As a state that receives nearly 40" (102cm) of rain per year, much is made about Oregon’s famous lakes and rivers. But tucked away in the south, some 90 minutes north of the border with California, one body of water rules them all – Crater Lake. This caldera on Mt Mazama is the deepest lake in the US and it lends its name to the state’s only national park.
Beyond the jaw-dropping statistics, Crater Lake National Park offers premium access to a wide variety of outdoor activities, including camping, glamping, cycling, swimming, and more. So whether you’re looking for a scenic weekend getaway, an epic biking adventure, or a relaxing (and informative) boat tour, Crater Lake is a premier destination. Here’s everything you need to know.
History of Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake checks out as Oregon’s best national park. Sure, it's in a field of one, and still relatively obscure compared with West Coast heavy-hitters like Yosemite, Olympic, Glacier, and Yellowstone, but it's also the fifth oldest national park in the US.
Established in 1902 by William Gladstone Steel, a journalist and mountaineer who had campaigned for 17 years to have it designated as a national park, the eponymous lake is actually a caldera, formed some 7700 years ago when volcano Mt Mazama erupted and caved in on itself.
Reliant on snowmelt and rainwater to fill the basin, it took nearly 800 years for Crater Lake to reach capacity, but the results are utterly spectacular: The lake's glacier-clear, berry-blue waters swoop out from its solitary island like the train of a wedding dress. With a depth of 1943ft (592m), it’s the deepest lake in the US and the ninth-deepest in the entire world.
Camping at Crater Lake
There are two campgrounds within the park itself. Both are only open for the peak season (usually May-September/early October) as Crater Lake receives nearly 43ft (13.1m) of snow per year. Yes, you read that right!
South of the lake, Mazama Campground is a breathtaking 6000ft-high (1829m) site with 214 pitches. Each one has a fire ring, a picnic table, and access to restrooms and showers. The campsite experiences beautiful weather in the summer with highs of 65-75°F (18-24°C). The nights are clear and cool, with a scattering of stars unobstructed from light pollution.
Lost Creek Campground
This remote, tent-only campground has just 16 pitches for bold, outdoorsy types. Located around 12 miles (19km) from the park headquarters, Lost Creek doesn’t open until the snow has been and any debris has been cleared from the access road, usually in July.
Other accommodation at Crater Lake
Perched on the rim of the caldera, Crater Lake Lodge has the pick of the views. This 71-room lodge with a luxurious restaurant (freshly-caught halibut, anyone?) has knockout vistas of both the lake and the surrounding wilderness. Built in 1915, the rooms have been remodeled, but its iconic fireplace and mountainside aesthetic still offer those cabin vibes.
Hiking at Crater Lake
There are more than 90 miles (145km) of hiking trails through Crater Lake National Park, each varying in length and accessibility. For a difficult summit hike, try the five-mile (8km) round trip to the top of 7976ft-high (2431m) Garfield Peak, for the best panoramic views in the park.
On the easier side, the Castle Crest Wildflower Garden Trail provides a gentle 0.4 mile (0.6km) walk directly from the Steel Visitors Center through an array of flora.
Cycling at Crater Lake
Topping out at just below 8000ft (2438m) above sea level with frequent hills, the 33-mile-long (53 km) rim road may only be suited to advanced cyclists, but the rewards are great: Fresh mountain air; pristine wilderness; awe-inspiring angles of the lake; and regular stops for photo ops and water breaks.
Note that there are no bike lanes. For an easier, traffic-free ride, check out Grayback Drive, which offers eight miles (12.8km) of vehicle-free, unpaved terrain.
Things to do at Crater Lake for families
There's plenty to keep the family entertained at Crater Lake National Park. The visitor center is a good place to start with its interactive exhibits about the history and formation of the lake.
National Park Rangers lead Crater Lake boat cruises, providing insight into the caldera. To maintain water purity, tours take place on purpose-built, low-emission watercraft. An extended version of this trip includes a stop at Wizard Island, a volcanic cinder cone that juts 750ft (229m) out of the lake, where visitors can hike, swim, and fish.
Other family-friendly things to do include, trolley rides through the park, horse riding in the warmer months, and snowmobile trips in the winter.
Oregon’s best places to visit beyond Portland
Can I swim in Crater Lake?
Yes, visitors can swim in Crater Lake. If you're in the mood for a dip, hike along the Cleetwood Cove Trail, a short, steep path from Rim Drive down to the shoreline. You can swim out straight from the shore. Alternatively, take a boat ride to Wizard Island where you can cannonball off of the small rocks that dot its outer shore.
Note that the majority of lake water comes from snowmelt, so even in summer, the surface temperature can average just 57°F (14°C). Pack a towel and some dry clothes.
You might also like:
The best time to visit Oregon
12 free things to do in Oregon
The 5 best road trips in Oregon