Crater Lake National Park

May 10, 2016

By Lindsey Banks

Photo at right: A visitor takes in the view of Crater Lake and Wizard Island from Discovery Point. Photo by Justin Bailie, courtesy Oregon Wild



Imagine 21 square miles of cobalt-azure-lapis blue waters layered 1,949 feet down, creating the deepest lake in the United States, and the seventh deepest lake in the world.

That is what you will find at Southern Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park, a 183,224-acre park discovered by gold miners in 1853 and established as a National Park in 1902.

The lake fills a caldera formed 7,700 years ago when Mt. Mazama erupted, reducing the height of the original volcano by about 3,800 feet. The Crater Lake caldera is the water-filled remnants of that explosion and multiple smaller ones since.

Scientists estimate that the Mt. Mazama eruption was 42 times more powerful than the Mt. St. Helens eruption in Washington state in 1980. The lake is fed by rain and snow only and is surrounded by both old-growth forests and open wild-flower filled meadows.

Crater Lake National Park recorded a whopping 614,712 visitors in 2015, the most visitors since they began tracking numbers in 1904.

There are numerous adventures to be had in this gorgeous park including hiking, biking, camping, boat and trolley tours, driving or biking around the rim, and Park Ranger-led winter snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

A northwest facing aerial view of Crater Lake Caldera, with Wizard Island on the left, shows the clarity and depth of the lake. Image courtesy of the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center

Rim Drive

One of the best ways to see the park is to drive or bike around the 33-mile perimeter Rim Drive. The entire loop is typically open from early July to late October after heavy snowfall is finally gone. The road includes over 30 pull-outs, each with unique and spectacular views, and many provide interpretive signs explaining the scenic feature and landscape.

Be sure to stop at Watchman Overlook for the best view of Wizard Island, one of many cinder cones formed after the explosion, and the only one to rise above the lake’s surface. Other popular stops include the Pumice Castle, Phantom Ship, and Pinnacles overlooks, and Vidae Falls.

A Ranger-led trolley tour is one way to enjoy Rim Drive without having to keep your eyes on the road. The tours circle Crater Lake daily in the summer, stopping at four or more of the scenic overlooks.

The sun sets on Garfield Peak (foreground) and Phantom Ship Island on the southeast rim of Crater Lake. Photo by Rob Mutch. Courtesy of Oregon Wild

Ranger Tours

Discover Crater Lake with those who know it best, the Park Rangers. Ranger talks occur several times a day beginning at the Rim Village Visitor’s Center, located on the south end of the lake.

You may also choose to hike with a Ranger along any of the 90 miles of local trails to gain a deeper discovery of the Park. Ranger-led hiking schedules can be found at the Rim Village. In the winter, Rangers lead snowshoe hikes and cross-country ski tours as well.

If you’re eager to be on the beautiful blue waters, you can join a Park Ranger for a two-hour boat tour around Crater Lake, or take the Wizard Island tour that also includes a three-hour stay on the island. Be aware that a boat tour requires hiking the Cleetwood Cove trail, one of the steepest trails in the park.

Take the time to visit the 1920s rustic charm of the Crater Lake Lodge near the Rim Village—it celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2015. Prefer a more rustic approach? Reserve a cabin at Mazama Village, or go for the full camping experience at the Mazama Village Campground. Reservations are required to stay at each location.

If you go:

There are three entrances to Crater Lake National Park. Both the west entrance on Route 62 from Medford and the south Klamath Falls entrance, also on Route 62, are open year-round. The North entrance on Route 138 is closed in the winter. Always call the Park before arriving in winter to ensure roads and accommodations are open and available.
Park Road Conditions: (541) 594-3000
Crater Lake National Park website:

Lindsey Banks is an outdoors enthusiast who enjoys exploring Crater Lake and the surrounding areas. You can connect with Lindsey, and learn more about her outdoor pursuits at