Complete Guide: Things to Do at Crater Lake in Southern Oregon

If you’ve never visited Crater Lake National Park in Southern Oregon, add it to your bucket list. Like right now. I can wait.

I’ve taken my kids twice now and it’s truly one of the most beautiful places in the United States, if not the entire world.

Crater Lake-Rim Road

One look into that blue water and you’ll readily agree. It is a true gem in the Pacific Northwest, much like Olympic National Park in Washington.

If you’re considering a Crater Lake vacation or even a day or weekend trip to this true-blue lake, let me first entice you with the best things to do at Crater Lake.

Things to Do at Crater Lake

There is so much to do at Crater Lake National Park. But first, when is the best time to visit Crater Lake? The most popular months are July, August and September. 

You can visit in fall, winter and spring, but a visit in summer is prudent since you’re not likely to encounter closures of park roads, facilities or trails due to lingering snow.  

Crater Lake receives an average of 43 feet of snow each year, making Crater Lake one of the snowiest areas in the United States. With that much snow, it can take a long time to melt. 

On both of my visits, I came to the park in July and it was perfect. If you’ve been curious about what to do at Crater Lake, here are the most popular activities. 

#1: Revel in the Views from Rim Drive 

Crater Lake

You’ve got to take in the views of true-blue Crater Lake from every angle. It’s easy to do by driving along the historic 33-mile Rim Drive (typically open June to November).

You’ll find 30+ overlooks around the lake, each with ample parking. Here are seven of the most beautiful overlooks along Rim Drive. 

Discovery Point
It was near this spot that gold prospector John Hillman stumbled upon what he called “Deep Blue Lake” in 1853. 

Watchman Overlook
At this pullout, you’ll find unparalleled views of Wizard Island, which was created when Mount Mazama, a large volcano, violently erupted more than 7,000 years ago. 

Cloudcap Overlook
This overlook is located and the end of a 1-mile spur road, the highest paved road in Oregon. 

Pumice Castle Overlook
Here you’ll find a layer of orange pumice rock that eroded into the shape of a medieval castle. 

Phantom Ship Overlook
Crater Lake’s “other island” is missed by many visitors, but it’s easy to see this island that resembles a small sailboat when you make time to stop at this overlook. 

Pinnacles Overlook
It’s a 6-mile detour from Rim Drive for this overlook, but it’s well worth the drive to see the colorful spires being eroded from the wall of the canyon. 

#2: Take a Trolley Tour 

Alternatively, take the two-hour park ranger-narrated trolley tour, which departs from Rim Village six times each day during high season.

The tour makes five to six stops for visitors to get off the trolley to take photos.

Listen in as the ranger shares more about this national park and its unique features that draw in visitors year after year. 

#3: Become a Junior Ranger 

From late-June to early-September, kids ages 6-12 can earn a Junior Ranger badge and a patch. Earn a badge by completing pages in the free Junior Ranger activity book.

As part of the program, we learned the answer to the oft-asked question, “How deep is Crater Lake?” With a measuring tape. My daughter got to be the park ranger’s helper. 

Crater Lake is 1,949 feet deep. It’s the deepest lake in the United States. Worldwide, it’s the ninth deepest lake. Lake Baikal in Siberia is the deepest at 5,315 feet deep.

Kids can collect a patch when they participate in a 20-minute ranger-led activity at the Rim Village Visitor Center to learn all about this pristine lake. 

#4: Savor a Sunset at Watchman Peak

Go on your own or meet a park ranger during high season (Fridays & Saturdays) at Watchman Overlook.

From here, you’ll ascend to a scenic viewpoint by way of the 1.6-mile Watchman Peak Trail to watch the sun set over the Cascade Mountain Range from a historic fire lookout.

#5: Go for a Hike 

crater lake hikes

There are several easy Crater Lake hikes, including the 2.2-mile Cleetwood Cove Trail and the 3.6-mile Garfield Peak Trail to a mountain peak on the south end of Crater Lake. 

Many ask whether you can go swimming in Crater Lake, and yes you can, but only from the lake shore that’s accessed by way of the Cleetwood Cove Trail, which opens by late-June. 

Another one of our favorite Crater Lake hiking trails is the 2-mile Discovery Point Trail, which starts in Rim Village and meanders along the west rim of this beautiful lake.

Ranger-led hikes set off each afternoon at 2 pm during peak season. This allows for exploration of some of the 100 miles of trails at the park with ease and confidence. 

#6: Summit Mount Scott

On the east side of the park, you’ll find one of the best Crater Lake hikes for views. The 4.4-mile Mount Scott Trail allows visitors to reach the highest point in the park (8,929 feet).

At the summit, savor unblocked vistas and panoramic views in every direction. Go in the morning when the sunlight is best for lake viewing.

