During your stay in Central Oregon, you definitely need to visit Crater Lake. It’s so magnificent that an entire National Park has been designated around it. With a depth of 1,943 feet, it’s the deepest lake in the entire U.S. The water in the lake, which is famous for its stunningly blue hue, originates only from precipitation in the form of snow or rain. That’s because there are no inlets into the lake from other water sources. It’s entirely self-contained. Because of this, the lake does not get any silt or mineral deposits, which allows it to keep its vibrant hue and contributes to the lake's status as one of the cleanest and purest lakes in the world.
I can tell you personally that the water is extremely inviting-looking. However, it is very, very cold, or at least it was when I went. Also, you should know that people are allowed to swim only in certain spots that are clearly marked for swimming, so you can’t just dive in from wherever you happen to be standing. If you go in winter, be aware that the Crater Lake area gets more snow than most parts of the country. During certain times of the year they reserve the right to not let visitors in. Be sure to call ahead to see what the weather conditions are before you visit. For instance, the north entrance is closed for seven months starting around November 1st and doesn’t reopen until about the middle of May or early June.
Before you set out for Crater Lake, download the directions on your phone. Once you near the park, the cell reception isn’t reliable. It’s worth it to pick up a map from the visitor’s information center and keep it in your glove box in case your phone battery dies, too. For GPS, you’ll want to use coordinates, because there’s no actual street address to use. The nearest marker would be Rim Village, but use 42° 53' 48.91" North and
122° 08' 03.08" West to reach the park headquarters. If you’re visiting when there’s snow on the ground, be sure you have good snow tires or chains. Fill your tank at Mazama Village Store in Mazama Village. Otherwise you’ll have to go all the way to Prospect or Chiloquin, which are both over 30 miles away. Finally, no matter what time of year you visit, stock up on provision for your vehicle. You’ll want to have extra water (besides what you’ll carry on you), some long-lasting, nutrient-dense snacks like granola bars, dried fruit, etc. and at least one blanket.
To get to Crater Lake from the west, take Highway 62 to the west entrance. From the south, take Highway 97 to 62, and then you’ll enter at the south entrance. From the north, you’ll use the south entrance, as above, and from the northwest, you’ll use the west entrance from Highway 230 and then to Highway 62.
Park Fees & Information
The entrance fee per car for Crater Lake National Park is $30 per vehicle from May 22 through October 31. It’s $20 per vehicle from November 1 through May 21. It’s helpful to note that your pass into Crater Lake National Park is good for seven days. Before you actually enter the park, stop in at the visitor center in Mazama Village. You’ll see a light-colored building at the end of the parking lot.
You can get a lot of helpful information about the park and the lake, including what activities are permitted. Tell the ranger at the center where you’re going and when you plan to leave. I just always make a point of doing this, so someone official knows what my plans are whenever I’m heading into a large wilderness area. It’s always good to have someone who is aware in case something unexpected happens.
There’s a beautiful scenic drive you can take along the west rim of Crater Lake. No matter what plans you have for the day, I suggest you start with this drive, which will take you past no less than five lookout spots. You can take selfies, record videos or just stand or sit in peace and quiet and appreciate the majesty of the place. The nice thing about this plan is that if you have anyone in your car who can’t hike, they can still get everything out of the journey.
And, if you do want to hike, you can do so from the trailheads and some of the lookout spots. Coming in from the north, you’ll get to Merriam Point, which gives you a panoramic view of the park and lake. Driving higher in elevation, you’ll come to Garfield Peak. Don’t stand too close to the edge because the slope is steep and rocky. Keep going and you’ll come to Discovery Point Trail, where you can stop and enjoy the view or go hiking on the trail. Finally, don’t pass Watchman Peak without stopping, as this will give you another view of Crater Lake from an entirely new perspective, as well as another hiking opportunity.