Where else can visitors get an up-close look at a collapsed volcano, fish and swim in the nation’s deepest lake, and hike on a cinder cone in the volcano’s caldera?
Crater Lake National Park in Oregon protects that very location and gives travelers the opportunity to see the world’s purest body of water and absorb its magical environment. Many days, the clarity of the water grants viewers a perfect reflection of the sky above.
Standing on the rim of this ancient caldera, travelers are given an enchanted view. The park’s many outdoor adventures offer opportunities for you and your family to make new memories that will last a lifetime.
Why Visit Crater Lake National Park in Your RV?
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 about 7,700 years ago, settling into the breathtaking panoramas we see today.
Just imagine summer days hiking in the forests and mountains around Crater Lake, taking a 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!
The park is very drivable for any vehicle in the summer and Mazama Campground has several sites for RVs. The Rim Drive and North Entrance are apt to close during the winter months, and the Rim Drive requires slower driving speeds for larger RVs and travel trailers.
When to Visit Crater Lake National Park
Being in south-central Oregon, Crater Lake definitely experiences all four seasons. Summer is by far the most active time for park visitors, but you can visit year-round if you are prepared.
Crater Lake National Park in the Spring
Spring is a time of transition in the park. Late-season storms can blanket the park in fresh snow as late as May and June. Even if a storm doesn’t come through, the rim can often hold snow late into June.
Average temperatures in the spring can range from highs in the 50s to lows in the low 20s. The average snowfall during the month of May is still about 20 inches and the average remaining snowpack at park headquarters in the spring is roughly six feet.
This doesn’t mean you can’t visit during the spring though. You’ll just need to be prepared for colder weather, snow-based activities, and, sometimes, the “mud season” that happens as the winter snows melt.
Crater Lake National Park in the Summer
The most popular months at Crater Lake are July, August, and September. Boat tours to Wizard Island commence and the north end of the park opens for camping and hiking. You’ll need to plan summer camping trips to the park well in advance and prepare for longer-than-normal driving times on the Rim Drive.
Summer temperatures in the park range from high in the upper 60s to lows in the 40s, on average, although it is not wholly uncommon for daytime temperatures to exceed 80 degrees and cold spells can still be freezing temperatures to the park’s higher elevations year-round.
Mid-to-late summer can also be wildfire season throughout much of California, Oregon, and Washington. Be sure to check local fire reports to ensure that road closures and/or poor air quality won’t impact your visit.
Crater Lake National Park in the Fall
Just like spring, the fall is a time of transition in and around the caldera. It’s the tail end of wildfire season and storms begin to dust the peaks with snow. Visitors must be wary of ice on the park roads, especially when driving early in the morning or late in the evening.
It is not uncommon for much of the park to be covered in snow as early as October. Occasionally, those snows will last all the way through June, making winter the longest season here at Crater Lake.
Crater Lake National Park in the Winter
Winter has its own charm in the Crater Lake caldera, with snowshoe tours, cross country skiing on trails, and amazing scenery dusted with snow. The North Entrance, Rim Drive, and all campgrounds inside the park shut down for the winter season.
However, select lodging may be available in Rim Village (more on that below) and the well-prepared can enjoy winter outdoor recreation here without the crowds that are common in the summer months.
Winter safety is critical when visiting the park this time of year. A four-wheel-drive vehicle is strongly encouraged, as is carrying snow chains. Check out the park’s overviews of winter safety and winter driving tips to learn more about planning and preparing for a safe winter adventure at Crater Lake.
Where RVers Can Stay
Located under the towering trees of an old-growth forest, Mazama Campground is the only spot in the park with space and hookups for RVs. The park’s second campground at Lost Creek boasts just 16 sites and only accommodates tent campers. Other lodging options inside the park include Crater Lake Lodge in Rim Village and The Cabins at Mazama Village.
Here’s a little more info on Mazama Campground:
- Open seasonally from June through September (check NPS website for exact dates because they change annually)
- Total of 214 sites
- 121 tent-only sites
- 75 RV-only sites (some with full hookups and some with no hookups)
- 18 sites with electric-only hookups
- Free dump station available (even if you’re not staying at the campground)
- Camp store, laundry facility, and hot showers available. Laundry machines require quarters.
- Gas and vehicle charging stations available at Mazama Village Store
- Check the NPS website for quiet hours, check-in and check-out times, and more
Staying Outside the Park
There are also several campgrounds close to Crater Lake National Park. Here are a few:
- Big Pines RV Park: Located in Crescent, OR, about 45 minutes north of the park.
- Waterwheel RV Park and Campground: Located in Chiloquin, OR, about 50 minutes southeast of the park.
