Best Hikes, Itinerary and Planning Guide

Best Hikes, Itinerary and Planning Guide

Crater Lake National Park

Our trip to Crater Lake National Park was an adventure. We’ve captured our favorite hikes, dislikes, what we wished we had done, and other tips. Here are our takeaways – we hope you can use it as a planning guide for your visit to Crater Lake. We also provide information about weather and visitation statistics to consider when planning any trip.

Overview

A little known fact: Crater Lake is the fifth oldest national park in the United States. It was created in 1902 after a decades-long effort by William Gladstone Steel, who first visited in 1885. Fifteen years prior, he had read about the lake in a newspaper article – that his lunch was wrapped in. Steel was the driving force behind creating the park, and the main visitor center is named after him.

Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States, and the ninth deepest in the world. It was formed after a volcano, Mount Mazama, erupted in 5700 BC. The eruption caused the volcano to collapse, forming a large caldera. Over time, the caldera filled with water from snowmelt, creating the lake.

Assumedly, most people visit the park for its eponymous lake. That’s why we came – but we left with a greater understanding of the wider ecosystem. The park is not just a lake, but also the surrounding rivers, mountains, and volcanic features. We focused on hiking (and backpacking – though that didn’t pan out due to weather), but fishing, biking, and skiing are also popular.

Guide to Best Activities in Crater Lake National Park

  1. Crater Lake Boat Tour – Taking a tour of Crater Lake was one of the highlights of our trip. Experiencing the geological features and vibrant blue color of the water up close was one of the most memorable parts of our trip.
    Crater Lake: Phantom Ship with Wizard Island
    We got to see Phantom Ship and Wizard Island up close
  2. Mount Scott – A hike to the highest point in the park, with panoramic views of Crater Lake. Our visit happened to coincide with a butterfly migration that only occurs every 5-6 years, which was both surprising and stunning.
    Crater Lake: Mount Scott Ridge Line to Fire Tower
    Mount Scott ridgeline to fire tower
  3. Boundary Springs – An off the beaten path type of hike. This trail features no views of Crater Lake, but the forest, streams, and wildflowers make up for it. We saw where the Rogue River begins, as it emanates from the Earth.
    Crater Lake: Boundary Springs From Behind
    Boundary Springs marks the beginning of the Rogue River
  4. Crater Lake Lodge – A beautiful hotel complete with restaurant, adjacent to Crater Lake. It’s the only lodging (other than campgrounds) in the park. The view, friendly staff, and easy access to hiking trails make this a special place to stay, or just visit as a day trip.
    Crater Lake: Lodge at Night
    Crater Lake Lodge at dusk
  5. Garfield Peak – This trail provides some of the best views of Crater Lake. It was one of our favorite hikes in the park, even though we didn’t reach the top due to snow.
    Crater Lake: View of Lake and Phantom Ship from Garfield Peak Trail
    Crater Lake and Phantom Ship from Garfield Peak Trail

Things we wish we did (“Things to do next time”)

  • Wizard Island – We imagine this is an epic place to go hiking. We tried our best to get to the island, but shuttles weren’t currently running due to maintenance issues. This is at the top of our list next time we visit.
    Crater Lake: Wizard Island From Watchman Peak
    Wizard Island from Watchman Peak
  • Crater Peak & Union Peak – Two hikes we wanted to do, but didn’t have time for. Both are located on the south side of the lake and are a bit longer than other dayhikes in the park.
    Crater Lake: Union Peak View from Garfield Peak
    Looking south toward Union Peak from Garfield Peak Trail
    Backcountry Camping – Weather prevented us from doing a backpacking trip this time, but it’s on the list for our next visit. We had planned to do Bald Crater Loop, but a trip up to Union Peak would also make for a nice overnight.
    Crater Lake: Backcountry Permit Office
    Backcountry Permit Office

Crater Lake Mini Adventures Guide

On our trip to Crater Lake National Park, we visited several places that didn’t get a full post, but are worth mentioning.

