Are you planning a trip to Crater Lake National Park but aren’t sure where to begin?

Located in southern Oregon, Crater Lake National Park offers a unique experience to see the deepest lake in the United States. There’s no shortage of incredible things to do in Crater Lake National Park, from the vast, deep blue water to the panoramic summit views.

There are over 90 miles of hiking trails, plus a stunning scenic drive overlooking the lake, so how do you prioritize your time in the park?

This guide covers the 13 best things to do in Crater Lake National Park. You’ll also find tips on when to visit, getting to Crater Lake, where to stay, and recommended itineraries.

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Crater Lake At-A-Glance

Before diving in, here are a few highlights to help you plan your trip:

  • Best Time to Visit: Summer is a great time to visit thanks to warm weather and all park amenities being open. Rim Drive typically opens in mid-July. I recommend visiting in July, August, or September.
  • Where to Stay: Crater Lake has 2 lodges inside the park, the Crater Lake Lodge and The Cabins at Mazama Village. Outside the park, consider staying at Crater Lake Resort or Union Creek Resort nearby.
  • How to Get There: The closest airport is Crater Lake – Klamath Regional Airport (LMT) located 1 hour south of the park. Other nearby airports include Medford, Redmond, Eugene, and Portland. Use Expedia to browse flights and find the best price.
  • How to Get Around: The easiest way to get around Crater Lake is by car. Use Expedia to browse deals on rental cars or rent an RV or campervan with Outdoorsy.
  • Don’t Forget: Be sure to get an America the Beautiful National Park Pass ahead of time. This $80 pass is valid for 12 months and gets you into all 400+ national park sites (including Crater Lake!).

Best Time for Crater Lake Activities

While parts of Crater Lake National Park are open year-round, the best time to visit is from July to September. Crater Lake experiences cold weather and heavy snow from late fall to early Summer. 

In addition, Rim Drive, the main route through the park, is only open in its entirety from mid-July to mid-October. You can read more about historical opening and closing dates here.

To avoid crowds, the best time to visit is in September after Labor Day. However, if July or August is your only option, plan to arrive at popular trailheads early to avoid congestion and find parking.

Discovery Point Trail in winter in Crater Lake National Park
Spring in Crater Lake National Park

Here’s a quick overview of what to expect during each season in Crater Lake:

  • Spring: Temperatures are cold, with daytime highs in the 40s and overnight temperatures below freezing. However, crowds are low in the spring, with less than 1,500 visitors per day. In addition, most trails are still snow-covered through May, making spring a less than desirable time for hiking in Crater Lake.
  • Summer: Temperatures reach the upper 60s during the day but drop to the 40s overnight. Trails are snow-free by July, perfect for hiking. Crater Lake’s Rim Drive opens entirely in mid-July, allowing you access to many of the best trailheads in the park. Visitor centers and restaurants are open by July. However, summer is also the peak season, with an average of 7,000 visitors per day.
  • Fall: By September, temperatures begin to decline, with highs in the 50s and lows dropping below freezing. After Labor Day, crowds are fewer, with less than 2,000 visitors per day, making September a great time to visit. By mid-October, Rim Drive closes for the season. By November, most of the park’s trails are snowcovered.
  • Winter: Crater Lake gets more than 100 inches of snow per month, with an average snow depth in February at nearly 10 feet in some areas. Temperatures are barely above freezing, even at midday. However, if you can brave the snow and cold, you’re rewarded with solitude and excellent opportunities for snow sports, like snowshoeing.

Are you visiting multiple national parks in the next year? The America the Beautiful National Park Pass gets you into 400+ national park sites, including all 63 national parks, for 12 months!

Get your national park pass ahead of time for only $80.

How to Get to Activities at Crater Lake

Crater Lake National Park is located in southeastern Oregon, several hours from the closest major airports. Given the park’s remote location, you’ll need to fly into one of the airports in the area and drive to Crater Lake (unless you live within driving distance!).

The closest airports to Crater Lake National Park are:

  • Crater Lake – Klamath Regional Airport (LMT) – 1 hour to South Entrance
  • Rogue Valley International Medford Airport (MFR) – 1.5 hours to South Entrance
  • Redmond Municipal Airport (RDM) – 2 hours to North Entrance
  • Eugene Airport (EUG) – 2.5 hours to North Entrance
  • Portland International Airport (PDX) – 4 hours to North Entrance

Flying into the regional airports will be more expensive but can save hours of driving time. If you’re looking to avoid connecting or find a budget-friendly flight, fly into Portland instead!

