Follow in our steps
After leaving Mount Rainier National Park we spent a night in Portland filling up on ramen before heading to Crater Lake National Park. What we found when we arrived was nothing short of amazing. You’re literally on (and if you score a boat ticket – in) a volcano! Here’s our take on the best things to see in Crater Lake!
General Info for Crater Lake National Park
Steel Visitor Center
This Visitor Center is located at the Park Headquarters. It’s open daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm. Rangers are on hand to answer any questions you might have and a short film is shown here every 30 minutes or so.
Rim Village Visitor Center
This Visitor Center is located closer to the lodge and is open from 9:30am to 5:00pm from late May to late September.
Rules to Follow in Crater Lake
Pets are allowed in the park but only in certain areas. In fact, unlike some other national parks, they are welcome on certain trails. Those are the Godfrey Glen Trail, Lady of the Woods Trail, Grayback Drive and the Pacific Crest Trail. Leashes must not be longer than 6 feet long. Leashed pets are also allowed in picnic areas, in campgrounds, parking lots and up to 50 feet from paved roads. Only service animals are allowed in Park service buildings and the lodge and cabins.
Drones are prohibited.
Feeding wildlife is prohibited.
Snorkeling, scuba diving and long-distance swimming used to be allowed but as of 2012 those activities have been banned to help protect the lake. Kayaking, rafts and canoes are also not allowed. Wet suits, diving gear and other flotation devices are also not allowed. Regular swimming in bathing suits is allowed at Cleetwood Cove and Wizard Island.
Stay on all trails. It is strictly prohibited to enter the caldera. The only exception to this rule is the Cleetwood Cove trail. (If you want to go down to the lake shore, this is the one to use.)
Store and dispose of all food properly! There are bears within the park. All campsites come with a bear locker. To learn more about bear safety, head on over here.
Best Things to Do at Crater Lake National Park
Boat Tours on Crater Lake
There are a couple of different boat tours that you can do in Crater Lake National Park. Getting out on the water is easily one of the best things to do here. Tickets for all tours mentioned below can be purchased at the kiosk in the Crater Lake Lodge or in the Annie Creek Gift Shop. 18 tickets a day are available for advance purchase. The remaining tickets are only available at the kiosks. These tickets go on sale 24 hours in advance of each tour. Tickets are available until the tour either sells out or 2 hours before departure. If a tour isn’t sold out, any remaining tickets can be purchased from a ticket booth at the top of Cleetwood Cove Trail.
If you are lucky enough to get a ticket then be aware that you must hike down the Cleetwood Cove Trail (and back up!) in order to get to the boat. The trail drops about 700 feet in elevation and is about 1.1 miles in length. Be sure to give yourself at least 30-45 minutes to get down to the lake via the Cleetwood Cove Trail. Note: kids 2 and under are not permitted on these tours. Unfortunately it is not handicap accessible.
In addition, the boats are open so dress warmly!
These tours are 2 hours long and include ranger narration. The trip takes you around the perimeter of the island but you do not stop at Wizard Island. We managed to get on the last boat tour of the season and it was wonderful! The sun was out and though the boat was open and we got sprayed by the water, it just heightened the experience. The ranger was a volunteer and she was super knowledgeable and had a great sense of humor. We learned a lot about the geology and history of the park. In addition, the ranger leaned over the side of the boat and filled up people’s water bottles right from the lake! This tour was a blast and we would definitely do it again.
Wizard Island Boat Tours
Choosing this tour gets you a 5 hour expedition. You’ll get the standard tour mentioned above and you’ll get dropped off on the island. The boat will come back to pick you up in 3 hours. While on the island you can do any number of things: hike, fish, swim or just relax.
Wizard Island Shuttles
These tours are 4 hours long and include a 1 hour (round-trip) ride to the island plus a drop-off and pick-up. Just like the Wizard Island Tour, you’ll get to explore the island for 3 hours. The shuttle however does not go the entire way around the lake and it is not narrated.
In addition to the above tours, there are 6 tickets available on the 8:30 am shuttle for people to purchase who would like to spend 6 hours on Wizard Island.
See Rim Drive from the trolley! The ranger guided trolley tours leaves from Rim Village and tours last about 2 hours. They go clockwise around the lake and stop at no fewer than 5 overlooks. You can also feel good about riding in one because they are run on compressed natural gas and emit 30-40% less pollution than gas powered vehicles.
