Crater Lake is one of the most awe-inspiring spots in the United States, but the remnants of an ancient volcano can be challenging to reach at certain times of the year.
For the best experience, you should be informed about the area to decide when the best time to visit Crater Lake is for you and your group! While the National Park closes off some areas during the long-lasting winter months, there are still lots of fun to be had in the snow if you’re adequately prepared.
If cold weather doesn’t sound appealing, there are plenty of reasons to visit in the warmer months, too. We’ll break down the reasons to visit and the best time to do so, regardless of preferences, and give you some tips for any time you visit the park!
Why You Should Visit Crater Lake
The biggest draw to this National Park is its namesake: Crater Lake. This feature is the deepest lake in the United States, but the depth isn’t the only thing that makes this lake unique.
The bright blue color of the lake is an indicator of clear and clean water. All the water in this lake gathered from rain and snowfall in the area. All around the lake and surrounding areas, there are hiking trails ranging from easy to strenuous.
There are meadows and forested areas to explore, with great opportunities for watching wildlife, especially birds. Boat tours are offered for those who want to get closer to the water.
These trips are available in summer and take visitors around the caldera formed by the collapse of the Mount Mazama volcano. Trolley tours around the rim of the lake are also available.
Overall Best Time to Visit Crater Lake
The overall best time to visit Crater Lake is during the area’s summer months. More facilities are open and more activities are available, like boat and trolley tours.
The elevation of this National Park causes it to have two seasons rather than the four most folks are used to. Winter prevails from November through April, while July through mid-September are considered the summer months.
Unless you and your traveling companions are winter sports aficionados, the preferred time to visit for most guests is the summer season.
Summer also provides opportunities to stay inside the park, where you can camp, stay in cabins, or check out the historic Crater Lake Lodge. Even if you decide to stay outside the park, this lodge is worth touring! The lodge was built in 1915 and has stunning views of the lake!
Cheapest Time to Visit Crater Lake
The cheapest time to visit Crater Lake is during the off-season: winter. The park entrance fees are lower during the winter since fewer facilities are open. Despite this, there are still lots of fun winter activities to enjoy!
However, there are some downsides to heading to the park in the colder months. Lodging prices in the surrounding area decrease during winter, but no accommodations are available in the park past October.
If air travel is a part of your trip to Crater Lake, consider the cost of this method of travel. Early fall tends to be the cheapest time of year to fly. Prices increase around winter holidays and other times, school is not in session.
Least Busy Time to Visit Crater Lake
Along with being less expensive, winter is also the least busy time to visit Crater Lake. Since lodging isn’t available in the park during this time, fewer people head up to the lake.
However, just because the number of visitors drops doesn’t mean you’ll be without company in the park. Winter activities are quite popular at Crater Lake, including winter backcountry camping for those that like camping in the cold.
Visitors can also sled, ski, and snowmobile at the park. One of the most popular winter activities is ranger-led snowshoe walks, a unique way to explore the area in its winter splendor. Fall is another great time to visit if you want to avoid crowds.
During this time of transition, you may experience closures from snow, but in other years summer lingers. Since many families with children head back to school during this time, it’s a great time to see the park with fewer crowds.
Worst Time to Visit Crater Lake
Considering all of the available activities for people to do at different times of the year, there is no worst time to visit Crater Lake.
However, May and June can be frustrating months to see the national park since many people don’t expect lingering winter conditions during this time. Many folks head to the park in spring expecting warmer weather than they typically find.
Several routes and amenities are still closed as well. Since the seasons are transitioning during this time, the weather isn’t ideal for winter sports. Weather in the mountainous area can be tumultuous at any time of year.
Preparing for the conditions you may encounter will ensure your enjoyment of the time you spend in the park. If you check the weather and plan before going to Crater Lake, you’ll have a great experience no matter the time of year you choose to visit!
Things to Consider
Before starting the trip, there are a few things to consider. We’ll cover some of the most important here so you can get the most out of your trip to Crater Lake.
Hiking is one of the most popular year-round activities in the park. There are many trails to explore, but we’ll cover one of the most frequented first: Cleetwood Cove Trail.
Cleetwood Cove Trail
Cleetwood Cove Trail leads down to the lake and is the only way to gain access to the water. If you want to swim, fish, or take a boat tour, you must walk this trail. These are some essential facts to know before hitting the trail.
- No Pets: While other parts of the park are open to pets, this trail is not for the safety of the lake’s delicate ecosystem and the safety of your animals.
- Summer Access Only: This trail is only accessible during the warmer months, usually from mid-June to late October.
- Strenuous Trail: For some people, a trail a little over a mile might not seem challenging on paper, but this switchback path drops 700 feet.
- Health: The park recommends this trail only to people in good physical health. Steep slopes can be especially challenging for people with weakened joints.
- Air Quality: Seasonal wildfires are common in Oregon and can affect the air quality at this National Park, making it harder to navigate challenging hikes.
- Pack Necessities: Water, snack, good shoes, and sun protection are all recommended for this trek. If you plan on swimming, a change of clothes is also a good idea.
- Taking the Trail Back Up: Hiking up the trail is more challenging than walking down. Take this into account when assessing your ability to walk this trail.
