For thousands of years, Mount Mazama lorded over its surroundings in southern Oregon as one of the tallest peaks in the Cascade Range. But about 7,700 years ago, the mountain began to spew ash and lava, leading to what would become the largest volcanic eruption in the Cascade Range in the past 1 million years. When the dust settled, the empty mountain collapsed in on itself, forming a bowl that filled in over thousands of years with rain and snowmelt—forming what we know today as Crater Lake. Crater Lake National Park, established in 1902 as the fifth national park in the United States, is one of the area’s top attractions at the northern edge of Klamath County. Unprecedented clarity gives the lake an impossibly blue hue on sunny days, and the surrounding landscapes hint at its explosive past. If you’re visiting Crater Lake on your next visit through Klamath, here’s a round-up of the 10 best things to do at Crater Lake National Park—complete with hiking recommendations, ideas for where to enjoy a meal, and suggestions for staying the night.
Enjoy Epic Views From Along Rim Drive
No trip to Crater Lake is complete without a lap around the 33-mile Rim Drive, which encircles the lake and showcases some of the park’s most cherished views. In all, Rim Drive comprises West Rim Drive and East Rim Drive—and is typically open between July and mid-October annually. (Note that West Rim Drive may open as early as mid-May, weather depending.) The loop takes drivers past dozens of roadside pullouts, trailheads, and parking areas that show off sweeping views of Phantom Ship, Wizard Island, and the impressively blue lake itself. If you don’t feel like driving, consider a guided tour with Crater Lake Trolley.
Head to the Shore for a Boat Tour
Some of the park’s most popular activities are boat tours of Crater Lake, all of which feature views and memories unavailable anywhere else in the park.
Available July to mid-September, weather depending, the tours offer the only legal access to Crater Lake itself. Choose between three tours, depending on your areas of interest:
Note that the hike between the Cleetwood Cove parking area and the lakeshore is about 1.1 miles each way, with about 700 feet of elevation change. It is not wheelchair accessible, and shuttles are not available, so hikers should consider their physical abilities before making the descent to the boat dock. For what it’s worth, several benches offer the opportunity to take breaks and enjoy the views along the way.
Relax With a Comfortable Overnight Stay
There’s a full weekends’ worth of fun to be had at Crater Lake—so extend your trip with an overnight stay and soak up all that Oregon’s only national park has to offer.
Choose among three in-park lodging options—each geared toward disparate travelers:
Friendly heads-up: Crater Lake Lodge is typically open mid-May to mid-October, while The Cabins at Mazama Village and Mazama Campground are generally open late May to mid-September—all weather depending. Consider making reservations six months in advance, if possible, at Crater Lake Lodge and The Cabins at Mazama Village.
Spy the Pinnacles
At the edge of Crater Lake’s quiet southeastern corner sits the Pinnacles—a series of spiky volcanic fumaroles that wouldn’t feel out of place in a fantasy novel. The spire-shaped fumaroles are actually vents where volcanic gasses emerged after the eruption of Mount Mazama some 7,700 years ago. The most accessible viewpoints of these otherworldly formations come in Paradise Valley, best viewed from above via The Pinnacles Trail. Departing from a parking area and viewpoint at the end of Pinnacles Road, the 0.8-mile (round-trip) hike gains just 10 feet while heading through a stately forest and offering cliffside photo ops; it ends at the park boundary, which once served as a primary entrance to Crater Lake National Park.
Take a Hike
Hikers of all abilities can tackle more than a dozen hiking trails at Crater Lake National Park—with highlights that include dramatic lake views, colorful wildflowers, and even the headwaters of the Rogue River.
For a quick stroll, stretch your legs along the 0.5-mile (round-trip) Castle Crest hike, which gains about 100 feet while heading through a meadow that's covered in colorful wildflowers between mid-July and mid-August.
The five-mile (round-trip) Boundary Springs trail, meanwhile, passes through a forest that burned in a 2016 wildfire and ends at hillside spring—the headwaters of the 215-mile-long Rogue River.
