During the winter months, Crater Lake National Park transforms into a winter wonderland. Its chilly temperatures and several feet of snow shouldn’t keep you from visiting this stunning park. If you’re thinking of exploring Crater Lake in winter, this is the guide for you.
We’ll cover everything from what to pack, how to get around, and the best things to do throughout the park during the winter. Visiting Crater Lake National Park in winter is truly a unique experience. Beautiful and serene landscapes await you. Let’s get started.
Crater Lake Weather in Winter
Winter in Crater Lake usually lasts from early November to early May. During this time, the park sees copious amounts of snow and freezing temperatures. Because the lake sits at 6200 feet elevation, it almost always has snow on the ground. Though it experiences tough winter conditions, the park remains year-round.
Always check the weather conditions before driving up to the park. There are webcams on the national park service’s website where you can see what the park looks like in real time.
The road to the crater rim will sometimes be closed if a storm has rolled through and brought several feet of snow. Whiteout conditions aren’t uncommon, so just make sure to keep an eye on the forecast as you approach your trip.
Throughout December, the temperatures within the park can drop as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 degrees Celcius) with a high of 35 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celcius). January and February temperatures are usually about the same, with a few degrees of difference. These three months are among the coldest, but the chilly temperatures can continue into March and April.
Most people arrive at Crater Lake expecting picturesque blue skies with a few clouds above a rich blue lake. However, when visiting in winter, you usually have a 50/50 chance of seeing the entire lake. It’s often blocked by clouds, so viewing the entire lake during the winter is rare. That said, the portion of the lake you can see is stunning when surrounded by snow.
Getting Around Crater Lake in Winter
Crater Lake is open all year long and 24 hours a day. During the winter, the north entrance road and Rim Drive are closed to wheeled vehicles. The west and south entrances are ploughed daily and open to personal vehicles.
There is a 3-mile road from the park headquarters to the crater rim that will periodically close if the weather conditions become unsafe. The road might have a delayed opening if it’s icy, even if it’s a blue-sky day.
You’ll need a car when driving to Crater Lake no matter what time of year you visit. Whether you’re driving your own vehicle or renting one, make sure it’s durable enough to drive in snow and potentially icy conditions. Always carry chains and know how to drive in snowy winter weather.
There aren’t any large airports near Crater Lake. Portland International Airport is the closest and it’s about a 5-hour drive away, but there are plenty of great stops along the way from Portland.
There is a small airport in Medford, Oregon, but it has fewer and more expensive flights overall. Crater Lake National Park is located snuggling in south-central Oregon, so having a car to get there is absolutely necessary.
There are limited gas stations and restaurants around the park. The Mazama and Rim villages have places for lodging, eating, and shopping, but there aren’t many options. Make sure you have a full tank of gas and plenty of snacks for the duration of your visit.
Which Month to Visit Crater Lake?
Compared to the summer months, Crater Lake sees fewer visitors during the winter overall. This is great for those who want to experience the park while it’s less crowded. Here’s what to expect when visiting during December, January, and February.
Crater Lake in December
By December, there is about 47 inches of snow on average. The winter season is still early, but you’re more likely to encounter more moderate weather conditions. Because of this, there might also be more crowds, but there will still be way fewer people than in the summer.
Crater Lake in January
Snowfall dramatically increases in January. The average snow depth rises to about 79 inches. The area around Crater Lake usually gets more than 100 inches of snow throughout January. This month has more unpredictable weather.
If you visit during January, make sure you’ve taken all the proper precautions for handling winter weather. Visitors should also avoid getting too close to the caldera rim because snow shelves can appear to be stable when they really aren’t.
The number of people who visit in January also drops, so it can be a good month for enjoying the park without the crowds.
Crater Lake in February
February sees the fewest visitors each day, which could be appealing to some. You can easily enjoy winter outdoor activities without needing to navigate crowds. That said, make sure you come prepared for inclement weather.
February is one of the coldest months. Ensure you have plenty of snacks and drinkable water because potable water and food aren’t always available – keep this in mind when you pack for Crater Lake.
What to Wear When Visiting Crater Lake in Winter
Crater Lake is one of the snowiest places in the United States. That said, winters are very cold and dense with snow. It’s recommended that you pack more layers of clothing than you think you’ll need. This includes gloves or mittens, beanies, thermal layers, snow jackets, and maybe even a face covering to help protect your face from the wind.
Wear outer layers that are waterproof. Most of all, make sure your shoes are waterproof as well. Try to find a sturdy pair of boots for your visit to Crater Lake in winter. This is especially true if you’re doing any winter activity like cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.
Bring an extra pair of clothes to leave in the car, including an additional park of warm socks. Depending on the weather, you might want to consider packing a pair of sunglasses.
If the sun is out at all, it can reflect off the snow and become really bright. If this becomes the case, you’ll be thankful you brought them. Finally, don’t forget to bring your camera or even a set of binoculars.