- Seven Feathers RV Resort: Located in Canyonville, OR, about 2.5 hours from the park.
Tips for Booking
- Check seasonal road closures and park alerts to make sure you’re booking a site that provides easy access to the parts of the park you want to visit.
- Some years, select sites in Mazama Campground will be available as early as June on a first-come, first-served basis.
- From July through September, sites at Mazama require advance reservations.
- Reservations can be made online or by calling 1-888-774-2728.
- The maximum RV length is 50 feet and the maximum trailer length is 35 feet.
- All sites include a picnic table, fire ring, and bear-resistant food locker.
- Don’t expect cellphone reception at Mazama Campground.
- Wood fires may not be permitted during periods of high fire danger.
- Maximum site occupancy is six people and two vehicles.
Getting to and Around Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake is accessed by Highway 138 if you’re coming from the north and by Highway 62 for those coming from 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, which means the park’s south and west entrances remain open year-round.
The North Entrance closes on November 1st unless significant snowfall prompts park officials to close it earlier. This entrance won’t open again until sometime between mid-May and late June.
Because the park has no street address and cell reception is limited, do not depend solely on GPS for navigation. If you do, use these coordinates instead of searching the park’s name in your Maps app:
42° 53′ 48.91″ North
122° 08′ 03.08″ West
There are no limits to trailer or RV size on the park’s roads during the summer months. However, roads are narrow and must be shared with other vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Also, be sure to look out for wildlife when driving in the park and read up on towing recommendations on the Scenic Rim Drive.
Other ways to reach the park include landing at Rogue Valley International Medford Airport and renting an RV or vehicle to drive in. You can also access the park from July through early September via a shuttle from the Amtrak station in Klamath Falls.
Places to Go in Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake is one of the most interesting national parks and there are plenty of places and spots to see within the park. While much of the park is a protected wilderness area, 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.
Currently, the Steel Visitor Center is closed for renovations through 2022. Please check the park’s website for the latest updates on the progress of renovations and visitor center operating hours.
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. Views of the lake from the visitor center are outstanding and outdoor exhibits are typically open at the nearby Sinnott Memorial Overlook through mid-October.
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 and then dock at Wizard Island for a three-hour layover for hiking and fishing.
Passengers must hike down Cleetwood Cove Trail to get to the boat dock and return up the steep 1.1-mile trail upon return. Tours run from late June through early September and here’s where you can get more info on tour prices, descriptions, and reservations.
Crater Lake Lodge
Constructed 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. There are 71 rooms in the lodge and you should check the park’s website for the lodge’s opening and closing dates, as they can change annually.
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.
The Scenic Rim Drive
Crater Lake’s scenic Rim Drive is separated into two sections: east and west. The entire loop is typically open from July through October and driving the full 33-mile loop is a great place for first-time visitors to start.
There are more than 30 overlooks along the drive for the photographer in your group to capture many panoramic views of the lake. There are also trailheads for hiking, several stops for waterfall views, numerous geologic formations, and five picnic areas for lunch breaks.
A great way to experience the views on Rim Drive is to hop on a trolley tour. These tours run daily from July through mid-September and each tour makes five to seven stops along the journey. Your ranger guides will also keep everyone entertained with trivia, history lessons, and more. For more information on ticket prices and reservations, click here.
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 detailed overviews can be found in the park’s summer newspaper. All listed mileages are round trip.
- Mount Scott Trail: This strenuous 4.4-mile hike will take you to the peak of the highest point in the park at roughly 8,929 feet.
- Watchman Peak Trail: This 1.6-mile moderate hike brings you up to a historic fire lookout that park rangers still use today.
- Garfield Peak Trail: Look out for American pikas and yellow-bellied marmots on this 3.6-mile strenuous hike.
- Cleetwood Cove Trail: Don’t miss an opportunity to swim or fish in the lake’s clear waters on this 2.2-mile strenuous hike.
- Lady of the Woods Trail: Get acclimated and check out some of the park’s historic architecture on this easy 0.7-mile hike around the park’s headquarters.
- Union Peak Trail: Enjoy an all-day adventure and some of the park’s best panoramic views on this strenuous 9.8-mile hike.
- Castle Crest Trail: This easy half-mile hike is best to visit from late June through July when nearby springs are feeding an abundant array of wildflowers.
- Sun Notch Trail: The great mystery of the Phantom Ship should be enough to get you to check out this easy 0.8-mile trail.
- The Pinnacles: Find great angles of some of the park’s most-photographed peaks on this easy 0.8-mile hike.
