The majestic Crater Lake never ceases to amaze. Blessed with the purest rain and snow, it stands as the deepest lake in the United States, and one of the most untainted globally. Its striking blue water, nestled within the magnificent Cascade Mountain Range, captivates artists, photographers, and sightseers alike.
With Crater Lake being one of the snowiest inhabited regions in the US, winter presents a fascinating spectacle. Deep snow usually shuts down the park's Rim Drive and North Entrance to cars, transforming them into skiing and snowshoeing trails and a snowmobile route, respectively. These closures kick in with the first significant October snowstorm or on November 1, whichever arrives first. The task of plowing closed roads generally commences mid-April, with no fixed dates for their reopening. They could open as early as mid-May or as late as the end of June. Expect the East Rim Drive to be fully accessible sometime between mid-June and late July.
Meet Rob Decker, a photographer and graphic artist who's truly passionate about America’s National Parks! He holds Crater Lake in high regard and recommends it as a worthy destination. Winter sports enthusiasts might want to visit early, but for most, the warmer summer months offer more activities, especially when snow often closes down roads, trails, and campgrounds. Whether you're visiting for the first time or returning after many years, here's a wealth of information about the splendid Crater Lake National Park!
Embracing Winter Activities
Despite an average snowfall of 43 feet annually posing challenges, the park's winter trails and unplowed roads afford skiers and snowshoers unparalleled access to open slopes, dense forests, and awe-inspiring views. Crater Lake is an ideal destination for both day-trippers and backcountry explorers.
Snowshoe Walks with Rangers
Ranger-guided snowshoe walks are becoming increasingly popular year after year. These walks typically cover 1 to 2 miles of moderate-to-strenuous terrain in about two hours. While the route is at the ranger's discretion, most walks commence at Rim Village and proceed through the lake rim's sub-alpine forests and meadows. The park offers snowshoes free of charge, or you can bring your own. Prior experience isn't necessary, but do come prepared with warm clothing and water-resistant footwear. Participants must be at least 8 years old, and advance reservations are required due to limited space. As winter draws near, reach out to the park’s visitor center at 541-594-3100 to sign up. The visitor center operates daily from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm except on December 25. Organized groups may arrange for a separate tour if staff is available.
Many opportunities for sledding can be found throughout the park but there are no designated sled hills or snow play areas. Select a location with a gentle slope that is free of trees and other obstacles. The slope should end with a flat landing for safe and easy stopping. One popular spot is the open meadow south of Crater Lake Lodge. For your safety, sledding, tubing, and tobogganing are prohibited in the caldera and on all roadways within the park where vehicle traffic may occur and in all parking lots.
Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding
Snowboarding and downhill skiing are allowed in the park but are absolutely prohibited in the caldera. The park does not have any chairlifts. All downhill skiers and snowboarders must hike up to a destination before riding down a slope. Be familiar with the up and down routes, and potential dangers. Know how to self-rescue. Assisted rescues in avalanche areas, and from places hard to reach may take more than 24 hours. Avalanche terrain exists in the park but there is no formal avalanche forecasting. If you choose to be in avalanche areas carry probes, snow shovels, and avalanche transceivers. Taking an avalanche course is recommended.
Cycling at the Park
With each passing year, we notice a growing number of cyclists venturing to Crater Lake National Park. They challenge themselves to complete the physically demanding, 33-mile Rim Drive, undeterred by the steep hills and high elevation. Rest assured, your hard work pays off in the form of spectacular vistas, appreciated at a leisurely pace most visitors seldom indulge in.
Guidelines and Precautions
Cyclists must be mindful of several risks, including high speeds on steep downhill sections, unexpected obstacles like rocks and animals, as well as the increased traffic volume. Road biking at Crater Lake is recommended for experienced cyclists accustomed to sharing the road with vehicles. It's important to note that the park's roads rarely have shoulders, and there are no designated bike lanes. Additionally, bicycles are not permitted on park trails. Water is accessible only at Rim Village, Park Headquarters, and Mazama Village.
Mountain Biking Opportunities
If mountain biking is more your speed, Crater Lake offers the Grayback Drive, an eight-mile dirt road, free of vehicles. However, those seeking the adrenaline rush of single track trails will need to explore outside the park, as Crater Lake does not have any single track mountain biking trails.