I use Expedia to find the best flight prices and compare routes. Once you find your flight, you can book directly through Expedia to save money, but still enter your frequent flyer numbers to get points!

If you need a rental car, I also recommend using Expedia to find the best deals across brands like Avis, Hertz, Enterprise, Budget, and more.

Where to Stay Near Things to Do in Crater Lake

There aren’t any large towns near Crater Lake, so you’ll save the most time by staying inside the park. However, there are only a few lodges and campgrounds inside the park, making it difficult to find budget-friendly lodging.

However, there are motels, hotels, and campgrounds in the surrounding small towns scattered within driving distance of Crater Lake. These options will add drive time into the park but are often more budget-friendly and better available.

This interactive map can help you search all the available hotels and rental properties near Crater Lake National Park! Simply scroll and click the map below to see what is available!

There are two lodges in Crater Lake National Park and several hotels and motels outside the park. These are my top picks for where to stay during your time in Crater Lake:

  • Crater Lake Lodge, a majestic lodge inside the park with incredible views overlooking Crater Lake, an excellent dining room, and rustic hotel rooms
  • The Cabins at Mazama Village, a collection of recently renovated, rustic cabins inside the park near Mazama Campground and Village Store
  • Crater Lake Resort, an updated resort with 15 cabins and a general store located 19 miles from Crater Lake
  • Union Creek Resort, a mountain resort with 33 cabins and a restaurant located 20 miles from Crater Lake
  • Red Blanket Cabin, a rustic adults-only cabin with a fireplace and a kitchen situated 25 miles from Crater Lake
  • Crater Lake Bungalows, rustic, old-fashioned adults-only cabins with patios along Crooked Creek located 23 miles from Crater Lake

If you’re looking to camp instead of stay in a hotel, check out this detailed post on the 33 best camping spots near Crater Lake, including the popular Mazama Campground inside the park.

Best Things to Do at Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park has excellent activities for all types of travelers, from experienced hikers to casual road trippers.

This section covers the 13 best things to do in Crater Lake National Park, including hikes, scenic drives, campgrounds, historic sites, and more!

1. Rim Drive

Crater Lake and Wizard Island seen from Rim Drive

Hands down, the best thing to do in Crater Lake is Rim Drive. This ultra-scenic drive encircles the deep blue lake, with more than 30 great vista points and trailheads scattered along the route.

Rim Drive loops 33 miles around the rim of Crater Lake and is famed as one of the best scenic drives in the United States, if not the world. So if you only have time for one activity in Crater Lake, make it this one.

However, due to heavy snow from Fall to Spring, Rim Drive is only open in its entirety from July through October. You can read more about historical opening and closing dates here.

Don’t miss these viewpoints along Rim Drive, listed clockwise starting from Rim Village:

  • Sinnott Memorial Overlook
  • Discovery Point Overlook
  • Watchman Overlook
  • Devils Backbone
  • Llao Rock
  • Cleetwood Cove Overlook
  • Cloudcap Overlook
  • Pumice Castle Overlook
  • Phantom Ship Overlook
  • Pinnacles Overlook
  • Vidae Falls

Several picnic areas along Rim Drive are perfect for a quick lunch on your scenic drive.

2. Crater Lake Boat Tour

The best way to see Crater Lake up close is on a boat tour. Offered by Crater Lake Hospitality, you can book a boat tour along this tranquil lake for an immersive and educational experience.

These summer tours offer narration from knowledge park rangers, making a tour one of the best ways to learn more about Crater Lake.

There are several boat tours to choose from, all starting from the boat dock at the bottom of the Cleetwood Cove Trail (the only way to access the lake):

  • Standard Boat Cruise – A leisurely 2-hour tour around Crater Lake that narrates park history and geology and provides up-close views of Wizard Island, Phantom Ship, and more.
  • Wizard Island Tour – A 5-hour tour circumventing Crater Lake and Wizard Island. In addition to the standard boat cruise, you’ll get time off the boat to explore Wizard Island in the middle of Crater Lake!
  • Wizard Island Shuttle  – A quick shuttle across Crater Lake to Wizard Island (without the tour and narration); best for those who want to spend more time on Wizard Island and don’t care about the tour.

Since the only way to reach the shores of Crater Lake is via the steep, strenuous Cleetwood Cove Trail, taking a boat tour isn’t for everyone. To get to the dock, you must be able to navigate over 700 feet of steep, downhill switchbacks (uphill on the way back!).

Boat tours are only available in Summer, typically from July to early September. You can read more and book your boat tour here. 

