Sure, the centerpiece of Crater Lake National Park is, well, Crater Lake, but that's not all the park has to offer. From the different ways to experience the record-setting lake, to the park's epic history and stunning subalpine setting, Crater Lake is kind of a big deal for a good reason. I mean, Oregon put it on their state quarter! Make the most of your once-in-a-lifetime trip to Oregon's favorite feature with these hidden gems and fun facts!
Some tips for visiting Crater Lake National Park:
-Crater Lake has extra-long winters-- expect to find a few inches, if not a few feet of snow between October and May. Pack accordingly, and if you plan to visit in the winter, note that many roads simply close due to snow and are only accessible by those on foot (or snowshoes, or cross-country skis.)
-Read up on the fascinating natural history of the lake before you visit: at 2,148 feet deep, it is the deepest lake in the US, and the ninth deepest in the world. Since there are no rivers leading in or out of the lake (the crater is all that remains of an extinct volcano), the water comes from rain and snowmelt, which means that it's extra clean and pure-- hence the beautiful blue color.
-There are very few restaurants, and even fewer gas stations, within the park, so make sure to pack your own snacks and top off your tank whenever you get a chance. The same goes for bathrooms-- there are a few primitive ones at some of the overlooks, but full restroom facilities are basically only found at Rim Village. Better safe than sorry!
Rim Drive is the best way to see Crater Lake from every angle! The 33-mile road loops around the caldera and has 8 main viewpoints and 15 turnout vista points, each offering more stunning views than the last. Take your time driving the road, and expect some traffic.
There are also historic trolleys that will drive you along the scenic route (this way there's no fighting over who has to drive the road and miss out on the scenery!) The ranger-led trips last two hours and will stop at all of the overlooks and spots of interest-- and, as an added bonus, the trolleys are eco-friendly! The trolleys only run during the summer (as much of the road remains closed until June due to snow), but you can get tickets at the booth at Rim Village.
Opened in 1915 and totally redone in the 1990s, Crater Lake Lodge offers the classically rustic accommodations found at most National Parks-run hotels. You won't find phones or TVs in your room, but you won't miss them once you get comfy in the 1920s-esque lodge.
Even if you aren't planning to spend the night here, you can explore the Great Hall and the exhibit on the Lodge's history, and even grab a meal at the dining room; they offer northwest-inspired cuisine and a view overlooking the lake!
Crater Lake has two islands, and they both have pretty fantastic names: Wizard Island and Phantom Ship Island. Wizard Island has a crater in the middle because it's a cinder cone, a remain from the volcano that collapsed and formed the lake. You can actually visit the forested Wizard Island if you take a boat tour early in the day-- but if you disembark on the island, you'll have to stay there for a good part of the day, as subsequent boats will probably be too full to take you back. They do send out a boat later on in the evening to retrieve those who stopped off on the island, though, so you don't have to worry about a Gilligan's Island-type situation.
Not only does this popular hike offer great panoramic views of Crater Lake, but you can also see the High Cascades and Klamath Basin from the top of the Garfield Peak Trail. You'll find the trailhead is conveniently close to Rim Village, and even though it's just under two miles long, you'll be heading uphill for most of it, so expect a moderate to difficult hike.
The Watchman Lookout Station was built into Watchman Peak above the lake, and originally served as a fire lookout station. Today, it serves as a small museum/interpretive center and viewpoint. Massive windows and a balcony offer one-of-a-kind views of Crater Lake 1,849 feet below. Getting up to the Lookout Station requires a quick, .7 mile hike.
There are a few trails in the park, but one of the best is the Cleetwood Cove Trail. Why? Because it takes you down from the crater's rim to the lakeshore-- here, you can explore the rocky beach, dip your toes in the crystal clear water, or even go for a swim! It's the only (legal) trail down to the lake, and it's only a 2 mile round trip. Keep in mind, it is on an incline, so the walk back up might be tiring, but there are benches provided along the way.
As the central hub of Crater Lake, the Rim Village Visitor Center is the best place to find anything you might need: maps and info, souvenirs, snacks and food, and awesome views of the lake. Many of the buildings have awesome "parkitecture" vibes, which adds to the effect. Pro tip: if you're camping out, you can buy supplies here!
The Sun Notch Viewpoint is known for offering the best view of Crater Lake's other island, Phantom Ship Island. Since you can't actually access Phantom Ship, this overlook is the best way to experience it. Plus, the trail to the viewpoint is pretty short, so if you're tired after a long day of exploring, it's easy to squeeze in a visit here.
If you're looking for a place to set up a tent, the Mazama Campground makes the perfect base for those who want to explore the park! It's the closest campsite to the lake and offers 198 sites, which all come with fire rings and picnic tables. Plus, you can access the Annie Creek Canyon Trail from the campground, and rangers offer programs at night.
One nice thing about Crater Lake is that its located in a part of the country that's great for growing grapes... and that means wineries! LaBrasseur Vineyard is a great day trip from the park. The small, family-run operation's tasting room offers stunning views and a great selection of wines, which range from Rieslings to Syrahs to dessert wines.
Annie Creek Restaurant is a great basic diner-style joint to grab a hot meal before dining options become really scarce as you get closer to the park. Solid burgers, hot coffee, a nice all-you-can-eat salad bar, and tasty milkshakes and ice cream sundaes will definitely satisfy your whole group. Make sure to browse the attached gift shop and take advantage of the clean bathrooms!
The Prospect Historic Hotel has housed guests like Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir, William Jennings Bryan, Jack London, and more. There's the hotel as well as an attached B&B that serves up delicious meals and is beautifully decorated in antiques, and even though it's about 23 miles from the park, the drive there is quite gorgeous! Bonus: ask the staff about the waterfall trails that are onsite-- you don't have to drive into the park to find natural beauty!
Located next to Union Creek Resort, Beckie's Cafe has been a staple in the region since it opened in 1926. That's mostly thanks to Beckie's famous pies, with fresh fruit fillings and buttery crusts, topped with ice cream. If it's in season, get the huckleberry; it's a local favorite. They also serve up breakfast, burgers and sandwiches, beer and wine, and an authentic, retro atmosphere!
At Union Creek Resort, you'll find just about everything you need for a good time in and around Crater Lake: lodge rooms or cabins, depending on your accommodation needs, 23 acres of wooded beauty to explore, multiple dining options, a game room, a country store, and tons more, plus a super-knowledgable staff who can help you make the most of your trip to Crater Lake.
As mentioned earlier, Crater Lake experiences long, snowy, cold winters that make visiting between October and May a little trickier, as roads, campsites, and facilities close down. Unless you come prepared with snow gear, you won't be able to get the full experience. That means it does get a little more crowded between June and September, but you can fully access to everything the park has to offer.