The United States has over 400 National Parks. Each of them are unique to the area they were created in. One of my favorite National Parks, Crater Lake National Park, is located in the western part of the United States. It’s most definitely a place meant to “blow” your mind. Believe it or not, Crater Lake is an actual crater. It was formed over 7 thousand years ago with a volcano eruption. Over the years, natural rain water and snow runoff landed into the crater and created the deepest lake in the United States and ninth deepest in the world. The water is so pure looking, visiting Crater Lake was one of the prettiest sites I’ve ever seen.
Crater Lake National Park is in southern Oregon. It’s a popular road trip destination for west coast inhabitants, but you can also fly into Portland or Northern California if you’re visiting from further away. You’ll need a car no matter which direction you’re coming from, it’s quite a trek from any major city.
Sleep With the Stars
There are only two lodging options while you’re visiting Crater Lake, so I recommend getting a cabin in a neighboring city. I stayed in a cute cabin I rented off of Airbnb, and it was perfect. It was about 40 minutes from the park and included all the serenity and wilderness we could want. There was a small market nearby for basic food and beverage needs, but you should probably come prepared as options are limited. Wherever you stay, make sure to look up and do some start gazing. There’s little light pollution in this area, so the stars were absolutely gorgeous.
Road Trip Around the Rim
Wake up early the day you plan to drive around the crater. The gaping hole in the mountain forces you to travel over 30 miles to drive the entire rim. With all the stops and picture taking, I’d save at least two hours to see it all. The crater is so vast, you really can’t see it all in one view, so the rim drive is a perfect solution to this. We started in the south side of the rim and drove clockwise. Here are some of my favorite stops in order of how you’ll see it on the drive:
- Rim Village Visitor Center – This is a good starting point to pick up any maps or food you need for the journey. There’s a great view here, and it makes for an amazing first impression of this gem.
- Watchman Overlook – You’ll be right in front of Wizard Island, a volcanic cinder cone in the middle of the lake.
- Cloudcap Overlook – Great view opposite of Wizard Island
- Pumice Castle – A volcanic formation on the east wall of the lake.
- Phantom Ship Overlook – Another island formed a remaining section of a filled conduit of a fissure
- Sun Notch – View of notches in the walls of the crater
- Vidae Falls – A view of a waterfall, a nice break from the crater before you return back to the Visitor Center
Cleetwood Clove Trail
The rim is high above the water level, so it’s actually very difficult to touch the pure water that makes up Crater Lake. The only way down is by the Cleetwood Cover Trail. Its a winding trail of switchbacks that brings you down to the water’s level. While visiting Crater Lake, you can enjoy a swim or even take a boat tour. Word of caution: This trail is not easy. It was actually closed when I visited last, so I can’t attest for how difficult it is. But you’ll see on reviews that the trail is basically one mile of knee jolting steps.
If you’re visiting for longer than a day and you have some time to kill, I’d grab some boots and pick a trail to hike. There are so many options in the park, there’s a trail for everyone. The park includes 6 easy trails, 4 moderate trails, and 6 strenuous trails (including Cleetwood Cove). My first view of the lake was near the Rim Village Visitor Center, we pulled off the side of the road to look at it and the view took my breath away. The water was such a deep blue color, it made me feel so small and the world seem so vast. This feeling sat with me the entire trip, so take a hike and feel the impact of this creation for as long as you can.
Get Wild on the PCT
Do we have any Cheryl Strayed fans out there? The Pacific Crest Trial (PCT) is a hiking trail through United States from Mexico to Canada. Part of it happens to pass through this area, so I think it was really interesting to be able to hike a portion of it. A trail head called “Union Peak” is at the intersection of the trail. Hike a couple miles of it if you have time while you;re visiting Crater Lake.
Because Crater Lake is so far from everything, it’s important to plan ahead. Make sure your tank is full. Pack snacks and drinks because there are few options in the park and few markets nearby. Check the weather. I visited during an amazing summer day, but local fires made the skyline hazy and closed part of the roads down.
Visiting Crater Lake National Park definitely left an impression on me. It’s just beautiful and has so much history in it. It will make any dirt buff go crazy. Enjoy your trip, and let me know in the comments below what you’re most excited for with your visit! Make sure to check out our blog post on the Mount Baker area in Washington State for another great park to explore.