Americas, Pacific Northwest

1-Day Itinerary in Crater Lake National Park

1-Day Itinerary in Crater Lake National Park

Visiting Crater Lake National Park

Just 3 hours from Eugene, Oregon, Crater Lake National Park is one of the most stunning sights on the West Coast. Formed over 7,700 years ago, Crater Lake — the deepest lake in the US and one of the clearest in the world — rests in the belly of a dormant volcano. On the drive into the park, the landscape shifts rapidly: all along the road in from the north, the land becomes rocky and barren, peppered only by occasional trees — a testament to the area’s violent volcanic past. As you round the rim and the lake comes into view, the clarity of blue is majestic and awe-inspiring all at once. 

We explored this national park as a day trip which gave us sufficient time to experience the lake, but you can easily spend more time if you have it. Whether you plan to spend a few hours or days at Crater Lake, use this guide to plan your itinerary — including what to do, when to visit, and how to make the most of your trip.

Top 5 things to do at Crater Lake

One of the things we loved most about visiting Crater Lake National Park is that the park offers something for everyone — the avid hiker, the nature photographer, the road trip enthusiast. Below, we’ve rounded up our list of top 5 things to do at Crater Lake, with some sample 1-day itineraries that mix and match highlights depending on your interests.

1. Drive the rim

If you have just 1 day at the park, taking the 33-mile scenic rim drive around Crater Lake tops nearly every list you’ll find of things to do at Crater Lake National Park. The drive takes about 1.5 hours without stops, but assuming you do the entire drive, you’ll want to budget for 3 hours since you will absolutely want to stop all along the rim for the views. 

Lookout points, clockwise from Rim Village (*recommended stops):

  • Sinnott Memorial Overlook
  • Discovery Point*
  • Watchman Overlook* (best view of Wizard Island)
  • Devils Backbone
  • Llao Rock*
  • Cloud Cap Overlook
  • Pumice Castle Overlook
  • Phantom Ship Overlook*
  • The Pinnacles
  • Plaikni Falls (via a 7-mile spur road)*
  • Vidae Falls

Crater Lake National Park - Rim Drive

2. Hike the Garfield Peak Trail

If there is one trail to do at Crater Lake, it is either Garfield Peak (for those looking for something of a challenge) or Watchman Peak (for those looking for a short walk to stretch your legs). The Garfield Peak Trail is one of the most popular trails in the park due to its proximity to Rim Village.

The trail starts directly behind Crater Lake Lodge and almost immediately climbs uphill. As you ascend, the trail then contours the ridge above Crater Lake, providing sweeping views of the lake and old-growth forests below you nearly the entire way. While the popularity of the trail keeps it in good condition, the terrain is dusty, rocky, and at times narrow with very little by way of shade the further you climb. For those with a sobering fear of heights (author included), this trail may get your heart racing. Once you reach the peak, you are rewarded with stunning, panoramic views of the lake, Phantom Ship, and the terrain south. 

Garfield Peak Trail Hike Details

  • Type: Out and back
  • Distance: 3.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,010 ft.
  • Length of time: 2-3 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate

 

Crater Lake - Garfield Peak Trail

3. Hike the Watchman Peak Trail

For an easier alternative to the Garfield Peak Trail, we recommend the Watchman Peak Trail, which offers a moderate ascent to a fire lookout above Wizard Island. Similar to Garfield Peak, the hike offers scenic views in all directions. The trail picks up at the Watchman Lookout right off the Rim Drive, where you’ll find a large parking area and railed viewpoint. After you walk about 100 yards from the viewpoint, the paved sidewalk will turn into a wide, dusty trail where you’ll ascend via a series of gradual switchbacks.