Other Trails in the Park
If the trail down to the lake sounds too challenging or won’t be accessible during your trip, consider some other options around the park. Bear in mind that any trail can close due to weather, and some close down in the winter.
- Boundary Springs: A moderate hike through the meadow to the headwaters of the Rogue River.
- Plaikni Falls: An easy hike to a waterfall through wildflowers partially accessible by some wheelchairs. Closes during the winter.
- The Pinnacles: An easy hike through the forest, accessible by all-terrain wheelchairs that also closes during the winter.
- Crater Peak: A moderately strenuous hike through the woods to the summit of a volcano. This trail closes during the winter.
- Grayback Road: A pet-friendly trail with mountain biking access along the historic Rim Road, which closes in the winter.
- Castle Crest: An easygoing loop through wildflower-covered meadows.
- Lady of the Woods: Another easy trail with sculptures and historical spots that is open to pets.
- Pumice Flat: A moderate hike with a gentle incline through the meadows.
- Pacific Crest Trail: A strenuous portion of a larger trail spanning 33 miles that allows access to pets.
- Union Peak: The longest maintained trail in the park with diverse terrains leading to dazzling mountain views.
- Annie Creek: A loop that is moderately challenging with great views.
- Godfrey Glen: An accessible trail that allows pets that will take you through old forest growth.
- Annie Spur Trail: A connecting trail between the Pacific Crest Trail that is easy to navigate and allows pets.
- Dutton Creek: A moderately challenging trail that leads to part of the Pacific Crest Trail.
- Lightning Spring: A somewhat strenuous hike through the forest that closes during winter.
- Red Cone: Another section of the Pacific Crest Trail that is moderately challenging that closes for the winter.
- Discovery Point: An easy trail with steep areas and lake views.
- Watchman Peak: One of the most popular trails in the park, with challenging ascent and lake views.
- Rim Trail: A moderate trail with lake views running parallel to the caldera rim.
- Mount Scott: A strenuous hike up to the tallest peak in the park with a fantastic view of the lake and mountains that closes in the winter.
- Sun Notch: An easygoing hike that closes for winter that brings you through the forest and meadows for lake vies.
- Garfield Peak: A somewhat challenging trail with switchbacks offering lake and valley views.
Safety at Crater Lake
Staying safe during your trip to this National Park should be one of your top priorities. While the park isn’t particularly dangerous, there are some tips to follow to ensure your safety while also protecting the beautiful ecosystem of this park.
Driving Around the Park
Most people get around the park by driving, though biking is also a popular mode of transportation. These tips will help you navigate through the park while driving:
- Watch for Wildlife: Protect yourself and the park’s resident animals by carefully watching the road for animals.
- Don’t Speed: Speeding is more likely to result in an accident with animals or other drivers on these narrow, winding roads.
- Use Turnout to Stop: If you want to stop to take a picture, pull into the appropriate area to allow other vehicles to pass by. Use only designated spots to do this.
- Winter Driving: Chains or traction tires should be used during snowy conditions. Pack a survival kit and fuel up before heading out since gas is not available in the park during winter.
- Check Conditions: No matter the time of year, checking weather conditions is essential before hitting the road at Crater Lake.
Winter storms aren’t the only weather events to affect the park. Staying aware of the region’s dangers will help you prepare for your trip:
- Hypothermia: When your body gets too cold, you can begin to suffer from this condition. Dress in layers and bring dry clothes if you want to swim in the lake. While hypothermia is more likely to occur in winter, it can also happen in summer, especially if you are wet.
- Hyperthermia: Overheating can also be a problem in the park. Remember to stay hydrated and dress appropriately for warm temperatures.
- Lightning: Thunderstorms occur in the summer and pose a danger at these higher elevations. Always check the weather before heading out and seek shelter if you encounter a storm.
- Fires: Summer into late fall are expected times for fires in and around the park. Check weather conditions, including air quality, to stay safe during these times.
Frequently Asked Questions
Let’s take a look at some of our most frequently asked questions about visiting Crater Lake, and our answers!
How many days do you need at Crater Lake?
A one-day trip to the park will give you enough time to enjoy several hiking trails and, depending on the time of year, drive around the lake. Although you could see the park’s highlights in a day, two days is better to get the most out of a visit.
What months is Crater Lake open?
Like most National Parks, Crater Lake is open year-round. However, unpredictable weather often leads to closures outside of the summer months. Heavy snows lead to the closure of Rim Drive and North Entrance to vehicles.
Do you need a reservation for Crater Lake?
No, you don’t have to make reservations to visit Crater Lake, but if you want to stay inside the park, making reservations for lodging should be done far in advance.
How long does it take to drive all the way around Crater Lake?
The drive around the lake spans more than 30 miles, with winding roads that can be narrow in places. Budget at least two hours for the drive to enjoy the sights and travel safely.
Can you swim inside Crater Lake?
Swimming is permitted at Crater Lake, but you may only want to spend a little time in the water as it is very cold, even in the summer. The rocky shoreline is another factor deterring most swimmers, but there are areas where you can take a dip in the water if you choose!
So, What’s the Best Time to Visit Crater Lake?
The best time to visit Crater Lake depends on the type of activities you plan on doing in the National Park. In general, summer provides the most opportunities in the park when it comes to lodging and activities, but no matter the time of year, you’ll see stunning sights of the country’s deepest lake!