While California is home to more national parks than any other state, nearby Oregon is home to the sapphire gem that is Crater Lake.
This national park is open year-round, offering spectacular snowy vistas and sports during the winter, as well as hikes and boat tours in the summer.
Be sure to check weather conditions and road and trail closures before your trip, and take our guide for where to stay and what to do while you're visiting Crater Lake.
How to Get to Crater Lake
The drive from San Francisco Bay Area to Crater Lake is a bit of a haul—roughly 400 miles (i.e. six-and-a-half hours without stops). For maximum enjoyment, split it up.
One option is to drive the four-plus hours to Mount Shasta and spend a night basking in the beauty of the magnificent mountain. From there, it's a little over two hours via I-5 to Crater Lake; or you can drive the stunning Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, which is well worth the extra 30 minutes.
Alternatively, stop in Lassen Volcanic National Park (about four hours from SF). Take in a hike with almost unearthly terrain at Bumpass Hell, then drive the rest of the way, close to four hours, to Crater Lake.
Where to Stay Around Crater Lake
Views from the terrace at Crater Lake Lodge.
Less than 10 minutes from Crater Lake, four perfectly symmetrical A-frames sit side by side at The Aspen Inn (Starting at $130/night; 52250 Highway 62, Fort Klamath), which is open April through October and has singles and group stays available; pups are welcome for an extra $20 a night. // If you're looking to stay right inside the park, check in at Crater Lake Lodge(Starting at $202/night; 570 Rim Village Dr.), which is located right on the water's edge and has several rooms, as well as a relaxing terrace, with views of the clear blue lake. // A little further east, on the Rogue River, Union Creek Resort(Starting at $89/rooms, $120/cabins; 56484 Hwy. 62, Prospect) has 33 rustic cabins in the woods and various outdoor activities—fishing, hunting, hiking, snowshoeing—for those looking to extend their trip and explore beyond the lake.
There are several campgrounds near Crater Lake; most are open June through September. One of the most popular is Mazama Campground(OR-62, Crater Lake). Situated seven miles south of Rim Village, Mazama has 214 (mostly tent) sites and is fully equipped with potable water, restrooms, showers, fire pits, and a general store. Dogs are allowed on leash. Reservations can be made online for 75 percent of the sites; the rest remain open for walk-ins. In June, however, all sites are first-come, first-served. // For more spontaneous campers, Lost Creek Campground(Grayback Drive) has 16 first-come-first-served tent-only sites just three miles from the rim of Crater Lake. This smaller campground is only $5 a night and allows dogs on leashes.
Things to Do at Crater Lake
Snowshoeing at Crater Lake
Though Rim Drive and several of the trails around Crater Lake are closed during winter months, and snowshoeing is a popular activity in the winter. (Skiing, sledding, and snowmobiling are also available.)
Take a two-hour ranger-guided walk, offered most weekends December through April, or brave the trails on your own. Many snowshoe trails begin at Rim Village, where you can rent snowshoes for $16 a day. For easy to moderate snowshoeing, find the Discovery Point Trail (1.2 miles) and Wizard Island Overlook (2.3 miles).
All 33 miles of the lake's rim are open to snowshoers; just note that overnight treks require a backcountry permit and are only recommended for experienced backpackers.
Hiking at Crater Lake
While snow covers the area around the lake much of the year, there is good hiking to be had during the summer months, typically May to October. (Check weather conditions in advance of your trip, though: It's not unheard of for there to be snow on the ground in June.)
A number of hikes here offer different vantage points of the lake and the surrounding region. Cleetwood Cove Trail (2.2 miles roundtrip) is an intermediate hike with big rewards for those who traverse its very steep path: This is the only trail that directly accesses the lake. Once you reach the water, you'll find restrooms and picnic spots; the daring can jump from the rocks into the freezing-cold lake.
Boat Tours of Crater Lake
Led by park rangers and are offered July through September, boat tours ($44-$55 for adults) are the only way to get up close to Crater Lake's many rock formations and access Wizard Island. You'll take the Cleetwood Cove Trail to the pick-up point at the waterfront. Choose from half-day (3-hour) or full-day (6-hour) journeys, both of which will take you around the lake's perimeter and allow time for hiking, fishing, and taking in the views.
More independent travelers can skip the ranger-led boat tours and take the twice daily shuttle ($28 for adults) straight to Wizard Island.
Scenic Drive Around Crater Lake
The 33-mile Rim Drive is only fully open in summer months, typically July through mid-October depending on weather. Expect 30 overlooks and dramatic vistas at every turn. You can also take the Rim Trolley for a two-hour ride with five stops for photo ops.
Beckie's Cafe, at Union Creek Resort, is best known for its pies.
(Courtesy of 1859)
Bay Area foodies, be warned: Crater Lake isn't exactly a culinary mecca. Ready your is-what-it-is outlook on life (or pack plenty of snacks from home). Here are your best bets for restaurants near Crater Lake.
Inside Crater Lake National Park
While the food at at Crater Lake Lodge is your standard cafeteria fare, grabbing a small snack and a drink from the bar to enjoy by the fire can be a perfect way to end a long day of hiking and sightseeing. Rim Village Cafe and Gifts also offers hot chocolate, hot dogs, and a few quick bites.
Union Creek and Prospect
You'll find homestyle cooking—think diner-style meals and pie, and barbecue during the summer—at Beckie's Cafe(56484 OR-62), at Union Creek Resort. // Burgers and bloody marys are the choice order at the popular Prospect Cafe(311 Mill Creek Dr.), open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Chiloquin and Fort Klamath
For those staying near Chiloquin, JJ's Cafe(320 Chocktoot St.) serves American and Mexican dishes and, of course, pie all day. // In Fort Klamath, Jo's Organic Grocery(52851 Highway 62) is a bit of a godsend for those with dietary restrictions. Find organic produce, gluten-free snacks, house-made sandwiches, coffee, and groceries to take back to your campsite. They also have a small selection of wine and beer.