What to do at Crater Lake Oregon, Voted The Most Beautiful National Park in The US

Crater Lake Was Voted The Most Beautiful National Park in The Country According To Research By Travel Lens – Based On Google Reviews. What You Can Do at Crater Lake, How to Get There And When to go.

Recently Travel Lens which is a global digital publication, featuring high-quality travel articles about destinations worldwide, analyzed thousands of Google reviews which had been posted by trippers during 2023 in order to find out which National Parks were considered the most beautiful by the visitors.  

The two criteria were a] the number of reviews and b] how many used key descriptors such as ‘beautiful’, ‘stunning’, ‘breathtaking’ and ‘gorgeous’ for each National Park visited.  Crater Lake Park topped the review by a nose with 45.3% mentioning ‘beauty’.  National Parks are congressionally designated protected areas because they have natural beauty, unique geological features, diverse ecosystems, and recreational opportunities – and Crater Lake Park meets all these criteria.  The United States has 63 areas designated as national parks.

 

What is Crater Lake?

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

It is a National Park in Oregon, indeed the only National Park in this state: but it has been voted the most beautiful National Park: ahead of both Arcadia in Maine and Glacier Park in Montana.  It is located in the south west of the state and Crater Lake National Park is famous for its pristine blue lake, from which it takes its name, which is the deepest in the USA and, in fact, the ninth deepest in the world.

Originally it was a volcano known as Mount Mazama, which rose some 12,000 feet – that is 2 1/4 – miles into the sky.  It erupted a mere 7,000 years ago and, after the magma chamber had emptied, the mountain collapsed in on itself, leaving a massive hole called a caldera or sometimes a castrol: and leaving folk memories from the local indigenous tribe – the Klamath – who witnessed it at the time and have legends passed down the generations about this event.  If Mount Mazuma were still standing it would be the tallest mountain in Oregon (currently Mount Hood) although well short of Mount Denali in Alaska, the tallest in the USA at 19,700 feet.  The park itself stretches over 180,000 forested acres (mainly pine and conifer) in the Cascade mountains.

Crater Lake is one of the snowiest places in the USA, in fact the third snowiest, with around 40 feet falling each year as it sits atop the Cascadia Mountains, and very soon the snow filled up the caldera to create this impressive lake.  Its circumference ‘the rim’ is about 33 miles, with a diameter of about 7 miles, and it is about 21 square miles in area. The lake is over 1,900 feet deep and there are hydro thermal vents within it: hinting that the volcano is not extinct and why it doesn’t really freeze in winter.  Another clue is that a new island is growing up in the middle of the old Caldera, called Wizard Island, which already rises 800 feet above the lake. Rather as the island of Nea Santorini is growing in the crater of what was Santorini near Crete, in the Aegean Sea, close to Greece.

As it is so snowy and, because the crater has no outlets or inlets, it has filled up with melt water and, because there are no riverine feeds, it is absolutely pure water: no silt, no sediment, no algae and no pollution.  It is claimed to be the cleanest lake in the world.  Originally it was called, rather prosaically, Deep Blue Lake, then it became Lake Majesty but now it is Crater Lake.

With the cliffs that tower over it up to 2,000 feet, and also that the water is a deep, almost inky, blue it is rather like the Mirrormere in the Lord of the Rings near Moria where Gimli stops to look in it in order to see Durin’s crown of stars.  The colouring gave it its original name. It is also very cold.  Although the water is very cold people do swim in it and what a tale to tell that would be – not many people have swum in a volcano!!   It is so blue as pure water absorbs all colours of the spectrum except blue which is reflected.  You can see the same phenomenon in glaciers. Geo coordinates are 42.944611, -122.109245.

Related: What is Oregon Known For?

 

What is there to do at Crater Lake?

Hiking Trails at Crater Lake Oregon - Print

There are many things to do in the park, unlike many national parks, is quite undeveloped, and unspoilt: so there is a lot of fauna to be seen amongst its spectacular scenery including bears, coyotes, elk, eagles, hawks, many other birds and even porcupines.  There is a newt found only in the park and you might see a mountain lion or a wolf if you are lucky – or unlucky depending on your point of view.  Because it is so pure the water is crystal clear and you can see a long way down. In fact, when the clarity was measured using the Secchi test, it was clear down to 143 feet: which is the world record!

 

Of the many things to do in Crater Lake, depending on the time you have, the most popular include:

  • Drive around the perimeter;
  • Drop into the Steel visitor center;
  • Take a trip to Wizard Island on a boat;
  • Walk some of the hiking trails;
  • Visit the lake shore;
  • Cycling
  • Fishing
  • Ski in winter.

 

July to September is the peak season, but you can visit any time – you just have to check that the roads are open – so you can get there and get round.