Things to do in Crater Lake in Winter
Merely admiring Crater Lake from the rim is an amazing way to experience the park. However, there are plenty of things to do in Crater Lake during the winter to fill your time. If you have the time, you could also loop this in with a visit to nearby Diamond Lake – another gorgeous place to visit. Here are some of the highlights.
Visit the crater rim overlook
You can only reach the rim of Crater Lake by car when the weather conditions permit it. However, if the road to the rim is open, it’s well worth the visit.
You might be required to use chains or snow tires on your vehicle even if the road is ploughed. You’ll drive to the top where you’ll reach a parking lot. Leave your car here and walk the rest of the way to the overlook.
Make sure you have sturdy shoes as you’ll still be trekking through snow to reach the overlook. You can pause for a warm cup of hot cocoa or stop into the gift shop. The Rim Village is a great place to start if you plan to snowshoe part of the rim trail.
Snowshoeing is hands-down one of the best and most accessible activities to do in Crater Lake during the winter. It’s a great way to experience parts of the park you wouldn’t be able to reach with a car when it’s snowy.
There are plenty of established snowshoeing trails throughout the park. The most popular one is along the crater rim. This gives you stunning views of the lake’s bright blue waters from vantage points you can’t reach with a car.
If you plan to snowshoe in Crater Lake, make the necessary arrangements to rent gear outside the park as there are no rental outfits within park boundaries. You don’t need to have snowshoed before to try it. Just strap on the gear and head out on an established trail. Waterproof clothes and shoes are needed.
You can also opt for a ranger-led snowshoeing tour. These tours take visitors through the forests and meadows near Rim Village. You’ll get to experience some of the park’s beauty while learning about the landscape from a knowledgeable ranger.
Finally, if you’re interested in a more adventurous route to exploring the rim, a handful of brave visitors circle the entire crater. Spring months are the most popular time for this activity because the weather is more reliably good. It takes around 3 days to complete.
While there are no designated sledding areas in the park, there are plenty of smooth slopes free of trees that visitors have turned into sledding routes. The meadow south of Crater Lake Lodge is one popular location.
When scouting hills for sledding, make sure there are no nearby trees and the hill doesn’t have bumps. The end of the hill should level out into a flat landing for easy stopping. If you are sledding on a hill you’ve found, read up on safety measures for cornices and tree wells.
It’s prohibited to sled or tube in the caldera and all roadways throughout the park that are open to traffic. Sledding can be a great way to add a kid-friendly winter activity to your visit to Crater Lake. It’s a good option if you have kids who aren’t old enough for snowshoeing or renting a snowmobile.
Rent a snowmobile
Snowmobiling along the rim of Crater Lake is a truly unique experience. If there is enough snow on the ground, there is a 9-mile route to the rim of the lake groomed for snowmobiles. It’s closed to vehicles, so you can ride it without worrying about encountering larger cars.
There are a few rules to bear in mind when renting a snowmobile to ride in Crater Lake. It must stay on the groomed and marked path. All drives must have a valid state driver’s licence or state snowmobile permit.
If you start the route outside the park, you still need a valid park entrance pass even though you won’t pass through the same checkpoint at vehicles. It’s also prohibited to drive a snowmobile along the Rim Drive.
Taking a snowmobile can be a great way to experience the park and have a little fast-paced fun. Driving the entire route to the rim is usually a full-day activity, so it’s best if you have more than one day in the area. Make sure to pack plenty of water and snacks. It’ll be windy while riding a snowmobile, so wear extra layers and something to cover your face.
If you still want to set out on the trails around Crater Lake without snowshoes, consider winter hiking. There are three notable trails that you can easily access from the park’s winter main entry point. First is the Discovery Point Trail. It’s 3.97 miles with an elevation gain of 915 feet. It’s a great, moderately strenuous trail for all levels of hikers.
If you want a more adventurous trail, Garfield Peak Trail is a great option. It comes in at 3.4 miles roundtrip and offers incredible panoramic views of the area around the park. There are several challenging points along the trail, making it mildly strenuous.
Finally, the Sun Notch Trail is one of the most popular ones. It’s a small loop and just under one mile.
Where to Stay Near Crater Lake
Klamoya Sleep Inn & Suites – Located very close to the park entrance, this lovely little hotel is an excellent place to stay within easy reach of Crater Lake. They have a number of great rooms on offer and plenty of amenities for guests. Click here to see their availability
Aspen Inn – This rustic inn is another excellent place to stay within a stone’s throw of Crater Lake National Park. They have a range of comfortable rooms to choose from, a fantastic location and friendly owners. Click here to see their availability
Private Rental – If you’d like to have your own space while visiting Crater Lake – such as this beautiful wooden cabin – then consider a private vacation rental. There are a number of different properties to choose from within easy reach of the park. Click here to browse Crater Lake private rentals!
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Crater Lake hotels!
A visit to Crater Lake in the winter is spectacular. The entire park transforms into a snowy wonderland that is filled with plenty of things to do and see. You’re certain to have an amazing visit.
Are you planning a trip to Crater Lake during winter? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!