Spending one day at Crater Lake is filled with outdoor exploration and natural history. The lake’s disruptive past left visitors with vibrant blue waters, beautiful scenery, and geological history that make a fantastic Crater Lake day trip.
Crater Lake has been a national park since 1902 and it is the only national park in Oregon. It was created when Mount Mazama blew its top almost 8,000 years ago, leaving behind one of the clearest and cleanest lakes in the world. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States, which lends to its iconic color.
Depending on the time of year, Crater Lake offers different activities and sites to see. A snow-covered lake invites visitors to snowshoe the crater’s rim while warm summer temperatures entice guests to take a dip in the lake’s frigid waters.
As one of the most pristine lakes on the planet, it should come as no surprise that thousands of visitors flock to Crater Lake National Park every year. Keep reading for a Crater Lake itinerary.
How Many Days in Crater Lake National Park?
Most visitors opt for one or two days at Crater Lake National Park. This provides guests ample time to see the main attractions the national park has to offer. Those whose travel plans allow for longer stays will benefit from seeing sites that are more off the beaten path.
How many days to spend at Crater Lake depends on how much time visitors have to spare, but an average of two days is usually enough time.
Guests can camp in nearby campgrounds or stay at Crater Lake Lodge. Those interested in staying at the lodge or camping in the park should plan to make their reservation several months in advance as reservations at this destination fill up quickly.
Getting To and Around Crater Lake
Having a car at Crater Lake is by far the easiest and best way to experience everything the park has to offer. Driving the crater rim road is a highlight activity and access to a car allows guests full freedom to see the park to its fullest. There are almost a lot of interesting stops to see on the drive from Portland to Crater Lake that you don’t want to miss!
Crater Lake is also less developed than other national parks. The lodge and main parking lot offer dining, shopping, and lodging. However, the rest of the park is largely left untouched for visitors to explore.
Keep this in mind when planning a Crater Lake itinerary. Medford, Klamath Falls, and Roseburg are the nearest cities, but they are about two hours away by car.
Once at Crater Lake, navigating is easy. The main road around the rim is simple to navigate and filled with 30 different stops that invite guests to experience the lake from every angle.
Visitors to Crater Lake National Park should remember the park charges a fee to enter. Booths are located at park entrances and stop guests before arriving. Passes can be purchased for one day or multiple days. An annual park pass is also available for purchase.
If you need to rent a car for your trip, you can find deals across major providers at Rentalcars.com. Alternatively, browse Outdoorsy if you’re looking for an RV or campervan for a longer road trip such as from Seattle to San Francisco.
One Day in Crater Lake Itinerary
Watch the Sunrise
A Crater Lake sunrise is an experience visitors won’t soon forget. The 7,000-foot elevation and remote location of the lake lends to no light pollution.
The most popular place to watch the sunrise at Crater Lake is the Cloud Cap Overlook located on the east side of the rim. Visitors who manage to catch a clear morning are treated to vibrant hues of orange, red, and blue as the sun rises over the horizon.
If visitors are planning to watch the sunset from an outlook that requires a short hike, make sure to come prepared with a flashlight or headlamp (a headlamp is recommended).
Early morning hikers should also come prepared with steady shoes to prevent injury while walking on a dark path. Take note of when the sun is supposed to rise and plan the morning accordingly.
Drive the Rim Road
One full day can easily be spent driving around the rim of Crater Lake. This activity should be a top priority on your Crater Lake itinerary. Circumnavigating the lake grants visitors stunning views of the lake from all angles.
This scenic 33-mile drive offers views of the lake, meadows, and forests. There are 30 different places drivers can pull out along the route with plenty of parking at each stop. Guests have access to five picnic areas, several waterfalls, and hikes of varying difficulties.
Drivers should keep in mind that the speed limit on the Rim Drive is 35mph or less. There are also often bikers circling the lake, so drivers should keep an eye out for them. The road is narrow and doesn’t have shoulders. Driving carefully is important.
Another option for experiencing the Rim Drive is by trolley. This is a great option for those not interested in driving themselves or without access to a car. Visitors board the trolley at Rim Village and enjoy narration on the park’s history and landscape from a park ranger.
Take a Boat to Wizard Island
In the middle of Crater Lake’s vast blue waters is an island known as Wizard Island. While it may look small, once visitors set foot on the island, they will encounter plenty of opportunities to explore.
Wizard Island stands at 763 feet and is the only cinder cone created above water when Mount Mazama exploded. Boat tours take visitors around the island, with three hours to spend on the island itself.
Visitors should hike the Wizard Island Summit Trail, an easy climb that takes most hikers about one hour to reach the top. The path leads hikers to a 90-foot deep crater at the peak and offers unique views of Crater Lake from an island on the lake. Wizard Island is only open for park guests during the summer months.
Take a Hike
A hike should be on every Crater Lake itinerary. Each trail offers unique views of the lake away from cars. Hikes are also the best way to experience the serene stillness of Crater Lake. Visitors can venture slightly away from the lake to check out nearby waterfalls or hike along portions of the Pacific Crest Trail.
In total, Crater Lake offers 90 miles of trails. Garfield Peak, Mount Scott, and Wizard Island are the three most popular day hikes. Visitors should expect a climb on the first two, but none of these popular hikes are extremely difficult.