And if you're looking for a thigh-burning ascent, the 2.2-mile Mount Scott trail climbs 1,250 feet to the summit of its namesake peak—the highest point in the park; as you might imagine, the wide-open views are splendid in every direction.
Walk to the Base of Plaikni Falls
Believe it or not, Crater Lake isn’t the only natural marvel in its namesake park. Just southeast of Rim Drive sits the spring-fed Plaikni Falls, accessed via a two-mile (round-trip) hiking trail that gains about 100 feet. The path passes through a forest of pine and mountain hemlock before turning toward the falls at the base of Anderson Bluffs. From there, the trail parallels Sand Creek before ending at the foot of the 20-foot waterfall. All summer long, wildflowers grow in the grassy areas near the end of the trail—including red paintbrush and arrowleaf groundsel.
Catch a Stunning Sunrise or Sunset
If you wake up early or stay out late on your summertime visit, you’ll almost certainly be treated to a dazzling display from Mother Nature—and given how little traffic circles Rim Drive at those hours, chances are good you’ll have the views all to yourself.
In early-morning hours, catch the cotton-candy sunrise at Discovery Point (with sweeping views of the jagged rim and lake below) or Cloudcap Overlook (where west-facing views show off the wider landscape—and offer better lighting for photographers).
Later in the afternoon, consider catching sunset from Rim Village or the summit of Watchman Peak; in summer, park rangers routinely lead sunset hikes up the 1.6-mile (round-trip) trail, where 360-degree views await next to a historic fire lookout.
Spot Some of the Park’s Wildlife
Whether you're driving the mountainous East Rim Drive or hiking one of the park's many trails, keep an eye out for the abundance of wildlife that lives around Crater Lake. Some of the most commonly seen animals include squirrels and chipmunks (though you should avoid feeding both), foxes, coyotes, deer, and several species of bird. Less common are pikas (which live at higher elevations in the park), porcupines, bald eagles, elk, deer, and black bears—about 50 of which call the park home.
Refuel With Fresh, Flavorful Fare
If you work up an appetite, you’ll find plenty of appetizing options for fresh, flavorful fare around Crater Lake.
Chief among them is the Crater Lake Lodge Dining Room, which pairs wide-open lake views with breakfast, lunch, and dinner dishes that use fresh, seasonal, and regionally sourced ingredients whenever possible. (Note that dinner reservations are recommended—and are available to overnight guests up to one week in advance.)
Other dining options within the park include the family-friendly Annie Creek Restaurant, which dishes classic American fare for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in Mazama Village, and Rim Village Café—selling sandwiches, snacks, and other on-the-go items in the bustling Rim Village area.
Enjoy Plenty of Solitude in Winter
Every year, roughly 500,000 to 700,000 visitors head to Crater Lake National Park, with the vast majority arriving between late May and early September. But assuming you have a vehicle equipped to handle snowy and icy conditions, a wintertime trip can yield rewarding views—with plenty of solitude.
Every winter, Park Headquarters records about 40 feet of annual snowfall—with the bulk falling between November and April. This turns Crater Lake into a winter wonderland where visitors admire the snow-capped Wizard Island from Rim Village, go snowmobiling on North Entrance Road, and try snowshoeing and snowmobiling on marked and unmarked routes near the rim of Crater Lake.
If you visit in winter, keep in mind that both park restaurants are closed for the season—and that only Rim Village Café & Gift Shop remains open if you’re feeling peckish.
Welcome to the vibrant heart of Klamath Falls, a city where history, culture, and charm blend seamlessly. Proudly known as Oregon's City of Sunshine, Klamath Falls boasts one of the West's most picturesque Main Streets, echoing the prosperity of its 1920s timber and railroad era. Here, you'll discover a rich tapestry of history, local flavors, unique retail experiences, world-class museums, and an array of seasonal entertainment and unique arts.