There are numerous trails in the area for hikers of all abilities to explore. If you’re going to be getting on a boat, you’ll automatically get to experience the Cleetwood Cove Trail. In addition, we recommend the Watchman Trail, a 1.6 mile roundtrip hike that gives you stunning views of the lake. Another great hike is the short Discovery Point Trail along the Rim Trail. You’ll get a great view of Wizard Island from both hikes. Oh and if you’re a big fan of waterfalls, be sure to check out the fairly easy Plain Falls Trail on the south east corner of the park. There really isn’t a bad hike in the park. Just grab your boots and pick one!
There is very little light pollution within the park so star gazing here, when the weather cooperates, can be phenomenal.
Catch a sunrise or sunset
Try heading to Discovery Point for sunrise and Watchman Overlook or Watchman Peak for sunset. During the summer months you can hike with a ranger to see the sunset. The group meets at Watchman overlook and the program is offered numerous times in July, August and September.
Best Places to Stay in Crater Lake National Park
Most people want to stay within the park boundary. As such, getting a spot can be tricky. We recommend making reservations in advance whenever possible.
Crater Lake Lodge
Located within Rim Village is the Crater Lake Lodge. There are 71 rooms at the lodge which is open from mid-May to mid-October. Out of all the accommodations within the park, this is the most luxurious. There’s a nice common area with a fireplace on the first floor as well as a gorgeous deck off the back of the lodge that overlooks the lake. It’s also super convenient to getting your meals each day since the restaurant is located within the lodge.
The Cabins at Mazama Village
The cabins are located 7 miles south of Rim Village in the campground area and are open from late-May to late-September. Though they’re built to look like cabins, each “cabin” room is more like an motel room. (There are four individual rooms within each cabin.) Each room has a private bathroom and a table as well as a heater. We were quite comfortable in the room we stayed in and would recommend it for anyone who wants to be in nature but doesn’t want to rough it!
There are 214 sites at this campground which is located 7 miles south of Rim Village. It is typically open from late May to late September. All of the sites during the month of June are only available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Outside of June, 75% of the sites can be reserved in advance.
Each site has a picnic table, fire ring, and bear locker. In addition, the campground also has drinking water, flush toilets, showers, laundry facilities, a water hookup and a dump station.
Best Places to Eat in Crater Lake
Crater Lake Lodge
The lodge serves three meals a day. Make that three delicious meals a day. The dining room is intimate so we highly suggest making reservations for dinner. (You can order drinks as well as light fare in the common areas but to order off the full menu you’ll have to eat in the main dining room.) We really enjoyed the smoked salmon appetizer (pictured above) and had one of the best filet’s we’ve ever had here at the lodge. It was cooked perfectly and served with mashed potatoes and asparagus. Be sure to order it Oscar style (crab meat served with Hollandaise sauce).
Annie Creek Restaurant
This restaurant is located in Mazama Village and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. They are less – fancy than the lodge but the food is still really good. We enjoyed the cheeseburger with sautéed mushrooms and avocado as well as the french fries (crispy and hot!). We also really enjoyed the grilled chicken sandwich that they serve as well as the breakfast. Caroline ordered the blueberry pancakes and said they were not only delicious but that they kept her full for hours.
The Rim Village Cafe
This is your go-to spot for lighter fare. They have pre-packaged sandwiches and salads that you can buy before heading out on the trail as well as a few ice cream treats.
Top Tips for Visiting Crater Lake
Bring food, water and snacks as well as the proper clothing (lots of layers and protection from the rain, hiking boots) if you are going on a boat tour.
There is a gas station located within the park at the Mazama Village Store but we’d recommend entering the park with as full of a tank as possible.
For all the other van lifers, there are showers and laundry machines at the Mazama Campground.
There’s also a 24 hour electric charging station within the park at the Annie Creek Gift shop.
As far as cell phone service goes, we have Verizon and were able to get LTE in various points around the rim drive. There is WiFi free for guests who are staying at the Lodge and the Cabins at Mazama Village. Everyone else is welcome to purchase WiFi for $4 per hour or $10 for 24 hours.
Crater Lake National Park Recap
This is one of the most incredible national parks in the United States. You’re literally visiting a dormant volcano. We hope our tips and recommendations on the best things to see, do and eat in Crater Lake National Park are helpful! Have you been here? If so, we’d love to hear your thoughts on this park. Please leave a comment below!
Caroline Whatley and Erin McGrady of Authentic Asheville are freelance photographers and writers who wrote about the experience while traveling as Ambassadors for the Nation’s Vacation. To learn more about their expedition, head on over HERE.