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3. Cleetwood Cove Trail

Cleetwood Cove Trail in Crater Lake National Park

One of the best hikes in Crater Lake is the Cleetwood Cove Trail. This steep but stunning trail offers up-close lake views. The Cleetwood Cove Trail is also the only way to reach the shores of Crater Lake.

If you want to take a boat tour or swim in the cold waters of Crater Lake, this hike is a must. However, given the steepness, this 2-mile hike is challenging.

You’ll start along Rim Drive, navigating steep switchbacks down 600 feet in only a mile. These switchbacks can be steep and challenging for inexperienced hikers.

After spending time along the shores of Crater Lake or taking a boat tour, you’ll need to return up the steep switchbacks. This trail is steep, roughly the equivalent of climbing 65 stories. Therefore, the Cleetwood Cove Trail should only be attempted by those in good shape with proper hiking footwear.

Read More: 10 Best Hikes in Crater Lake

4. Sunrise Along Rim Drive

Sunrise over Crater Lake National Park

Sunrise is easily the most beautiful time of day in Crater Lake National Park. The early morning yellows, oranges, and pinks illuminate the sky, Cascade Mountains, and deep blue Crater Lake.

Seeing Crater Lake at sunrise is also an excellent way to avoid crowds, as most visitors don’t arrive until mid-morning.

While there’s no shortage of excellent sunrise spots along Rim Drive, these are a few of my favorites:

  • Cloudcap Overlook is an easily accessible overlook off Rim Drive.
  • Garfield Peak is a moderate 3.6-mile hike with over 1,000 feet of elevation gain.
  • Discovery Point Trail is an easy 2.4-mile hike near Rim Village.

5. Watchman Peak Trail

Watchman Peak Overlook in Crater Lake National Park

Another popular and incredibly scenic hike in Crater Lake is the Watchman Peak Trail. This 1.7-mile hike starts along Rim Drive at Watchman Overlook and climbs several switchbacks to a historic fire lookout listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

You’re rewarded with expansive views of the lake, Wizard Island, and the Cascades from the lookout. If you only have one day in Crater Lake, hiking the Watchman Peak Trail is a great option, providing excellent views with relatively little time commitment.

The views from Watchman Peak are amazing at sunset, looking out over Crater Lake, illuminated by the colorful fading light.

6. Crater Lake Lodge

Crater Lake Lodge in Crater Lake National Park
Source: Crater Lake Hospitality

The Crater Lake Lodge is one of the most iconic attractions in the park. Built in 1915, this expansive and historic lodge perched along the rim of Crater Lake provides unparalleled views.

Whether you choose to stay at this rustic chalet or just check out of the lobby and dining room, the Crater Lake Lodge is well worth a visit. Unfortunately, the lodge is only open from May through October due to heavy winter snow.

If you only have a short time to spend at Crater Lake Lodge, I highly recommend enjoying the views from the back patio (perhaps with a drink in hand!).

7. Mount Scott Trail

The Mount Scott Trail is one of the hardest and steepest hikes in Crater Lake National Park, taking you to the highest point in the park. Mount Scott tops out at 8,929 feet. You have incredible views overlooking Crater Lake and the surrounding areas from the summit.

The 4.2-mile hike starts along East Rim Drive and follows the ridgeline up to Mount Scott. The clear path provides plenty of excellent panoramic views along the surrounding Cascade Range and the Oregon desert to the east.

You may even see north to Bend and south to Mount Shasta on a clear day!

Due to its elevation, it’s common to see snow on the Mount Scott Trail year-round, so be sure to pack the ten essentials and only attempt this trail if you are an experienced hiker.

8. Plaikni Falls Trail

Plaikni Falls Trail in Crater Lake National Park

This short out-and-back hike leads to one of the most accessible and scenic waterfalls in Crater Lake National Park. The Plaikni Falls Trail is a peaceful stroll through a wooded area with plenty of benches to stop and enjoy the scenery.

You’ll start the 2-mile, easy hike along Pinnacles Drive, only a short drive off East Rim Drive at the base of Mount Scott.

The trail passes through an old-growth forest before ending at Plaikni Falls. Keep your eyes peeled for wildflowers and wildlife along the way.

While the waterfall flows year-round, it’s best seen in the spring or early summer when fueled by snowmelt.

9. Stop at the Visitor Center

There are two visitor centers in Crater Lake National Park: Steel Visitor Center and Rim Village Visitor Center. Both are located on the south side of the park along Rim Drive.

Steel Visitor Center is located at the Park Headquarters and is open year-round. Here you can watch a park film overviewing the area’s human history and geology. 