Watchman Peak Trail Hike Details

  • Type: Out and back
  • Distance: 1.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 420 ft.
  • Length of time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Easy

Crater Lake - Watchman Peak Trail

4. Swim in (or access) the lake

Although we didn’t do this during our trip to Crater Lake (the water is frigid!), this is a popular activity we thoroughly considered. There is only one way to access the lake shore  — via Cleetwood Cove Trail. The 2.2-mile trail is supposedly fairly steep and strenuous, and takes roughly 1.5 hours. 

5. Take a boat tour

Boats were not operating during our visit to Crater Lake, so this is something we were also unable to do. However, had we had the opportunity, this is certainly something we would have prioritized. Typically, boat tours are offered 8 times a day in the summer, with an opportunity to visit Wizard Island. 

Sample 1-day itineraries:

The hiker

  • Start at Rim Village
  • Hike Garfield Peak Trail (2-3 hours)
  • Have lunch at Rim Village, Crater Lake Lodge, or BYOP (bring your own picnic – which is what we did)
  • Drive or partially drive the rim, stopping at sights along the way (1,5 hours for partial Rim Drive, 3 hours for total Rim Drive) 
  • Hike Watchman Peak Trail (1 hour)

Out on the water

  • Start at Rim Village
  • Drive the rim (3 hours for total Rim Drive)
  • Stop at and hike down the Cleetwood Cove Trail for lake access (40 min, 1-way)
  • Swim in the lake or take a boat tour if operating
  • Hike back up the Cleetwood Cove Trail (keep in mind the hike back is all uphill!)

The photographer

  • Start at Rim Village
  • Drive the rim (3 hours for total Rim Drive)
  • Hike Watchman Peak for an easy hike and stunning views, one of the best spots for sunset (1 hour)

Getting to Crater Lake

To best explore Crater Lake, you’ll need a vehicle so, if you’re not driving your own, plan to rent a car. There is no physical address for Crater Lake, but you can use “Rim Village” as a waypoint on your GPS or plug in the following coordinates: 42° 53′ 48.91″ North, 122° 08′ 03.08″ West. There are 3 entrances (North, West, South) from which you can enter the park, although the North entrance is typically closed in the winter.

Here are the drive times and distances from nearby locations in Oregon:

  • Medford: 80 miles, 1 hr 45 min
  • Bend: 105 miles, 2 hrs
  • Eugene: 142 miles, 2 hrs 30 min
  • Portland: 246 miles, 4 hrs 15 min

How much time do you need at Crater Lake?

We highly recommend at least a full day in the park in order to maximize your experience since there are so many things to do at Crater Lake National Park. With just a few hours, you’ll have to choose between the Rim Drive and activities (whether that’s a boat tour, swimming, biking, or hiking) that allow you to get out there and experience Crater Lake firsthand which we personally find much more rewarding. With more time, you can easily extend your trip with activities such as biking the rim or exploring old-growth forests (the lake occupies less than 10% of the national park, after all!). There is no shortage of things to do at Crater Lake.

Best time to visit Crater Lake

The most popular times to visit Crater Lake are July, August, and September when the park, roads, and services are fully open, and we’ve written this guide with this in mind. Crater Lake is one of the snowiest inhabited places in the US, so outside of these months, come with appropriate expectations. For instance, starting in October and running through July in recent years, the park closes the North entrance and the Rim Drive to cars due to deep snow.

Where to stay

If you are looking to stay within the park, options include Crater Lake Lodge, Cabins at Mazama Village, and two campgrounds (Mazama and Lost Creek campgrounds). It is also possible to obtain a backcountry permit.

Tips to make the most of your trip

  • Always practice Leave No Trace when visiting the outdoors.
  • Planning to hike? Check out our list of hiking gear to bring.
  • Weather can quickly fluctuate while in the park, so it is a good idea to pack layers.
  • There are several options to picnic along the Rim Drive. One recommended spot with benches is Lightning Spring, across from the Lightning Spring trailhead.
  • Check the official National Park Service website for the latest trail conditions and closures.

1-Day Itinerary in Crater Lake

Crater Lake

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