#7: See Tumbling Waterfalls 

Crater Lake National Park may be best known for its wildly gram-worthy blue lake, but there are several waterfalls in and near this national park that should not be missed, including:

Vidae Falls
This cascading waterfall is situated between Phantom Ship Overlook and Park Headquarters. 

Plaikni Falls
An easy 1.0-mile hike leads to Plaikni Falls, which is located along East Rim Drive. “Plaikni” is a Klamath Indian word that is said to mean “from the high country.”

Toketee Falls
Situated an easy 25-minutes by car from Crater Lake’s north entrance station, Toketee Falls is a bonus waterfall. It’s an easy walk to the falls and a must-stop on the way back to the I-5. 

Whitehorse Falls
Located in the Umpqua National Forest, tumbling Whitehorse Falls is a second bonus hike, located just 20 minutes from the national park’s north entrance station. 

#8: Take a Ranger-Narrated Boat Tour 

There are eight ranger-narrated Crater Lake boat tours that set off each day, including two shuttles to Wizard Island.

On standard two-hour Crater Lake tours, visitors cruise along the perimeter of the lake.

Take in close-up views of Wizard Island and Phantom Ship, as well as various other natural formations. The views and geology are truly spectacular. 

Crater Lake

On the five-hour Wizard Island boat tour, you’ll cruise 45 minutes to the island, then spend three hours hiking and exploring on foot.

Hike the rocky 2.2-mile Wizard Island Summit Trail, one of the best Crater Lake hikes for panoramic views and unique geological features. 

Boat tours depart from the Cleetwood Cove Boat Dock on the north side of Crater Lake.

Note that to reach the boat dock, you must hike the Cleetwood Cove Trail. Plan accordingly as it can take 30-45 minutes to descend this trail to the dock (1.1-mile one-way)

#9: Take Lots of Photos

Take all the photos you like. I easily took dozens of photos of Crater Lake, some with my kids, some without my kids.

Every view seemed better than the last and worthy of a photo. It’s incredible to look back at the photos and think that we were there. It’s such a special place.

How Much Time to Spend at Crater Lake National Park 

We’ve been to Crater Lake National Park twice – in July 2015 and in July 2018. On both day visits, we were on a road trip on our way to Bend, Oregon (two hours north of Crater Lake).

On our first visit, we drove in from Crescent City, California (nearly a four-hour drive). On our second visit, we came in from Klamath Falls on the Crater Lake Trolley.

It was an hour on the trolley to the park after arriving at the Amtrak station in-town on an overnight train from Los Angeles. However, both were very long days. 

Yes, you can do Crater Lake in one day, but I would suggest an overnight stay, either within the park or at one of the hotels in nearby towns, like Chemult, Chiloquin and Shady Cove.

Even Klamath Falls is not too far away from the park. Here’s what my itinerary of outdoor activities at Crater Lake would look like:

Crater Lake: Day One

Enjoy an easy hike with the kids, like the 2-mile Discovery Point Trail. This one sets off from Rim Village.

What better way to begin an exploration of Crater Lake than by seeing the lake as gold prospector John Hillman did when he discovered the lake in 1853.

Eat lunch at Rim Village Café.

Drive or take a trolley tour all the way around historic 33-mile Rim Drive to see this deep blue lake from every angle. Stop at as many overlooks and pullouts as the kids will allow.

Attend a Junior Ranger program at the Rim Visitor Center so the kids can earn a badge and a patch (as well as learn loads about Crater Lake).

Eat dinner at Annie Creek Restaurant in Mazama Village.

Watch the sunset from historic fire lookout at Watchman Peak. This one requires a hike, so if the kids are too tired, stop for the sunset at one of the pullouts along Rim Drive.

Crater Lake: Day Two

Start the day with a Wizard Island boat tour. Depart on the first cruise of the day at 9:45 am.

Explore Wizard Island and hike the Wizard Island Summit Trail for the views. This cruise returns to Cleetwood Cove Boat Dock at 3:00 pm.

Pick up lunch goodies at Rim Village Café before you head out for the boat. Don’t forget that it’s a 1.1-mile hike to and from the boat dock, so plan accordingly.

After the boat tour, go back to Rim Village for souvenirs and snacks before you hit the road for your next destination.

It’s easy to wrap your visit to see the top Crater Lake attractions into a larger road trip. To do so, check out this west coast national parks road trip planner.

How to Get to Crater Lake 

Crater Lake is not super-convenient to a major airport or highway, even a state route, but you will be richly rewarded for making the effort to cast your gaze upon this deep blue gem.

It’s one of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. and one you won’t soon forget.

Amtrak-Klamath Falls

If you choose to fly, Medford, Oregon (MFR) is the closest airport to Crater Lake. It’s 75 miles southwest of the park. From here, you’ll need to rent a car to reach the park.

