Crater Lake National Park is one of the most underrated national parks of America. This national park has so much history, raw beauty un-altered by humans, and amazing activities to partake in – from hiking to boat tours.
Some people think that the crater was formed because of a meteorite, and then a lake filled the crater up. That could not be further from the truth. Crater Lake fills what is actually called a caldera (crater) that was formed from an explosion of a volcano. This particular volcano (Mount Mazama) erupted around 7700 years ago in one of the largest explosions in modern history. The top of the volcano basically exploded off and the rest of the volcano caved in, forming the caldera that was subsequently filled in by water. The lake is 1943 feet deep at its deepest point, making it the deepest lake in the United States. It is also one of the clearest lakes in the world – on it’s clearest day, you can see to a record depth of 143 feet.
The sights at Crater Lake compare to no other. Seeing the huge blue lake surrounded by cliffs and hills along with a beautiful island in the middle of the lake is something from a dream. There is no way to perceive the grandeur of the place unless you just go there and experience it for yourself. Here, I highlight the things you cannot miss when you visit.
You MUST do the rim drive and stop at every viewpoint. The rim drive is the road that goes around the entire lake. It is about 30 miles long, and can be driven in about one hour IF you don’t stop at all. My advice would be to give it AT LEAST a half day.
But if you want to do things at the different viewpoints, it’s good to give yourself a whole day. There are so many viewpoints to stop at and each one is different. Some have higher places and peaks you can hike to while others have great signs with tons of historical, ecological, scientific, and geological information for you to read. I also would suggest to read every bit of this freely-given information. It is wonderful to learn about the place at the same time you are exploring it.
This one is easy to do if you’re doing the rim drive and make it a part of your day. On your rim drive, you might feel like it’s all go-go-go since you’re constantly getting in and out of your car and moving to the next place. At lunchtime, pick a good place to just sit, eat, relax, and enjoy your view. There are picnic tables at some stops, but even a fallen log or the ground is a great place to sit and take in the sights while you eat.
There are two choices for a boat tour: a standard lake cruise which includes a 2-hour tour around the lake, or a Wizard Island tour with shuttle which includes a 45-minute tour while shuttling patrons to the island, 3 or 6 hours on Wizard Island for independent exploring, and lastly, a 75-minute boat ride to complete the counter-clockwise tour around the perimeter of the lake.
The prices are between $37 and $52 per adult, depending on if you want to go to Wizard Island or not. But please, don’t let the price scare you. It is SO worth it. The tour is guided by a National Park Ranger who knows everything there is to know about Crater Lake. There are so many interesting things you’d learn about with a ranger that you wouldn’t if you don’t take the tour. For example, the pictured phenomena, called The Old Man of the Lake, is a weird stump that floats vertically in the water. The bottom of the stump (the part that’s under water) isn’t touching anything, lodged in between rocks, or resting on the bottom of the lake bed (since the lake is almost 2,000 feet deep). It is simply floating VERTICALLY, with nothing holding it up.
As you can see, the boat tour is more than worth it. You’ll learn things you wouldn’t otherwise and you’ll see so many things you wouldn’t otherwise. Do it!
You can visit Wizard Island via boat tour and choose to spend either 3 or 6 hours on the island. Wizard Island is filled with complete natural beauty without much tampering, since not as many people visit compared to the amount of people that drive around the rim of the crater. There are two choices for trails to take when exploring Wizard Island – either hike to the summit of the island (which, by the way, is an active volcano) or hike the edge of the island to Fumarole Bay.
But the best thing about Wizard Island is simply being able to see the beautifully reflective water up close, eat lunch while looking at the beautiful vistas, and pretend you’re all alone on a deserted island. 🙂
There are two places to swim in Crater Lake. One is at the bottom of Cleetwood Cove Trail near where the boats take off for the tours, and the second is anywhere on Wizard Island. If you’re the more adventurous type, Cleetwood Cove has a 15-foot cliff you can dive off.
The water is 55F degrees year round, so basically…super cold. The lake is, at the deepest, 1,943-feet deep. If you wade in, the water gets deep REALLY fast. I mean, it’s a crater, not a beach. The clarity of the water is some of the best in the world, which helps it to be so pretty and blue.
Okay, so if the water is 55 degrees, why is SWIMMING in it a must-do?? Because it’s a CRATER! You’d get to swim in a crater, in some of the clearest and bluest water in the world, and in one of the deepest lakes in the world. Who wouldn’t want to do that!? I almost didn’t swim in it because of how cold it is, but I’m so glad I did. It is now a favorite memorable experience of mine.
There are several places to camp in and near Crater Lake. Some are very primitive, being tent-only sites without restrooms, and some have full RV hookups and showers.
Benefits to camping instead of staying at a lodge are abounding. Firstly, camping is very cheap. There are some that are as little as $10 for a tent site. There are also many activities at most campsites, including some that have access to lakes and waterfalls. But the best part is being surrounded by nature and beauty at all times. You get to see the sunrise over the mountains in the morning, witness the area at it’s grandest during the day, eat dinner while watching the sunset, and sleep under some of the brightest, most beautiful stars.
Have you ever been to Crater Lake? What would you add to the list?
For more on Crater Lake and the rest of Oregon, I highly recommend Fodor’s Oregon Travel Guide.