  • Bert Creek & Sphagnum Bog – This particular adventure was all Travis’s idea. We drove into Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, to Bert Creek Trail. We hiked along the trail into the northwest corner of Crater Lake National Park until we intersected with Bald Crater Loop Trail. After searching for the bog, it turned out you have to bushwhack to find it – and the amount of mosquitoes (even with repellent) dissuaded us enough to head back. Maybe some day we’ll try again (if Travis can convince Kristin).
    Crater Lake: Sphagnum Bog near Bert Creek Trail
    The sign for the bog, though “Sphagnum” is misspelled
  • Lady of the Woods Trail – This short trail goes around Steel Visitor Center, and we didn’t like it. Its claim to fame is a stone sculpture of a woman, made in 1917 by Earl Russell Bush. There are nearby streams, but most of all there are tons of mosquitoes. The trail weaves around park buildings. It doesn’t offer much, though there is a trail guide you can pick up that corresponds to numbered posts along the way.
    Crater Lake: Lady of the Woods Stone Carving
    Can you see the lady carved in the stone?
  • Phantom Ship – An overlook at the intersection of Pinnacles Road and East Rim Drive offers a clear view of this rocky island in Crater Lake. If you use your imagination, it resembles a sailing ship. The overlook is easily accessible, but you can skip this if you go on a boat tour, since that gives you a closer view.
    Crater Lake: Phantom Ship Overlook
    Phantom Ship from the overlook
  • Sinnot Memorial Overlook – Near Rim Village, on the south side of Crater Lake, is the Sinnot Memorial Observation Station. Built into the cliffside below Crater Lake’s rim, it offers gorgeous views and a small museum to explore. It’s located down a long flight of stairs, about 0.8 miles round trip. If you’re short on time, this is a good place to learn about the park.
    Crater Lake: Sinnot Memorial Overlook Museum
    An exhibit at the Sinnot Memorial Museum
  • Whitewater Rafting the North Umpqua River – This one isn’t in Crater Lake National Park, but we’re mentioning it anyway. We booked a whitewater rafting trip along the North Umpqua River through Ouzel Outfitters. We drove about an hour and a half northwest of the park to the put-in. The trip went through numerous class II and III rapids, with one class IV near the end. Our guides were great, and we had a blast.
    Crater Lake: Put In at Gravel Bin on North Umpqua
    Put-in on the North Umpqua

Weather

Crater Lake is filled only by snowmelt and rainfall, so naturally a ton of snow falls in the winter. The park is open through the winter, but we prefer warmer weather. July and August are the warmest months, and have the lowest chance of rainfall (though it rained during our trip in July). September might be ideal; it’s still warm-ish and usually too early for snow, so every trail will likely be open. October is a possibility too, but snow could start falling by then.

Visitation Statistics

Not surprisingly, visitation has increased at Crater Lake in the past decade. Nor is it surprising that July and August are the most popular months. If you can swing it, we suggest visiting in September to avoid crowds.

Other Crater Lake NP Tips

  • Our plans changed constantly during our visit, so we had to be flexible, due to weather, remaining snow, and concessionaire issues.
  • Along the same lines, be aware that some trails don’t become accessible until late July or mid-August due to snow.
  • Book the lodge and any boat tours/shuttles as early as you can (and keep your fingers crossed).
  • Check out Cleetwood Cove Trail, even if you can’t snag boat tour tickets. You’ll still have a chance to swim in the lake, and even jump in if you’re feeling brave.
  • Avoid Annie Creek Restaurant (terrible food) and Rim Village Cafe (overpriced), unless desperate.
  • If you have the flexibility, you might check out Lost Creek Campground instead of Mazama Campground. It’s first-come, first-served, and significantly smaller than Mazama Campground. While we didn’t spend the night there, it seemed quiet.
  • If your tire springs a leak, like ours did, you can refill it at the gas station in Mazama Campground. If that air filler breaks, like it did when we were there, the next closest station is in Diamond Lake. And if that breaks, well, you might be out of luck.

Our Itinerary

Our trip didn’t go as planned due to weather and the lake tours not running. So we tried to be flexible so we could see as much of the park as possible. It happens sometimes, so be prepared.

Original Itinerary

DayPlanLodging
1Arrive and exploreMazama Campground
2Cleetwood Cove Trail, Wizard Island and Boat TourMazama Campground
3Mount Scott Trail, Plaikni Falls Trail, Pinnacles TrailMazama Campground
4Garfield Peak, Sinnot Memorial OverlookCrater Lake Lodge - Lakeside Room
5North Umpqua Whitewater RaftingCrater Lake Lodge - Lakeside Room
6Bald Crater Loop BackpackingBackcountry Camping
7Bald Crater Loop BackpackingMazama Campground
8Boundary Springs Trail or Crater Lake Rim Trail

Actual Itinerary

DayPlanLodging
1Arrive and exploreMazama Campground
2Visitor Center, Lady of the Woods TrailMazama Campground
3Boundary Springs TrailDiamond Lake Motel
4Bert Creek TrailCrater Lake Lodge - Lakeside Room
5North Umpqua Whitewater RaftingCrater Lake Lodge - Lakeside Room
6Mount Scott Trail, Plaikni Falls Trail, Pinnacles TrailCrater Lake Lodge - Parkside Room
7Cleetwood Cove Trail, Boat Tour, Watchman Peak TrailCrater Lake Lodge - Parkside Room
8Garfield Peak Trail

Our Experiences

Crater Lake Map Guide

Paper Maps

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