Alternatively, take the train. Amtrak’s Coast Starlight stops in Klamath Falls. From here, the Crater Lake Trolley takes just over an hour to reach Crater Lake National Park. 

Crater Lake is 3+ hours from Eugene and 2+ hours from Bend, so if you are already in Oregon, it’s not too far to go for a day or overnight trip.

Crater Lake is 5 hours from Portland, but it would make a nice add-on to an outdoor adventure at Rowena Crest on the Columbia River Gorge. 

Where to Stay at Crater Lake

When considering where to stay when visiting Crater Lake, there are several Crater Lake National Park lodging options (as in, inside the park).

These include the historic Crater Lake Lodge and Cabins at Mazama Village. Both book up months and months in advance. 

Crater Lake Lodge

Crater Lake Lodge is the more luxurious of the two in-park Crater Lake lodging options. You won’t be disappointed by a deluxe lake view room at the lodge, just steps from Rim Village.

However, if you miss out on a stay here, settle in on one of the rockers on the lake-facing porch. These are open to all park visitors eager to look out into the pristine lake.

Crate Lake Lodge

Inside Crater Lake Lodge, a delicious dining experience awaits in the Crater Lake Lodge Dining Room. Gourmet meals are made with sustainable and locally-grown ingredients.

On the dinner menu, Seared Pacific Wild Salmon with seasonal vegetables, as well as Hand Cut Rib Eye Steak with garlic whipped potatoes and asparagus.

The Crater Lake Lodge Dining Room is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For little ones, there is a kids’ menu.

It’s somewhat limited (Cheeseburger, Grilled Cheese and Seared Salmon Salad). Lodge guests enjoy complimentary coffee service from 6:30-9:00 am.

At nearby Rim Village, visitors can pick up a range of collectibles and souvenirs at Rim Village Gift Shop.

Inside, you’ll also find Rim Village Café, a quick and easy, grab-and-go restaurant. In winter, you can also rent snowshoes at Rim Village Gift Shop.

Cabins at Mazama Village 

The Cabins at Mazama Village are tucked away amongst fragrant Ponderosa pines, just seven miles south of Rim Village.

The comfortable, rustic Crater Lake cabins are a welcome respite after a day spent hiking, fishing and touring the lake, by boat or by trolley.

Mazama Village-Crater Lake

These Crater Lake cabins have either one or two queen beds, making them a good pick for families.

For eats, the Annie Creek Restaurant in Mazama Village serves up kid-friendly American cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Favorites include Country-Style Meatloaf and Maple Dijon Pork Loin Chops. You’ll find a kids’ menu, soup and salad bar and a selection of desserts, too.

In Mazama Village, you’ll also find the Mazama Village Store, which sells groceries, camping supplies, gasoline, firewood and more.

For souvenirs and collectibles, including magnets, postcards and t-shirts, look to Annie Creek Gift Shop.

Mazama Campground

Mazama Campground is one of two campgrounds located inside Crater Lake National Park. It’s generally open June 15 to late-September (open dates vary depending on the snowfall).

At Mazama, 75% of the sites (RV & tent) can be booked online from July to September. The remaining Crater Lake camping sites are first-come, first-served.

Mazama Campground

Here you’ll find restrooms, showers, laundry facilities and a gas station. At the Mazama Camper Store, you can pick up camp supplies and basic groceries.

From late-June to early-September, nightly ranger-led programs take place in the campground amphitheater. This campground is located seven miles south of Rim Village.

Lost Creek Campground

The second campground is Lost Creek Campground. It’s generally open mid-July to mid-October.

This campground is smaller and more primitive than Mazama Campground. At Lost Creek, all sites are tent-only and no reservations are accepted.

There are portable toilets at Lost Creek Campground, but no potable water or amenities, like showers or a camp store.

There also are no ranger programs, though tent campers here are welcome to go to Mazama Campground for the evening programs.

Crater Lake Hotels & Motels (Outside the Park)

From here, the next closest Crater Lake hotels and motels are at least a 45-minute drive to reach either of the two park entrances.

Here are a few comfortable picks for those looking for lodging near Crater Lake:

Running Y Ranch Resort

Melitas Motel, Chiloquin (old-fashioned motor inn)

Sleep Inn & Suites, Chiloquin (a newer stay from a familiar budget hotel brand)

Edgewater Inn, Shady Cove (enjoy free breakfast at this comfortable riverside motel)

Running Y Ranch Resort, Klamath Falls (huge rooms just right for families)

Crater Lake Campgrounds (Outside the Park)

For those eager to pitch a tent or stay in an RV, book a stay at Lemolo Lake / Crater Lake North KOA. It’s 18 miles from the north entrance of the national park.

This KOA boasts plenty of things to do near Crater Lake and has family-friendly amenities, like canoe rentals, nature trails and a stocked fishing pond.