Adventure Guide: Crater Lake National Park

Frolic this alpine wonderland in the crown of the Rocky Mountains.

Just an hour and a half from Medford, Oregon, Crater Lake National Park is one of the most breathtaking spots in the Pacific Northwest—and one of the gems of the U.S. national park system. The lake was formed nearly 8,000 years ago when a volcanic eruption triggered the collapse of Mount Mazama. When the dust cleared, all that was left of the mountain was a vast crater. Today, the crater is filled with rainwater and pure snowmelt, forming a crystalline ring around the conical island rising from the lake’s center. At 0.7 miles from surface to bottom, it’s the deepest lake in the U.S. 

Salmon and trout roam among the submerged geological ruins. Around the shore, dozens of miles of trail, including about 30 miles of the world-famous Pacific Crest Trail, pass through the park’s borders (originally the land of the Klamath People). Hikers, peak-baggers, anglers, campers: There’s something for everyone here.  

Visiting the Forest

Crater Lake National Park is open year-round, though many of the roads close for the winter (see “Seasons,” below.) To enter the park, you’ll need to pay a day-use fee or present a valid annual pass. There are currently no reservations required to visit the park. You will, however, need a lodging reservation to camp at the Mazama Campground or to stay at the park’s cabins or main lodge.  


Crater Lake’s high elevation, northern latitude, and record-setting snowfalls mean that spring and fall are fleeting. As the rangers like to say, there are only two seasons at Crater Lake: summer and winter. Here’s what to expect from each. 


Crater Lake usually sees its first flurries in October. After that, the snow doesn’t really stop: The national park usually gets between 25 and 50 feet of snow per year, making it one of the snowiest places in the U.S. When enough snow accumulates, the park’s main roads close (usually between mid-Oct. and early Nov.) and don’t reopen until late spring. On sunny days, the closed roads become popular trails for skiers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers (see “Winter Sports,” below). 


When the roads reopen and the snow melts (usually between mid-May to late June), the park explodes with birdsong, fresh greenery, wildflowers—and traffic. Late summer is the most popular time to visit, but you can beat the crowds by visiting in May or June. Then, roads are often open to hikers and bicyclists, while scenic overlooks and peak-bagging hikes are still accessible. 
No matter when you visit, keep in mind that snowfall has been recorded in every month of the year at Crater Lake. Even during the peak of summer, afternoon highs don’t generally reach about 70°F, and lows are frequently in the 40s. Pack lots of layers no matter how far you plan to venture, and bring a warm sleeping bag if you plan to camp. 


A handful of hiking trails cross Crater Lake National Forest. Here are a few favorites.

Wizard Island

Reserve a boat to Wizard Island—the only island in Crater Lake—and hike the 2 miles to the top of the volcanic cone. You’ll get 360-degree views of the rim, plus the chance to gaze into the depths of the dormant volcano. 

Garfield Peak

Snag views of Crater Lake, Wizard Island, and the North Rim from this 8,054-foot peak. The 1.8-mile, out-and-back trail starts at the Crater Lake Lodge.  

Rim Trail

Start at the Crater Lake Lodge and travel northwest to tag a full roster of scenic overlooks, including the Sinnott Memorial Overlook, Discovery Point, and the Watchman Overlook. You can hike the full 6.6 miles of gently rolling trail from Crater Lake Lodge to the North Junction, or turn around whenever you’ve had your fill.  


Want to see the lake from every angle? Rim Drive, which circumnavigates the crater, is one of the most popular scenic drives in the U.S. You can navigate it by car or by trolley during the summer, but the most adventurous option is to tackle it on two wheels. The 33-mile route features over 5,000 feet of gain—so make sure you’re prepared to ride at altitude (and comfortable riding alongside vehicle traffic) before you attempt it. 

In the winter, Rim Drive is closed to cars. When the roads are partially plowed, bikes have full reign over the bare pavement. When they’re covered in snow, the wide-open path feels made for fat-biking.

Grayback Drive, an 8-mile gravel road that connects the Crater Peak trail with the Lost Creek Campground, is also open to mountain bikers during the summer. (It’s the only unpaved trail in the park where mountain biking is allowed.) 


Crater Lake National Park has two front-country campgrounds and five backcountry campgrounds within its borders.  

Mazama Campground

Open between June and September, the vast Mazama Campground is tucked away near the southern edge of the park. It has a whopping 214 sites, including spots for both tents and RVs. Sites must be reserved online in advance. 

Lost Creek Campground

Just three miles from the rim of the lake, Lost Creek is the only campground in the park operated by the National Park Service. There are only 16 spots in this first-come, first-served site, and you’ll need a tent (no RVs allowed here). While the campground is closed this year, it is expected to reopen for the 2023 summer season. 

Backcountry Camping

In the summer, you can camp at any of five designated backcountry sites. All you need to do is snag a free permit from the ranger station. You can also use your permit to dispersed-camp as long as you follow Leave No Trace practices. 

In the winter, you can pitch a tent at any of the normal backcountry sites, or along the rim of the lake. Word to the wise: Make sure you have good avalanche awareness and appropriate gear before you attempt a winter overnight


Crater Lake—and the numerous fast-flowing streams surrounding it—provide all kinds of fishing opportunities for local anglers. The park doesn’t require fishing licenses within its boundaries, but it does ask anglers to observe some regulations for personal and ecological safety. (View those regulations here.) 

Fishing the lake

Crater Lake is home to kokanee salmon and rainbow trout, both remnants of stock populations released in the park about 80 years ago. To access the lake, you’ve got just one option: The Cleetwood Cove Trail, which drops a mile straight down from the rim to the shore. Be sure to proceed with care, and keep an eye out for residual snow.

Fishing the streams

Anglers can also fish the mountain streams found throughout the national park, many of which host healthy populations of brook trout and brown trout. (The only closed streams are Sun Creek and Lost Creek. Both are vital habitats for the threatened bull trout, which is off-limits to fishing.) 

Winter Sports 

Every year, usually between late October and mid-June, the Rim Drive and North Entrance Road close due to snow. While bad news for cars, the winter closures provide a unique opportunity for skiers, snowshoers, fat-bikers, and snowmobilers.  

Human-powered travel

Rim Drive, usually packed headlight-to-taillight with sightseeing tourists during the summer, lies quiet under its blanket of snow all winter long, providing a perfect opportunity for tranquil snowshoeing, fat-biking, and cross-country skiing around the rim of the lake. (The South Entrance Road and Park Headquarters parking area remain open year-round.) Note: While sunny winter days in the park can be lovely, winter storms are common; be sure to check for storm warnings before you venture out. 


Snowmobilers are also able to utilize the park; the North Entrance Road becomes a snowmobile trail during the winter season. The groomed route is about 9 miles long and ends at the rim of the lake. Note: If you park at North Crater Lake Sno-Park, you’ll need an Oregon Sno-Park permit as well as your national park pass. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.