 

The Rim Circumference

Driving the rim circumference is probably the most popular item which takes several hours as there are many places to stop to see the views. In fact, there are 15 vista points, so allow plenty of time for the drive.  Notable highlights include:

  • Phantom Ship – with views of a rock formation which looks like a ship;
  • Merriam Point – with amazing rocky landscapes;
  • Cloudcap – this is the highest paved road in Oregon – with blustery winds which will get rid of your cobwebs!
  • Watchman Point – with the best views of Wizard Island.

In addition, there is a trolley tour around the rim, which you can hop on and hop off at certain points, and hear all the facts from the tour guide.

 

The Steel Visitor Center

This is named after William Steel who effectively created the park, and is probably the best place to visit first.  You can get maps of the area; there is a shop and there is a topographical map of the area to enable you to get your bearings and appreciate the magnitude of the park.

In the one room there is a film, on loop, showing the facts and history, and there are also rangers to give advice and answer questions.  It is also the first aid center and it has recently been extensively renovated, upgraded and strengthened against seismic activity and snowfalls.

Boat Tours

Boat tours around the lake and across to wizard Island are generally between July and September.  Whilst the lake tour is leisurely, there is strenuous walking involved on Wizard Island so take correct footwear and ensure you are fit to tackle it.

 

Hiking

The air around the park is some of the cleanest in the USA so it is excellent for walking.  Pick up a map at one of the visitor centers where you can also park.  Make sure you are dressed appropriately and carry water.

 

There are many trails – over 100 miles in fact – here is a selection (You can print the table by clicking the print icon down below):

TrailTimeDifficultyDistanceElev. Gain
Anderson Bluffmoderate4.7 miles43 feet
Annie Creek Canyon1.25 hoursmoderate1.7 mile loop
Annie Spring Cutoffmoderate0.65 miles
Bald Crater Loopmoderate13.9 mile loop
Bert Creekmoderate1.3 miles100 feet
Boundary Springs2.5 hoursmoderate2.5 miles105 feet
Castle Crest Wildflower Garden30 minuteseasy0.4 mile loop100 feet
Cleetwood Cove1 hourstrenuous1.1 miles200 feet
Crater Peak3.5 hoursstrenuous2.68 miles665 feet
Discovery Point1 houreasy1.3 miles100 feet
Dutton Creekmoderate2.5 miles1,010 feet
Fumarole Bay1 houreasy0.7 miles35 feet
Garfield Peak2.5 hoursdifficult1.7 miles1,010 feet
Godfrey Glen30 minuteseasy1 mile loop50 feet
Lightning Springmoderate4 miles1,240 feet
Mount Scott3 hoursdifficult2.5 miles1,280 feet
Park Headquarters Historic30 minuteseasy0.3 miles100 feet
Pinnacles Valley30 minuteseasy0.6 miles10 feet
Pumice Flatmoderate2.7 miles511 feet
Stuart Fallsmoderate3.8 miles1,200 feet
Sun Notch Viewpoint25 minutesmoderate0.5 miles115 feet
Union Peak5 to 6 hoursmoderate2 miles980 feet
Watchman Peak1 hourmoderate0.7 miles225 feet
Wizard Island Summit1 hourmoderate0.9 miles710 feet

 

You will notice that some are more difficult than others.  Make sure you know which one you are taking – also some climb more than others and you should allow for temperature changes as you climb.  Most are short – but Bald Crater is nearly 14 miles – not for the fainthearted.

Cleetwood Cove gives you access to the lake – but it is a strenuous descent and ascent!

Note too that not all are loops and, thus, you might have to walk back too.

Mount Scott is the highest point on the park – but it is not that near the lake.

Garfield Peak gives spectacular views of the lake and starts from the Lodge.

 

Cycling

The 33-mile Rim Drive is a major attraction for cyclists but it has steep hills and high elevations so it is a physically demanding ride, but you can stop to take in the views.  Many roads are closed during the winter -so July to September is the best time to go.  On two Saturdays a year East Rim Drive is closed to vehicles, so cyclists can enjoy travel without worrying about traffic. Grayback Drive (8 miles) is closed to vehicles but open to mountain bikes.

 

Visit the lake shore

You need to walk down the Cleetwood Cove trail to get to the lake – it is the only access and is quite a strenuous walk up and down – but once there you can swim and fish.

 

Fishing

This is not only allowed – but even encouraged as the fish were introduced and are not native.  They are mainly salmon and trout.  There is no need for a licence but you can only use artificial bait so as not to introduce alien species into the waters.

 

Skiing

There is no downhill skiing at Crater Lake – there is no infrastructure for it – but cross-country skiing is very popular – as long as the roads are open to get you there.  There are also ranger guided snowshoe ‘walks’.  There is also a limited area for snowmobilers.

