The island itself is made of a type of rock called andesite, which is resistant to erosion and has allowed the island to remain intact for thousands of years. And if you look really closely, you might even be able to see Davy Jones himself waving at you from the island.
The main attraction at Phantom Ship Overlook is Phantom Ship, a small island located in the center of Crater Lake. The island is named for its unique shape, which resembles a ship’s hull rising out of the water.
From the overlook, you can enjoy panoramic views of Crater Lake and the surrounding landscape, including the Cascade Mountains and Mount Mazama.
And if you’re lucky, you might even spot a Bigfoot or two lurking in the woods behind the overlook (don’t worry, they’re mostly harmless unless you have a bag of trail mix on you.)
15. Ride the Crater Lake Trolley
Riding the Crater Lake Trolley is one of those things to do in Crater Lake that is sure to be a memory maker. The Crater Lake Trolley is a historic open-air vehicle that offers visitors a unique way to explore the park and learn about its history and natural beauty.
Built in 1926, the Crater Lake Trolley is one of the oldest operating vehicles in the state. The trolley seats up to 24 passengers and is pulled by a vintage Ford Model T engine.
The Crater Lake Trolley offers a variety of tours and programs, including a 90-minute narrated tour of the park, a sunset tour, and a ranger-led geology tour. The trolley tours are available from late June to mid-September, and prices start at $22 per person. Children under 5 years old are free.
In addition to its tours, the Crater Lake Trolley is also available for private rentals, such as weddings and special events. The trolley can be reserved in advance, and a park ranger is available to provide historical and natural interpretation during the event.
Overall, the Crater Lake Trolley is a fun and unique way to experience Crater Lake National Park. The trolley’s historic charm and scenic routes make it a popular attraction for visitors of all ages.
14. Cloudcap Overlook
Cloudcap Overlook is one of the highest points that you can drive to in Crater Lake National Park at an elevation of 8,150 feet.
Offering some of the best views of the lake itself, I don’t prefer Cloudcap Overlook for photos as much because Wizard Island is not prominent in photos from here.
I’d definitely add it to your list of things to do at Crater Lake as it’s easy to get to and offers a unique view of the lake but it’s one you can bag in 5 minutes if you’d like.
13. Vidae Falls
If you’re tired of the hiking then chalk this one up to category of easy things to do in Crater Lake National Park. Vidae Falls is a 100 foot cascading waterfall that looks to some more like a beautiful creek.
In the summer, wildflowers explode all around the falls making for an especially beautiful setting.
Getting to the falls is extremely easy as it’s located right off the road (we’re talking feet away). There’s a convenient pullout where you can park, large enough to fit about 10 cars.
12. Merriam Point
If you drive into Crater Lake National Park from the North Entrance then the first viewpoint you’ll come across is Merriam Point.
Merriam Point sits at 7,270 feet (2,216 meters) and like many of the other viewpoints at Crater Lake provides sweeping views of the lake including Wizard Island.
Personally, I find Wizard Point to be one of the best spots in the park to take your iconic Crater Lake shot as everything is picture perfect from here.
11. Castle Crest Wildflower Trail
Wildflower peepers rejoice! One of the top things to do in Summer at Crater Lake National Park is wildflower peeping. Some of the most common wildflowers found in the park include lupine, paintbrush, and columbine.
One of the best places to see wildflowers in Crater Lake National Park is on the Castle Crest Wildflower Trail.
If you are interested in seeing the wildflowers at Crater Lake National Park, the best time to visit is from late spring to early summer. This is when the wildflowers are in full bloom and the park is at its most colorful. ‘
To make the most of your visit, be sure to pack your camera and a good pair of hiking shoes so you can explore the park and take in the beauty of the wildflowers.
In addition to the wildflowers, Crater Lake National Park is also home to a variety of other flora and fauna. The park is home to several species of trees, including conifers such as Douglas fir and Ponderosa pine, as well as deciduous trees such as quaking aspen and whitebark pine.
Top 10 Best Things to Do at Crater Lake National Park
10. Garfield Peak
One of the highlights of my last trip to Crater Lake was (finally) hiking to the summit of Garfield Peak. This had long been on my list of things to do in Crater Lake.
Garfield Peak is located on the western side of the park and offers sweeping views of Crater Lake and the surrounding landscape. It’s one of the more popular spots for hiking, and the summit offers some of the best views in the park.
Reaching Garfield Peak is relatively straightforward – just take the Garfield Peak Trail from the Rim Village Visitor Center. The trail is about 3 miles round trip and has an elevation gain of about 1,000 feet.
It’s considered moderate in difficulty, with some steep sections and rocky terrain. But trust me, the views from the top are worth it.
