I’m a big fan of traveling the states. Wandering wide open spaces, functioning on coca-cola and bran bars while jamming to The Best of The Beach Boys is the weave of dreams. If you know me personally or follow me on Instagram, this is not a surprise. American landscape is both awe inspiring in it’s vastness and peculiar in it’s roadside attractions. The ‘Pacific Wonderland’ state of Oregon is no exception, with natural sites to be revered.
If you’re on the lookout for nature so inspiring, you’re reminded of how small you are, Crater Lake might be for you! Here is the ultimate guide to my favorite natural visitation point in Southern Oregon, complete with tips to make the most of the experience.
Keep reading to discover things to do, schedules, prices and many more resources to make your next trip awesome!
Crater’s History and Why You Should Go
The picture above is just one reason why this national park is my #1 Oregon highlight.
The lake itself is nestled between Highway 97 and Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway. The latter is named so because Crater Lake was formed after volcano Mount Mazama erupted and collapsed. This caldera remains full from rain water and snow exclusively and is the deepest lake in the country.
It gets better. Fondly named Wizard Island, this massive cinder cone on the western end of the lake is now an active volcano. Oh yes, you can stand at the mouth of what used to be a volcano while gazing upon an active volcano. But peaceful and watery instead of threatening and lava-y.[Pictured above, neon green lichen found along a Crater trailhead]
If that’s not enough, it’s home to some of the best Park Rangers in the nation. There many free events to attend daily (details below), at which Rangers will educate you on the fascinating eco system of the park as well as discuss wildlife not found anywhere else in the world- not even a mile down the mountain.
What To Do
1. Take a boat tour to Wizard Island!
Tickets are expensive and need to be purchased ahead of time. There are different types of tours to choose from depending on how much time you want to spend on the lake and how much information you’d like to know. It is worth it as I am still discouraged we weren’t able to go. While some details are included below, you can find even more details on the tours available here.
2. Take an easy, half mile trail to see The Pinnacles.
They are visible a few hundred feet into the walk and the view gets better as you become more immersed. Knowing the history/science behind these ash chimneys made for a much richer experience. If this interests you, ask a ranger about them before you go. There is a more information on the trail here.
3. Take advantage of any and all programs on the schedule.
There are free classes and events to attend everyday. They change regularly by the day and the season. All are headed by some incredibly informed and enthusiastic park rangers who are happy to answer all questions you may have. And if you’re cool, they’ll even give you an ‘official’ Junior Ranger sticker 😉 More details on the schedule can be found here.
[Pictured above, my sister overlooking lake with Wizard Island in view]
4. If weather permits, go for a swim.
Crater is known for it’s stunning blue hue and clear water. On a clear day, you can see the bottom of the lake from above the water. There is only one entry point to the lake which is near to where the ferry to Wizard Island takes off.
5. Stop along all the scenic spots for some amazing photos.
Lookout points offer different perspectives for shots so I definitely recommend checking out as many as possible. Keep an eye out for Ghost Ship, Pumice Castle, The Old Man of the Lake and 32 other prominent geological features that you can see a list of here.[Pictured above, a Winema National Forest sign sits from 1961]
6. Check out the hiking trails.
7. Look for animal prints.
This suggestions is somewhat unconventional. But there are so many crazy critters running around here, you will enjoy looking for markings if you love wildlife. Just stay clear of black bears. Don’t leave crumbs behind or feed the animals. And please tell me if you see a fisher marten.
Tip: At the end of The Pinnacles trail, past the ruins where the old Ranger station used to be located, there is a road that was once an old entry way to the park but has since been cut off from the highway. It is an open, fairly untouched area with light, powdery dirt that now serves as an intersection for Crater’s wildlife and Rangers traveling by cart.
8. Stop by Vidae Falls just to say that you did then hike to Plaikni Falls!
A Brief Weather PSA
Crater Lake is said to have two seasons- fire season and snow season. We arrived in early September, which was high time for fire season as warned. The weather was excellent with temperatures in the mid 60s Fahrenheit. I was able to wear a tank top comfortably in the day (as pictured in the first photo way above) and throw on a fleece at night.
However, the smog was so thick the first day, we couldn’t see the lake. Another downside is I had difficulty breathing easily due to a combination of the heavy smog, my allergies and the high elevation of 6,178 feet. It wasn’t bad enough to regret going, but please be cautious.[Pictured above, The Pinnacles with no editing. Worth noting that with the smog, they are much more visible in person than on camera.]
There is still plenty to do in the park. We checked out Vidae Falls, walked a few different trails, visited the pinnacles pictured above and attended a few talks hosted by the Rangers. Honestly, the fog made the pinnacles that much more enchanting. Also, the air was crystal clear the next day. It was lovely to walk out of the tent and see the bluest lake right from the campsite!
The Nitty Gritty
- It’s about $25 for a parking pass for a single sedan in the summer. More information on park entrance fees here.
- Camping is reasonable with spacious, tent-only site starting at $10, July-October. There is great, detailed information and reviews on all available campgrounds here.
- There is also comfy lodging at Crater Lake Lodge that overlooks the lake. Rooms start at $201 a night for a single room and go up to $325 for a loft. However, availability is extremely limited. Definitely check availability and full pricing here.
- Tickets for Volcano Lake Cruises for Wizard Island start at $33 for adults for a direct shuttle. The standard 2 hour tour is $42 per adult ticket. It is $58 per adult for the half day trip. More info here.
There is so much to do at this national park, but it is only one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon. I can’t wait to check out all seven. I will keep y’all updated if I do! I’ll leave you with this video for now. Remember to keep dreaming. But don’t just dream it, do it!