 

How to get there

Crater Lake Park is in southern Oregon.  Options are to drive all the way there – or fly.  If you fly you will almost certainly need to hire a car to get around and explore. The closest airport is Crater Lake – Klamath Regional Airport (LMT) located 1 hour south of the park.  Other nearby airports include Medford, Redmond, Eugene, and Portland. If you drive do check that the roads are open!

 

Crater Lake Oregon: Current Weather

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Crater Lake, OR
9:02 pm, Jun 12, 2024
clear sky 47°F
Low: 42° High: 70°
clear sky
Humidity Humidity 61 %
Pressure Pressure 1017 hPa
Wind 3 mph NW
Wind Gust Wind Gust 4 mph
UV Index UV Index 0
Precipitation Precipitation 0 inch
Dew Point Dew Point 34°
Clouds Clouds 0%
Rain Chance Rain Chance 0%
Snow Snow 0 mm/h
Visibility Visibility 6 mi
Air Quality Air Quality Good
Sunrise Sunrise 4:29 am
Sunset Sunset 7:47 pm
Weather Condition Comport Precipitation
Day Condition TemperatureTemperature PrecipitationAmount Rain ChanceRain Chance Wind HumidityHumidity PressurePressure
Today 12:00 pm
clear sky clear sky
42° | 70°°F 0 inch 0% 10 mph 17 % 1014 hPa
Tomorrow 12:00 pm
clear sky clear sky
43° | 70°°F 0 inch 0% 12 mph 15 % 1013 hPa
Friday 12:00 pm
overcast clouds overcast clouds
36° | 59°°F 0 inch 0% 11 mph 19 % 1017 hPa
Saturday 12:00 pm
overcast clouds overcast clouds
28° | 50°°F 0 inch 0% 11 mph 31 % 1019 hPa
Sunday 12:00 pm
light rain light rain
32° | 57°°F 0.04 inch 100% 13 mph 24 % 1009 hPa
Monday 12:00 pm
rain and snow rain and snow
30° | 39°°F 0.04 inch 100% 8 mph 95 % 1014 hPa
Tuesday 12:00 pm
few clouds few clouds
29° | 52°°F 0 inch 0% 8 mph 55 % 1014 hPa
Wednesday 12:00 pm
clear sky clear sky
34° | 65°°F 0 inch 0% 9 mph 23 % 1012 hPa
1 to 8 of 0 results
Weather Condition Comport Precipitation
Day Condition TemperatureTemperature PrecipitationAmount Rain ChanceRain Chance Wind HumidityHumidity PressurePressure
Today 9:00 pm
clear sky clear sky
47° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 3 mph 61 % 1017 hPa
Today 10:00 pm
clear sky clear sky
47° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 1 mph 60 % 1017 hPa
Today 11:00 pm
clear sky clear sky
47° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 1 mph 59 % 1017 hPa
Tomorrow 12:00 am
clear sky clear sky
46° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 2 mph 56 % 1016 hPa
Tomorrow 1:00 am
clear sky clear sky
46° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 2 mph 53 % 1016 hPa
Tomorrow 2:00 am
clear sky clear sky
45° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 1 mph 49 % 1016 hPa
Tomorrow 3:00 am
clear sky clear sky
45° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 0 mph 47 % 1015 hPa
Tomorrow 4:00 am
clear sky clear sky
45° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 1 mph 45 % 1015 hPa
Tomorrow 5:00 am
clear sky clear sky
45° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 0 mph 45 % 1015 hPa
Tomorrow 6:00 am
clear sky clear sky
52° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 1 mph 39 % 1015 hPa
Tomorrow 7:00 am
clear sky clear sky
58° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 2 mph 29 % 1014 hPa
Tomorrow 8:00 am
clear sky clear sky
62° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 3 mph 23 % 1013 hPa
1 to 8 of 0 results

 

Useful to Know

  • A great place for a trip – although a long way from most places – therefore
    • Recommended to stay at least one night in order to explore the whole park fully
  • Where to Stay: Crater Lake has 2 lodges inside the park, the Crater Lake Lodge and The Cabins at Mazama Village. Outside the park you could stay at Crater Lake Resort or Union Creek Resort.
  • How to Get There: The closest airport is Crater Lake – Klamath Regional Airport (LMT) located 1 hour south of the park. Other nearby airports include Medford, Redmond, Eugene, and Portland.  If you drive check that the roads are open!
  • How to Get Around: The easiest way to get around Crater Lake is by car – or on a bike if you feel fit!
  • Best times to visit are July to September when the snow has cleared. It usually starts falling in late autumn but always check if it is open.
  • Make sure you have appropriate footwear and clothes, provisions etc warm jackets – it can get chilly.
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