Rim Village Visitor Center is located further west along Rim Drive, next to Crater Lake Lodge. Rim Village is closed in the winter, and the visitor center is only open from May to September. The Rim Village Visitor Center is an excellent place to talk to rangers and find souvenirs at the gift shop.

While at Rim Village, don’t miss the incredible views and educational displays at the Sinnot Memorial Overlook, only a short walk from the visitor center.

10. Camp at Mazama Campground

Sign at the front of Mazama Campground in Crater Lake National Park
Source: Crater Lake Hospitality

Mazama Campground is the largest campground in Crater Lake National Park. With over 200 campsites that can accommodate tents, RVs, and trailers, this campground offers an excellent place to stay near some of the best attractions in Crater Lake.

Only open in the summer, campers can enjoy access to plenty of amenities, like the nearby Mazama Village Store, laundry, coin-operated showers, food lockers, and more. You’re also close to several hiking trails and a short drive from Rim Village and Rim Drive, the most popular attractions in Crater Lake.

A stay at Mazama Campground is the perfect way to relax after a long day exploring Crater Lake National Park. You can read more about camping in Crater Lake here.

11. Trolley Tour of Rim Drive

If you aren’t interested in driving Rim Drive on your own, opt for a guided tour instead. Crater Lake Trolley offers a unique, guided Trolley Tour of Rim Drive daily in the summer.

Along the 33-mile loop on Rim Drive, park rangers offer detailed narration about Crater Lake’s history and surrounding landscape. A trolley tour is an excellent option for seniors or those looking for an easy way to see the best of the park in one day.

12. Garfield Peak Trail

The Garfield Peak Trail is one of the more challenging hikes in Crater Lake but rewards hikers with incredible 360-degree views from the summit. Don’t miss this trail if you’re looking for expansive views of the lake and surrounding mountains.

Before climbing through hemlock and pine forests, you’ll start at the trailhead behind Crater Lake Lodge, just off Rim Drive. Along the way, you’re rewarded with breathtaking views of Crater Lake below. Then, as you make your final ascent to Garfield Peak, the views open up, greeting you with a genuinely panoramic vista.

The strenuous elevation gain of over 1,000 feet on this 3.4-mile hike deters many visitors. However, the views of the Crater Lake caldera, Wizard Island, and the surrounding Cascades are worth it. Just start your hike early as much of the trail is unshaded.

13. Ranger Guided Snowshoe Hike

Snow in Crater Lake National Park in Winter

If you’re visiting Crater Lake National Park in the winter, one way to see the park is on a snowshoeing hike. Ranger-led snowshoe tours are offered from December to April.

The family-friendly, 2-hour guided snowshoe hikes are perfect for beginners and exploring the park’s south rim. The guides narrate the park’s history and landscape, making for a memorable winter adventure in Crater Lake.

How many days do you need at Crater Lake National Park?

How much you’ll be able to accomplish in Crater Lake will depend on how many days you have to spend here. Below are some recommendations on prioritizing your time with different trip lengths.

  • If You Have One Day: Take the entire scenic route along Rim Drive, stopping at every viewpoint and hiking some of the shorter trails. Don’t miss Watchman Overlook, the Sun Notch Trail, and Rim Village. Be sure to stop at the visitor center and stamp your national park passport!
  • If You Have Two Days: Spend your first day driving Rim Drive. On your second day, hike the Cleetwood Cove Trail and take a boat tour of Crater Lake with an optional hike on Wizard Island.
  • If You Have 3+ Days: Take on one of the more challenging trails in the park, like Garfield Peak, Watchman Peak, or Mount Scott. End your trip with a relaxing, fancy dinner at Crater Lake Lodge’s dining room.

Read More: 10 Best Hikes in Crater Lake

Final Thoughts on the Best Things to Do in Crater Lake

While Crater Lake National Park is filled with incredible things to do, you can use this guide to prioritize your time in the park.

If you only have one or two days, I recommend focusing on the top five things to do in Crater Lake National Park:

  1. Drive the entire Rim Drive loop
  2. Hike the Cleetwood Cove Trail
  3. Take a boat tour on Crater Lake
  4. Hike the Watchman Peak Trail
  5. See the Crater Lake Lodge and stop at the Rim Village Visitor Center

If you want to learn more about Crater Lake National Park, check out these posts!

Are you planning a national park trip but don’t know where to start? Get my free 28-page national park ebook where I break down everything you need to know to visit all 63 USA national parks.

Download your free ebook here.

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