Exploring Crater Lake National Park

By Marion Fernandez
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Crater Lake National Park in Oregon is one of the most amazing natural features that you will find in the US.  With its amazingly clear deep water and majestic scenery, it is an experience you won’t soon forget.

Crater Lake is thought to have formed about 7,700 years ago after a violent volcanic eruption collapsed a high peak. The result is the deepest lake in the United States and one of the purest bodies of water in the world. The site attracts tourists and artists alike, all seeking to take in this awe-inspiring work of nature.

But, it is important to remember that the reason the water is so pure is in part due to the fact that it is surrounded by deep snow for most of the year. The cold weather of the fall and winter in Crater Lake does not necessarily mean that you cannot visit it during this time. Let’s take a look at the opportunities to visit all year long.

Summer and Fall

Crater Lake, thought to have been formed over 7,700 years ago.  

Without a doubt, the most popular time to visit Crater Lake is in the summer after the snow has melted. This is what to do and see in the warmer weather.

  • Camping: Crater Lake National Park has two campgrounds: Mazama Campground and Lost Creek Campground. They are only open in the summer months and into october. There is a general store nearby for any of your camping needs, as well.
  • The Sinnott Memorial Overlook: Sitting on a rock ledge just behind the visitor center there is an indoor exhibit that explains the geology of the area and the scientific data collected about it. They have ranger talks through the summer. There is also an open parapet where you can get excellent views of the lake.
  • Fishing: Yes, you can fish in Crater Lake. Originally, the lake did not have any fish, but fish were added between 1888 and 1941. The lake has rainbow trout and kokanee salmon and fishing is permitted at the bottom of the Cleetwood Cove Trail. While there is no requirement for a fishing license, there are restrictions on the types of bait you can use. You can only use artificial lures and flies as it is strictly forbidden to use organic baits in order to prevent the introduction of non-native organisms.
  • Swimming: You can also swim in the lake, though you have to be prepared for the frigid water. Most people don’t last more than a couple of minutes. They do not allow the wearing of wetsuits or swimming equipment either so there is no way you are going to swim all day.
  • Bicycling: You can bicycle along the paved roads around the lake and the Pinnacles Trail. There is a 33-mile Rim Drive that is no joke and a serious workout, but you cannot beat the views.
  • Boat Tours: The park also offers boat tours of the lake that can take you out to Wizard Island, the small island in the middle of the lake. You will get a ranger as a guide and can be taken to the best places for swimming and fishing.
  • Hiking: It would be a crime to leave out the best thing to do at Crater Lake. The hiking trails are fantastic and there are many of them. With easier and shorter trails taking only about a half hour, you can have a more leisurely adventure through the park. Or if you want a challenge, you can hike the 6-hour Union Peak hike that has a 1,600-foot climb and is just under 10 miles. For all your work, however, you will get a fantastic panoramic view.

Winter and Spring

Crater Lake in winter has a natural beauty like few places in the world.

While the summer months are the most popular time to visit Crater Lake National Park, that does not mean you should forget about going in winter. There are several parts of the park that are closed in the winter due to the weather, but there are also many other things that you can check out.

  • Snowshoeing: The park definitely gets an impressive amount of snow in the colder months, starting as early as october. There are snowshoe walks that are led by park rangers on the weekends throughout the winter and even offered daily around the holidays. The walk takes about 2 hours and is hard work, but a lot of fun.
  • Cross-country skiing: There are a lot of ski trails that are marked throughout the park in the winter. However, remember that the trails are not groomed, so there could be obstructions on some of the less-traveled trails. The Mazama Loop is a 1.7 mile trail that will loop you back to where you started. It is the best idea for an inexperienced skier. East Rim Drive is a little more challenging but will protect you from the wind while still giving you an awesome view of the lake itself. There are also trails for the advanced skier who wants a challenge, including the mile-long Raven Trail that is a downhill trail. You will head down the 610 foot slope quickly and it can be especially tricky in the ice!
  • Hiking: You can still do some fantastic hiking on the trails around the lake as well, but the availability depends greatly on the current snow situation. If the snow is well-packed and the trails kept clear, you can still get a nice, if somewhat chilly, hike around the lake and see the beauty in the snow.

May and June

Weather patterns in early spring at Crater Lake are hard to predict.

May and June are not included in the other seasons because these months are entirely unpredictable at the lake. The snow usually has begun to melt, but there could still be snowstorms. Planning a trip during these months is not usually recommended because it is impossible to know what will be open. The snow is not deep enough for snowshoeing, but also not clear enough for a dry hike. This is why the campgrounds and other summer offerings do not start until July. Better to plan your trip for the warm weather.

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