There are only two places to fish at Crater Lake. At the bottom of Cleetwood Cove Trail, there is a small stretch of rocky shoreline and Wizard Island has several favorite fishing holes when the boat tours are running from 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 Rim Drive can be challenging, especially when it climbs to its maximum altitude of more than 7,700 feet. However, there are 30 scenic pull-outs to give cyclists a great excuse for a break.
Bicycles must share the road with vehicles and are not allowed on trails. Only riders with experience on roads that feature two-way traffic are encouraged to bike on the Rim Drive and you can go to this Crater Lake cycling guide to find more information on distances and waypoints along the road.
There is one road in the park where mountain biking is allowed. The eight-mile Grayback Drive is unpaved and free of other vehicles. There are no single-track mountain biking trails in the park and, despite its growing popularity, winter fat tire biking is currently prohibited.
This is a great way to enjoy the park, whether it’s on a ranger-led snowshoe excursion or a self-guided adventure. First-time visitors are encouraged to follow established ski trails, which can be located in the park’s winter newspaper. Snowshoes are also 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. There are easy, intermediate, and advanced trails, but skiers may be breaking trails 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 and be sure to check-in at one of the park’s visitor centers to get up-to-date information on snow conditions before you go skiing.
During the winter months, the North Entrance Road is groomed for snowmobiles, which are permitted to travel on the road as far as the rim of the caldera. All snowmobiles must stay on the marked and groomed route. Off-route travel is prohibited.
What to Bring and How to Prepare
- Bring all your favorite recreation gear. Whether it’s your hiking backpack or bike accessories, make sure you have what you want to enjoy your favorite activity in the park.
- There is only one general store in the park with a small selection of groceries. Pack your RV refrigerator with all the foodstuffs you’ll need before you arrive.
- There are also three restaurants in the park. Go here to learn more about them.
- Pets on leashes no more than six feet in length are allowed in select parts of the park and even on certain hiking trails. Go here to learn more information about Crater Lake’s pet policies.
- Pack layers to prepare for the temperature swings from day to night in the park. Check the weather before heading to the park and stop by visitor centers to get daily updates during your stay.
- Campsites offer bear-resistant food lockers, but you must be conscientious about using them properly. Do not leave food or trash outside overnight.
- Bring plenty of sun protection if visiting during the summer. The high elevations in the park bring you closer to powerful UV radiation than you may be used to at home.
- Check fire restrictions and consider bringing a portable propane fire pit if wood fires are prohibited in the park. All fires may be prohibited in times of extreme fire danger, so double-check with a ranger when you arrive.
History of Crater Lake National Park
What started out as 12,000-foot Mount Mazama eventually became Crater Lake about 7,700 years ago when the volcano erupted and collapsed upon itself. That eruption created the caldera where rainwater has now been collecting for thousands of years. In the next 200 years, more eruptions occurred, eventually resulting in the formation of Wizard Island. It’s a cinder cone of land that rises in the middle of Mazama’s caldera.
Archaeologists 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. In 1853, an expedition led by a local mercantile owner–Isaac Skeeter–set out northward from the town of Jacksonville, Oregon. On a tip from a group of miners that had stopped through recently, they were out to discover the Lost Cabin Gold Mine.
On June 12th, Skeeter’s expedition discovered a deep blue lake set in a massive depression. One of the expedition members–John Wesley Hillman–claimed it was the bluest water he had ever seen. Skeeter later suggested the lake’s first name–Deep Blue Lake.
In the next 16 years, many others came across the pristine waters. The lake was briefly known as “Lake Majesty” before a newspaper editor–Jim Sutton–substituted the name “Crater Lake” in an article published in 1869 after a visit to the lake.
The name stuck and the following year, a young Kansas man named William Gladstone Steel unwrapped his sandwich and sat down to read the paper. A story there spoke of an unusual lake in Oregon and Steel vowed that he must see this natural wonder.
Steel’s family moved to Portland two years later, but it would be another 13 years before he finally laid eyes on the lake’s beauty. In 1886, he assisted Clarence Dutton with the task of mapping the lake for the US Geological Survey.
This experience led Steel–now a prominent journalist in the Pacific Northwest–to become an outspoken proponent for the creation of a national park to protect Crater Lake. Initially, his proposal received adamant resistance from local sheepherders and mining interests.
Eventually, however, a burgeoning conservation movement in the US helped Steel’s cause when parts of the lake were incorporated into the Cascade Range Forest Reserve. Steel was still not satisfied until finally, on May 22, 1902, Crater Lake became the fifth national park created in the United States.
Have you ever been to Crater Lake National Park? Leave a comment below.