Adventure Guide

Plan the Perfect Day Trip to Crater Lake

Make the most of one day in Oregon’s only national park.

For visitors to Klamath, Crater Lake National Park offers several vacations worth of adventure. In summer, when the park is fully open, travelers can admire the deepest lake in the United States from along the 33-mile Rim Drive, bask in sweeping views from dozens of miles of hiking trails, go wildlife-watching away from the lake, and even take a boat tour in the midst of the massive caldera.

But visitors with just a day to spare are in luck: Oregon’s only national park sits just one hour from Klamath Falls—making it an easy and convenient day trip that invites you to pack the park’s highlights into one fun-filled excursion. If you’re short on time but are still curious to visit, here’s how to plan the perfect day trip to Crater Lake.


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When to Visit Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake has two seasons—summer and winter; here’s how to enjoy both

Crater Lake is technically open all year long—but is largely snowed in and mostly closed between mid-October and late May. During this time, access is limited to the southern entrance road and Rim Village at the southern edge of Crater Lake. All in-park lodgings and most facilities shutter in winter, and access to the rim may be limited in the event of snowfall (which can temporarily close the road to Rim Village). A day trip in winter typically means viewing the lake from Rim Village, grabbing a snack and souvenirs from the on-site Rim Village Café, and (safely) exploring what you can of the snowy surroundings—including a ranger-guided snowshoe walk. Learn more about the best ways to enjoy winter at Crater Lake.

The park really comes alive in summer, mostly between late May and mid-October, when Rim Drive typically opens for the season, campgrounds open, Crater Lake Lodge begins welcoming guests, and hiking trails begin to thaw out. Boat tours are offered between July and mid-September, as well. Snow may linger on some higher-elevation trails well into June—so plan for a mid-June day trip to enjoy a bit more solitude or an outing in July or August to ensure all attractions are open and all trails are snow-free. 

Getting to Crater Lake National Park

Plan your travels with this handy breakdown

The southern entrance to Crater Lake National Park—the only one of the park’s two entrances that remains open year-round—sits just north of Highway 62 and is easily accessed from communities across Klamath County. That close proximity makes Klamath an ideal home base for making a day trip.

Here’s a quick rundown of drive times, mileage, and routes to reach the park’s southern entrance station:

  • From Klamath Falls: The entrance is about one hour north of Klamath Falls via Highways 97 and 62—a total of 54 miles (one way).
  • From Lake of the Woods: The park is roughly 48 miles (55 minutes) away via Highway 140, West Side Road (which runs along the western shore of Upper Klamath Lake), and Highway 62.
  • From Collier Memorial State Park: If you're coming from one of the region's most popular campgrounds, the 32-mile drive takes less than 45 minutes via Highways 97 and 62.

Note that lines at the entrance station may swell between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on sunny summer weekends; try to get an early start, or take a midweek trip, if visiting in July and August.

Before heading out, check the latest road conditions via the Oregon Department of Transportation's TripCheck tool—and road conditions within the park via the Crater Lake National Park website.

Essential Experiences For One Day at Crater Lake

Here’s how to spend your busy day at Crater Lake

How you spend your day at Crater Lake largely depends on whether you book a boat tour that takes you onto the lake itself—and, optionally, to the rocky shores of Wizard Island. This is the only legal way to get on the water at Crater Lake, and is perhaps the park’s most popular attraction.

Spending a Day If You Book a Crater Lake Boat Tour

First: Most boat tour tickets are sold in advance, but some are held back for same-day purchase at the Mazama Campground’s registration desk, the front desk at Crater Lake Lodge, and at the Cleetwood Cove parking area kiosk. Standard boat tours depart throughout the day and last about two hours; boat tours with drop-offs at Wizard Island depart twice daily and last about five hours; and boat shuttles to Wizard Island (which leave out narration and interpretation from a park ranger) run about three hours. Note that a steep hike (which drops about 700 feet in 1.1 miles) to the boat dock is required—and can take an hour or more, depending on how many breaks you take on the way back up.

A boat tour, whether it includes a drop-off at Wizard Island, will take up most of your day trip.

If time permits, grab a hearty breakfast at Annie Creek Restaurant and snacks at the Mazama Village general store before arriving at Cleetwood Cove for the tour. After you’ve returned to Rim Drive following the trip, spend a couple hours following Rim Drive and taking time to stop at some of the dozens of viewpoints along the way; learn about some of the best views in Crater Lake National Park.