For the best day hike, pack a lunch to enjoy at the end of the hike. Few experiences beat relaxing on the rim of Crater Lake and eating lunch after a beautiful hike. Sturdy shoes and comfortable clothes are recommended. Hiking poles might also be a nice addition although the trails are all well maintained.
Visitors should make sure they bring enough water, especially during the warm summer months. Those planning to snowshoe the rim during the winter should also read up on weather conditions prior to arriving at Crater Lake.
Visit Crater Lake Lodge
In June 2015, Crater Lake Lodge turned 100 years old. If visitors are lucky enough to snatch a room in the lodge they are rewarded with classic architecture and stunning views. However, even those who are not Lodge guests can enjoy its splendor.
The lodge is located on the crater rim with its windows overlooking the lake. Enjoy an afternoon coffee or lunch with excellent views. On sunny days, guests can enjoy sitting in rocking chairs on the back balcony to soak up the sun.
Guests staying at the lodge shouldn’t expect to have a phone or television in the rooms. WiFi is available, but guests shouldn’t plan to spend their Crater Lake vacation using WiFi.
If the lodge isn’t available, but guests still want to spend a night right on Crater Lake, they can book a cabin at Mazama Village or a campsite at Mazama Campground.
Go Stargazing After Dark
Crater Lake is prime for stargazing for the same reason it’s a great destination for sunrises. Because the lake is situated more than 100 miles from the nearest source of light pollution creates the ideal conditions to view several million stars. The best time to stargaze at Crater Lake is during a new moon. This allows guests to see millions of stars and maybe even the Milky Way.
A tip for visitors is to avoid looking at screens or lights while stargazing. It’s important the eyes are able to adjust to the darkness, allowing them to see deep into the night sky. Stargazers should also prepare accordingly and dress warm. The high elevation of the lake lends itself to extremely cold nights. Dress in layers and bring a warm drink to sip on.
Have More Time?
If visitors find themselves with more time to explore the area around Crater Lake, there is no shortage of activities. Various hikes and natural sites make this area one visitors could spend several days exploring.
Visit Plaikni Falls
The hike to Plaikni Falls is good for all levels of hikers. It’s an out and back trail that is two miles in total. The best time of year to visit the waterfall is from March to October. The trail is unique as hikers pass through forests and wildflower fields before arriving at the waterfall – all in just a couple miles.
Hikers interested in more remote hiking, away from other day hikers, should explore other trails in the area. Due to the close proximity to Crater Lake and short distance of this hike, the trail tends to have a lot of hikers.
However, Plaikni Falls is located within Crater Lake National Park. For guests driving the rim or staying for more than one day, hiking to Plaikni Falls is an excellent way to spend a few hours near Crater Lake.
Climb Mount Scott
The view from the top of Mount Scott is unbeatable. This 4-mile out-and-back trail is also located within Crater Lake National Park. The hike boasts Crater Lake’s highest point that offers expansive views over the lake and surrounding area.
The trail begins through a meadow on the southern end of Mount Scott before beginning a slow ascent up the side of the mountain. After a series of steep switchbacks, the trail levels out on the ridgeline that offers spectacular views of the lake and the distant Cascade mountains.
Hikers should prepare accordingly depending on the season. The best time of year for this hike is May through October. Hikers should expect to encounter some snow near the top of the rim later in the season. Mount Scott is the only place where photographers can capture images that encompass the entire lake.
Find Lady of the Woods
The mysterious Lady of the Woods is the perfect quirky stop on any Crater Lake itinerary.
The sculpture was carved by Dr. Earl R. Bush in 1917 while he was stationed at the park to provide medical care to Army Corps members working on building the first road around the lake. Dr. Bush spent about two weeks crafting the woman before he left the park later that fall.
Since the 1930s, little effort has been made to direct visitors toward the Lady. However, in recent decades the Lady has become more of a highlight for visitors to the park. The trail to the Lady of the Woods includes other historic structures and the trail itself is less than a mile long.
Where to Stay near Crater Lake
In order to make the most out of your one day in Crater Lake itinerary, your best bet is to find a great place to stay near Crater Lake National Park itself.
While the only options within the Park itself include the Crater Lake Lodge and some cabins and a campsite in Mazama Village, there are a lot of options within an easy drive of the National Park that can suit any kind of travel style and budget.
If you’re looking for a good place to rest your head near Crater Lake, have a look at these suggestions:
Klamoya Sleep Inn & Suites – This clean and comfortable hotel near Crater Lake is an excellent option for those looking for a solid accommodation option. There are a number of great rooms available and great amenities to ensure that you’re well-rested to explore the nearby national park. Click here to see their availability
Aspen Inn – This locally owned and operated motel is an excellent option if you’re after a more rustic stay near Crater Lake. There are a number of basic yet comfortable rooms available and friendly owners that are sure to help with whatever you may need. Click here to see their availability
Private Rental – Sometimes visitors are more interested in privacy or a unique stay rather than going for a traditional hotel, and opting for a private vacation rental is a great option if that sounds like your cup of tea! There are tons of options available near Crater Lake, such as this beautiful wooden cabin. Click here browse private rentals in Crater Lake!
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Crater Lake hotels!
Crater Lake in one day is filled with incredible sites and fascinating history. This stunning serene lake has a vibrant natural history and offers several opportunities to get outdoors. Check out these opportunities when planning a Crater Lake itinerary.
Are you about to take a day trip to Crater Lake? Have you been before? Let us know in the comments!