Once at the summit of Garfield Peak, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of Crater Lake and the surrounding area. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the other side of the lake, as well as the peaks of the Cascade Range.
It’s a great spot to take photos and enjoy a picnic lunch.
9. Biking around Crater Lake
Another potential addition to your list of things to do at Crater Lake National Park is biking. The Rim Drive provides bikers with a great loop route that encircles Crater Lake.
Rim Drive is approximately 33 miles long and offers a variety of views of the lake and the surrounding landscape.
It’s open to both cars and bikes, so you can take your time and enjoy the scenery. There are several overlooks and trailheads along the way where you can stop and take in the views, go for a hike, or have a picnic.
Rim Drive is typically open from late spring to early fall, depending on the weather. In the winter break out the fat bike and experience Rim Drive without the cars.
8. Plaikni Falls
Plaikini Falls is on our list as one of the top easier things to do at Crater Lake. Getting to the falls requires a short, 1 mile hike (each way) through a conifer forest.
Reaching the falls you’ll find wildflowers in the summer in a serene alpine setting. From the falls Crater Lake itself is not visible.
The total time required to hike to the falls and back is about 45 minutes but folks tender to linger so I’d budget for closer to 70 minutes to give yourself time to enjoy the falls.
7. Winter Activities at Crater Lake
There are plenty of fun things to do at Crater Lake National Park in Winter. Two of the most popular winter activities include snowshoeing and cross country skiing.
The cross-country ski & snowshoe trails at Crater Lake National Park are located on the north side of the park, near the park’s visitor center. The trails range in length and difficulty, with options for skiers of all skill levels.
Some of the most popular trails include the Rim Trail, which offers beautiful views of the lake and the surrounding landscape, and the Dutton Creek Trail, which passes through a forest of conifers and offers views of the surrounding mountains.
In addition to the trails, the park also offers cross-country ski rentals and lessons for visitors who are new to the sport. Skiers can rent equipment and take lessons at the park’s visitor center, and can then explore the trails on their own or with a guide.
6. Watchman Peak
Hiking up to Watchman Peak is one of the most popular things to do at Crater Lake National Park. The peak is located on the western edge of the park, and offers the best views of Crater Lake (in my opinion) and the surrounding landscape.
Watchman Peak sits at 8,013 feet (2,442 meters) above sea level making it one of the highest points in Crater Lake National Park.
The trail to the top is 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) long, has an elevation gain of 1,000 feet (305 meters), and is considered moderate in difficulty. I’d say it takes about three hours to hike round-trip.
In my opinion, the views are particularly stunning during the summer months when the water is at its clearest and the surrounding landscape is lush and green. Winter is another great time to snowshoe up here as you can see the landscape transformed with a blanket of white.
5. Discovery Point
Discovery Point is perhaps the most popular viewpoint at Crater Lake. The point is located on the southern edge of the park, near the visitor center. From here, you can see the entire lake, as well as the surrounding mountains and forests.
Discovery Point is named after the (non-native) discovery of Crater Lake by a group of gold prospectors on June 12, 1853.
In addition to the views, Discovery Point also offers access to a few hiking trails including Cleetwood Cove Trail, which leads down to the lake’s shoreline and offers the only access point for swimming and boating in the lake.
4. Drive the Crater Lake Rim Drive
Looking for one of the most relaxing and mobility friendly things to do at Crater Lake National Park? Add cruising the Rim Drive to your list.
The Rim Drive is a 33-mile (53-kilometer) scenic road that encircles Crater Lake. The road offers breathtaking views of the lake itself from all different angles, and is a popular spot for drivers and cyclists alike.
You should know that the road is open seasonally, from late June to early October, depending on snow conditions. During this time, the road is open to vehicles and offers access to many of the park’s popular destinations, including overlooks, hiking trails, and picnic areas.
One of the highlights of the Rim Drive is the opportunity to see Crater Lake from various vantage points. The road offers several overlooks where visitors can stop and take in the stunning views of the lake.
Be sure to stop off at the Watchman Overlook, Discovery Point Overlook, & Phantom Ship Island Overlook.
3. Crater Lake Ferry & Boat Tour
One of the top things to do at Crater Lake is taking a scenic tour on the Crater Lake Ferry.
The Crater Lake Ferry is a boat tour that allows visitors to explore Crater Lake National Park from the water. The tour departs from the Cleetwood Cove trailhead and takes passengers on a two-hour boat ride around the lake, with stops at several popular destinations along the way.
Be sure to check your calendars prior to arriving as the tour is offered seasonally, from late June to early October. This is the typical time frame for the tour, but it may be subject to change depending on factors such as weather and water conditions.
