Where else can visitors get an up-close look at a collapsed volcano, fish or swim in the nation’s deepest lake, and hike on a cinder cone located in the volcano’s caldera? Crater Lake National Park in Oregon protects that very specific location, giving travelers the opportunity to not only see the world’s purest body of water but absorb its magical environment. Many days the clarity of the water grants viewers a perfect reflection of heaven on earth.
History of Crater Lake National Park
What started out as 12,000 ft. Mount Mazama eventually became Crater Lake about 7,700 years ago, when the volcano erupted and collapsed upon itself, creating the caldera where rainwater collected. In the next 200 years, more eruptions occurred, and Wizard Island is the result. It’s a cinder cone of land that rose in the middle of Mazama’s caldera.
Archaeologists have discovered that nomadic peoples camped and hunted in the area before the eruption when they found sandals and other artifacts under layers of ash and pumice. Crater Lake was not discovered in modern times until a mercantile store owner and his buddies went looking for the Lost Cabin gold mine. They stumbled upon a lake with the bluest water they had ever seen, naming it Deep Blue Lake.
In the next 16 years, others came across the pristine waters, renaming it “Lake Majesty” and finally settling on “Crater Lake” in 1869. The next year a Kansas man, William Gladstone Steel, unwrapped his sandwich and read the paper it was wrapped in while eating. A story there spoke of an unusual lake in Oregon and Steel vowed that he would see this wonder.
It took 15 years, but upon arrival, Steel knew this was a special place and almost immediately began the process of protecting the nation’s deepest lake for posterity. In 1902, Crater Lake became the fifth national park created in the United States.
Why Visit Crater Lake National Park in Your RV?
The park is very drivable for any vehicle (specifically in the summer) and Mazama Campground has several sites for RVs. Just imagine summer days hiking in the forests and mountains around Crater Lake, taking a “three-hour tour” to Wizard Island, and then coming home to your motorhome for a freshly prepared dinner and s’mores by the fire. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Places to Go
Crater Lake is one of the most interesting National Parks. There are plenty of places and spots to see within the park. Here are a few can’t-miss places.
Steel Visitor Center
Located at park headquarters, this visitor center presents a film showcasing the natural history of Crater Lake and its significance to the area. Sign up for ranger-led tours and visit the bookstore here.
Rim Visitor Center
This visitor center is on the north rim of the park and is only open from late May to late September, as this area can receive up to 44 feet of snow in winter.
Visit the 763-foot-tall cinder cone in the middle of Crater Lake. Boat tours will take travelers around the lake while discussing the formation and geology of Crater Lake, then dock at Wizard Island, with a 3-hour layover for hiking and fishing. Passengers must hike down Cleetwood Cove Trail to get to the boat dock, then hike back up the steep trail upon return. The tours run from late June through early September.
Crater Lake Lodge
Built in 1915, this massive lodge sits on the edge of the lake and offers modern accommodations, fine dining and a perfect viewing platform for scenic landscapes of the park.
Things to Do
While you can spend a lot of time just visiting the places above, you’ll also want to try out some of the activities that you can do inside the park.
There are over 90 miles of hiking trails within Crater Lake National Park, with a variety of levels of difficulty. Several are listed below and more can be found at either visitor center.
- Mount Scott Trail
- Watchman Peak Trail
- Garfield Peak Trail
- Wizard Island Trail
- Cleetwood Cove Trail
- Dutton Creek Trail
- Lady of the Woods Trail
- Union Peak Trail
- Castle Crest Trail
- Sun Notch Trail
- The Pinnacles
There are only two places to fish at Crater Lake. At the bottom of Cleetwood Cove Trail is a small stretch of rocky shoreline, or Wizard Island has several favorite fishing holes, when the boat tours are running (June to September). Only artificial lures and flies are allowed to catch the trout and kokanee salmon in the lake.
Cycling around the 33-mile long Rim Road can be challenging, especially when it climbs to an altitude over 7,700 ft. However, there are also 30 scenic pull-outs to give cyclists a great excuse for a break. Bicycles share the road with vehicles and are not allowed on trails.
There are two campgrounds within the park:
- Mazama Campground is near the Annie Springs entrance, offering 214 sites for RVers and tent campers from June through September. There are a limited number of sites with electric and water hookups, and the campground does have showers and flush toilets. An amphitheater for ranger programs is located here, as well.
- Lost Creek Campground is three miles off East Rim Drive with 16 tent sites. The campground has water and toilet facilities and is open from mid-July through mid-October.
This is a great way to enjoy the park, with ranger-led snowshoe excursions or take off on your own. Trails are located in the park’s winter newspaper and snowshoes are available for free rental at Rim Village on winter weekends.
Cross Country Skiing
There are several marked and unmarked trails within the park, but none are groomed. Skiers may be breaking trail or skiing on ice or in powder. No ski rentals are available. If you want to ski, you will need to bring your own. Trails are marked in the park newspaper.
When to Visit Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake definitely has two seasons. Summer is by far the most active time for park visitors, as boat tours to Wizard Island commence and the north end of the park opens for camping and hiking.
However, winter has its own charms here, with snowshoe tours, cross country skiing on trails and amazing scenery dusted with snow. You can choose which season best fits your mood.
Where RVers Can Stay
Only Mazama Campground has room and hookups for RVs, but there are several campgrounds close to Crater Lake National Park. Here are a few:
- Prospect RV Park
Located on Crater Lake Highway, this park has 30 and 50 amp service, hot showers, and laundry. Upper Rogue River runs alongside the campground.
- Big Pines RV Park
This campground is in the town of Crescent, 45 minutes north of the park, and can accommodate rigs up to 100 feet!
If you want to take a few nights off from the RV, stay at Crater Lake Lodge in Rim Village. It is open mid-May to mid-October. The Cabins at Mazama Village is another lodging option.
Getting to and Around Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake is accessed by Highway 138 to the north and Highway 62 to the south and west. The entrances are connected by one road that runs completely around the lake (Rim Road). Only Highway 62 is open during the winter season, and since the park has no street address, do not depend solely on GPS.
Once inside the park, refer to visitor center information to see what sections of the park are open to vehicles, based on weather. The north entrance sometimes opens between mid-May to mid-June, and East Rim Drive has seen July openings in past years. Here’s a link to driving access in Crater Lake National Park.
A visit to Crater Lake National Park is reminiscent of childhood fairy tales, with magical vistas, villainous volcanoes, and happily-ever-after endings. What began as a scenic mountainous landscape suddenly became roiled with volcanic explosions 7,700 years ago, eventually giving birth to the breathtaking panoramas we see today.
Standing on the rim of this ancient caldera, travelers are given an enchanted view that required years in the making but will last a lifetime in our memories.
Have you ever been to Crater Lake National Park? Leave a comment below.