Winter Fat Tire Biking
Despite the rising popularity of fat tire biking in many winter recreation areas, park regulations currently prohibit the use and operation of these bikes on winter trails within the park.
Boat Tours on Crater Lake
Discover Crater Lake from a new perspective—by boat! For those eager to explore Wizard Island, we offer boat cruises and a shuttle service straight to the island. However, be prepared for the strenuous 2.2-mile round-trip trail (down to the boat dock and back) which drops approximately 700 ft. We advise against these tours for those with medical or physical limitations. Typically, the hike down to the dock takes between 30-45 minutes.
The Lost Creek Campground, a small tents-only site, is nestled on the road to Pinnacles Overlook, a mere three miles from the rim of Crater Lake. Generally, it opens in early July and closes in mid-October. In peak season (July and August), the campground tends to fill by mid-afternoon. Each site provides a picnic table and bear-resistant food locker. Alternatively, the Mazama Campground, situated 7 miles south of Rim Village near Highway 62, is surrounded by a lush forest and operates only during the summer months.
Crater Lake National Park boasts over 90 miles of hiking trails available during the summer months. If you're a seasoned adventurer looking for a more immersive experience, backcountry camping may be for you. A free permit is required for all overnight stays in the park's backcountry, which you can obtain from the ranger station.
Guidelines for Backcountry Camping
Backcountry campers must stay at least 1 mile from any road and 100 feet from water sources and trails. Campfires are not permitted in the backcountry, so campers must use camp stoves. Additionally, campers must follow Leave No Trace principles to preserve the park's natural beauty for future generations. Pack out all trash and human waste.
Cast a line into the deep blue waters of Crater Lake or nearby streams. The park allows fishing without a license, and there are no limits on the size, species, or number of fish you can catch. However, to protect the lake's native fish populations, only artificial lures and flies are permitted.
Skiing and Snowshoeing
In winter, the park transforms into a snowy wonderland perfect for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. There are no designated trails or groomed routes, but popular areas include the West Rim Drive and the area around Rim Village. The park offers free, ranger-led snowshoe walks on weekends and holidays from late December through the end of March.
Crater Lake National Park allows winter camping, and a free permit is required. Campers can obtain this permit from the ranger station. However, be prepared for harsh conditions, including heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures. Always practice safe winter camping techniques and plan your trip carefully.
We hope you've found our guide helpful in planning your visit to Crater Lake National Park! We eagerly await your arrival and look forward to helping you create lasting memories during your stay.
FAQs About Crater Lake National Park
What is the best time to visit Crater Lake National Park?
While the park is open year-round, the best time to visit depends on your preferred activities. Summer (July to September) offers warm weather and the most access to park activities and facilities. However, if you're a winter sports enthusiast, you'll find the park transformed into a snow-covered paradise from November through April.
Is it safe to swim in Crater Lake?
Yes, swimming is permitted in Crater Lake. However, due to the lake's altitude and depth, the water remains quite cold, averaging 55 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. Always exercise caution when swimming in natural bodies of water.
Are pets allowed in the park?
Yes, pets are allowed in certain areas of the park but must be kept on a leash at all times. However, they are not permitted in public buildings or on certain trails. Always clean up after your pets to maintain the cleanliness and integrity of the park.
What wildlife might I see in the park?
The park is home to a variety of wildlife, including black bears, cougars, elk, deer, and a variety of birds. Remember to observe all wildlife from a safe distance, and never feed wild animals.
Are there food and lodging options in the park?
Yes, Crater Lake National Park offers a range of accommodations and dining options. The historic Crater Lake Lodge and The Cabins at Mazama Village provide comfortable lodging options, while the Rim Village Cafe & Gift Shop, Annie Creek Restaurant, and Mazama Village Camper Store offer a variety of food and drink choices.
About the Artist
Rob Decker is a photographer and graphic artist who had the rare privilege of studying under Ansel Adams in Yosemite National Park when he was just 19 years old. Now, Rob is on a journey to explore and photograph all 63 of America’s National Parks. He’s creating WPA-style posters to help people celebrate their own national park adventures — as well as encourage others to get out and explore!
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