As you approach the south side of Crater Lake, spend time exploring Rim Village. Here you can enjoy sweeping views from the Sinnott Memorial Overlook (accessed via a set of stairs), learn about the park's natural history at the Rim Visitor Center, and grab a quick bite to eat (and stock up on souvenirs) at Rim Village Café. Paved paths in this area offer wide-open views of the lake in all its glory. If you made a reservation, grab dinner at the Crater Lake Lodge Dining Room before returning to your hotel or campsite. 

Spending a Day Without a Crater Lake Boat Tour

If you opt against a boat tour, the world is your oyster. After enjoying a laid-back breakfast at Annie Creek Restaurant, head north toward the lake’s rim—stopping into the Steel Information Center on the way to learn about the park’s history, watch a short film, and grab a few souvenirs.

Once at the rim, enjoy your first views of the lake from Rim Village. Take a short walk on the paved paths in this area, grab a snack from the Rim Village Café, and pair your sweeping views with educational panels at the Sinnott Memorial Overlook; from here, start your clockwise trip around Rim Drive by heading west.

The Watchman Overlook comes soon after departing and offers seemingly top-down views of Wizard Island. From the parking area, hikers can tackle the 1.6-mile (round-trip) trail to the summit of Watchman Peak—which gains 420 feet along the way, ends at a working fire lookout, and affords 360-degree views of the lake and surrounding wilderness.

Continue heading north, stopping at whichever pull-outs and viewpoints pique your interest. At the northern shore, a steep descent to the base of Cleetwood Cove invites hikers to take a dip in Crater Lake’s chilly, if remarkably clean waters.

Continue following Rim Drive as it curves south, making time for stops at various viewpoints along the way. When you reach Phantom Ship Overlook, make a side trip down the six-mile (one-way) Pinnacles Road; this ends at Pinnacles Overlook, which shows off the park’s fumaroles—craggy, spiky vents that rise from the ground and once spewed steam and gasses. (Viewing the Pinnacles is undeniably one of the 10 best things to do at Crater Lake.) On your way back, take a short stroll to Plaikni Falls; the two-mile (round-trip) trail gains about 125 feet before ending at the base of its namesake waterfall, which is typically surrounded by colorful wildflowers well into August.

Enjoy dinner at the Crater Lake Lodge Dining Room (if you have reservations or can snag a last-minute spot) or Annie Creek Restaurant—and celebrate a busy day packed with some of the park’s most scenic highlights. 

What to Eat and Drink at Crater Lake

Learn about where (and what) to eat at Crater Lake’s three eateries

You won’t find any food or drink near Crater Lake National Park, so it helps to know what to expect for your day trip inside the park. You’ll find three eateries around the park, all around the southern entrance and Rim Village.

On your way in, just past the southern entrance, stop into Annie Creek Restaurant for a hearty breakfast; open late May to late September, the restaurant serves scrambles, French toast, pancakes, and other basic breakfast classics. (Annie Creek Restaurant is also open for lunch and dinner—with a menu that covers soups, sandwiches, pizzas, and burgers.) If you’d like to grab food for a picnic at one of the many pull-outs along Rim Drive, head across the parking lot to the general store in Mazama Village—where you’ll find snacks, soda, regional craft beer, and other light bites.

Up at Rim Village sit two eateries with vastly different offerings. Rim Village Café, open mid-May to mid-October, sits close to where you approached the lake’s rim and specializes in grab-and-go fare (like snacks, salads, sandwiches, and a variety of beverages).

And at the eastern edge of Rim Village is the Crater Lake Lodge Dining Room—dishing breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. The restaurant prides itself on serving upscale, Pacific Northwest-inspired fare such as steak, steelhead, and other entrées crafted with regionally sourced ingredients. Dinner reservations are available—and should be made roughly one week in advance.

Learn more about visiting Crater Lake National Park, and other essential experiences across the region, with our first-timer’s guide to Klamath.

How to Get the Most of Three National Parks

Situated in the southern Pacific Northwest, Klamath serves as the gateway to three unmissable National Park sites; while each park has something unique to offer every visitor, you’ll be missing out if you don’t add them all to your itinerary. With the bottomless blue Crater Lake National Park, the intriguing Lava Beds National Monument, and the history preserved at Tule Lake National Monument, Klamath is the perfect jumping-off point for diverse adventures.

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