During the tour, you’ll have the opportunity to see popular destinations such as Wizard Island and Phantom Ship Island, as well as Pumice Castle and other scenic spots around the lake.
In addition to the boat ride, the tour also includes stops at Wizard Island, where you can explore the island trails and view the volcanic features.
If you have someone in your party with mobility issues or for whom a hearty hike is not the best idea, then sadly the boat tour is not a good idea. The hike down to and up from the lake is fairly strenuous (more on that below).
2. Wizard Island
Located in the caldera of Crater Lake, Wizard Island is a volcanic cinder cone that rises 700 feet (213 meters) above the surface of the lake. As the thing you can see in the lake from practically all sides, the idea of getting out to it is alluring, right?
In addition to its natural beauty, Wizard Island also has a rich history and cultural significance. The Klamath tribe has a deep connection to the island and the surrounding area, and their traditions and stories are an important part of the island’s history.
The island is named after the legend of a Native American wizard who was said to reside on the island and was able to control the forces of nature. This legend has been passed down through generations of the Klamath tribe, who have lived in the region for thousands of years.
Wizard Island can only be reached by boat (unless you’re ready to make the swim! seriously though, boat only). One of the most popular trails leads to the top of the cinder cone, where you can get a truly unique vantage of the lake and see just how massive it is from the bottom.
Whether you are a hiker, a birdwatcher, or just someone who loves to explore, Wizard Island is one of the best things to do at Crater Lake National Park.
1. Hike Down to the Lake via Cleetwood Cove Trail
It’s time to venture down into the Caldera itself! Making the top of our list of the best things to do at Crater Lake is hiking the Cleetwood Cove Trail.
With that said, the Cleetwood Cove Trail is probably the most popular hiking trail in the park. The trail leads to the lake’s shoreline and offers the only access point for swimming and boating in the lake.
At 1.1 miles (1.8 kilometers) long the trail has has a rather steep elevation gain of 700 feet (213 meters). The trail is officially raterconsidered moderate in difficulty, and takes about an hour to hike round-trip.
Reaching the bottom is a really cool experience I must say as finally you’ve arrived at the crystal blue waters themselves.
In the summer you’ll find folks diving in from the dock and splashing around.
Crater Lake National Park Itinerary
1 Day Crater Lake Itinerary
If you’re planning a trip to the park, here’s a detailed Crater Lake National Park Itinerary for a full day of exploring and adventure.
Morning – Crater Lake Itinerary
- Start your day by heading to the Crater Lake Visitor Center, located near the park’s entrance. Here, you can pick up a map of the park and learn more about its history and attractions.
- Next, drive to the Rim Village, where you’ll find some of the best views of Crater Lake. Take a short walk along the Rim Trail to see different vantage points of the lake, and be sure to bring your camera to capture the stunning scenery.
- After taking in the views, head to the Rim Village Cafe for breakfast. The cafe offers a variety of breakfast options, including hot and cold items, as well as coffee and other beverages.
Afternoon – Crater Lake Itinerary
- After breakfast, head to the boat dock at the Cleetwood Cove Trail. The boat tours are a great way to see the lake up close and learn more about its unique features.
- After your boat tour, take a short hike to one of the park’s waterfalls. The park has several beautiful waterfalls to choose from, including Plaikni Falls and Vidae Falls. The hikes to these waterfalls are relatively easy and provide a great opportunity to see more of the park’s natural beauty.
- After your hike, head back to the Rim Village for lunch. The Rim Village Cafe offers a variety of lunch options, including sandwiches, salads, and hot entrees.
Evening – Crater Lake Itinerary
- In the evening, take a short drive to one of the park’s scenic overlooks, such as Watchman Overlook or Cloudcap Overlook. These overlooks provide stunning views of the park and are great places to watch the sunset.
- After watching the sunset, head back to the Rim Village for dinner. The Rim Village Cafe offers a variety of dinner options, including salads, sandwiches, and hot entrees.
After dinner, take some time to explore the park at night. The park is a great place for stargazing, and on clear nights, you’ll be able to see a beautiful array of stars and constellations.
Map of Best Things to Do at Crater Lake National Park
Summary of the Best Things to Do at Crater Lake National Park
- Hike down to the lake – Cleetwood Cove Trail
- Wizard Island
- Crater Lake Ferry & Boat Tour
- Discovery Point
- Drive the Rim Road – highest paved road in Oregon
- Watchman Peak
- Cross Country Skiing/Snowshoeing
- Plaikni Falls
- Garfield Peak
- Castle Crest Wildflower Trail
- Merriam Point
- Vidae Falls
- Cloudcap Overlook
- Crater Lake Trolley
- Phantom Ship Overlook
- The Lodge
- Northern Lights
Pin Things to Do at Crater Lake National Park
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