Tips for vacationing at Crater Lake:
- If you want to stay at Crater Lake Lodge during the summer, make reservations right when they open up (13 months in advance)
- Watch your email and reserve a boat tour as soon as you can
- Look at the schedule at the Crater Lake Visitor Center for free ranger talks and guided hikes
- Watch the Perseid Meteor Shower on the porch at the Crater Lake Lodge
- If you’re on a budget, bring lots of snacks and food for the trail
- Don’t miss the viewpoints
What we enjoyed most: Sitting on rocking chairs on the porch at Crater Lake Lodge, drinking beer with beautiful views of Crater Lake
Favorite hikes: Castle Crest and Annie Creek
It’s no wonder why Crater Lake is one of Oregon’s wonders. The vast basin of cerulean blue waters surrounded by an old-growth forest and colorful rock formations makes for a stunning sight. It’s hard to imagine such a peaceful place had such violent beginnings: 7,700 years ago, the 12,000-foot-tall volcano, Mount Mazama, erupted, blanketing the surrounding area in pyroclastic flows and flurries of tephra that stretched as far as central Canada. The caldera eventually filled with water and became the lake that we know today. Given the lake’s remarkable history, seeing it first-hand was a must-do.
Crater Lake Lodge
Crater Lake Lodge sits right on the rim of the crater. The back porch is the perfect spot to kick back in a rocking chair and enjoy food, drinks and an unparalleled view of Crater Lake. The lodge takes reservations from May to October. The lodge is rustic, with sturdy wooden beams and a grand fireplace in the Great Hall. Compared to other lodging options, you can’t beat the location right on the rim of the crater, offering unparalleled views of the lake. I’d recommend swinging by the exhibit on the first floor that discusses the lodge’s origin and history.
The porch: After checking in, we ventured out to the porch, where vacationers sat on rocking chairs enjoying the panoramic view of the lake. Looking out on the pristine blue waters, it’s easy to see how the lake’s original moniker, Deep Blue Lake, came about. Crater Lake extends down 1,949 feet, making it the deepest lake in the United States and the ninth deepest in the world. We sank into rocking chairs, ordered Klamath Basin Brewing’s Crater Lake Amber Ales and mushroom fondue, and struck up a conversation with a traveler reclining in a nearby rocking chair. One of the smartest choices we made all weekend was talking to fellow hikers and vacationers, many of whom had knowledge about weekend goings-on, tips on the best hiking trails and other useful information.
Discovery Point Trail
That evening, we ventured over to Discovery Point Trail. The viewpoint area was under construction, but we managed to find the trailhead without issue. It was the perfect introductory hike to kick off the trip. It’s an easy walk (after hiking up some rocks) to a meandering path that rims the lake. I’d definitely recommend hiking at least part of the trail towards the beginning of the trip if you’re looking for great views of the lake and Wizard Island.
The Steel Visitor Center
The next morning, after breakfast at the lodge, we headed to the Steel Visitor Center. Parking is plentiful, and the visitor center is close to Lady of the Forest and Castle Crest hikes. We perused the gift shop and headed into the small theater to watch a 20-minute educational video discussing the history and formation of Crater Lake.
Lady of the Woods and Castle Crest hikes
After the video, we hiked the Lady of the Woods trail. As the name suggests, the trail meanders through the forest to a half-formed sculpture of a woman carved into the rock. The Castle Crest trailhead is a bit of a walk from the Steel Visitor Center, but there’s a path leading to the trailhead that starts across the street from the parking lot. The hike is really lovely. It’s not too difficult and winds around a creek on a slight hill, where plentiful wildflowers of all colors reach towards the sun. This was one of my favorite hikes, simply because of the stunning beauty of the meadow and the serenity of the creek.
Rim Visitor Center
We drove back to the lodge and headed to the Rim Visitor Center, which is just down the sidewalk. Rangers give talks periodically, so we timed our outing accordingly. The center offers an amazing view of the lake from an outdoor exhibit. The outdoor display connects to an indoor, one-room exhibit with more information about the lake. On the wall in the indoor exhibit, there’s a schedule of free ranger talks and guided hikes. I’d recommend taking a picture of the schedule and referring to it throughout your trip.
Hiking and Mazama Village
After exploring the Rim Visitor Center, we drove to the Godfrey Glen trailhead. The Godfrey Glen hike is fairly short, snaking through old-growth forest and sidling up to the Annie Creek Canyon edge. The sheer canyon walls are quite a sight. After, we headed to Mazama Village.
The Annie Creek Restaurant is right next to the parking lot, along with a convenience store, campgrounds information kiosk and restrooms equipped with showers and an outdoor water dispenser to fill bottles. We ate dinner at the Annie Creek Restaurant and were pleased with the experience. The restaurant had a casual vibe and a wide food selection.
There are multiple points to start the Annie Creek hike, but we were told that the entrance by the amphitheater (between markers D and E) was a good choice. The trail winds down a steep hillside to the edge of the creek, framed by flowers and bushes of wild Crater Lake currant. Crossing the creek over unstable makeshift log bridges was a little challenging, but overall this hike was great. It winds its way up the hillside and meets with the campground around marker C10.
Perseid Meteor Shower
As we were walking back to our hotel room, we got a tip that the Perseid Meteor Shower would be going on that night. We grabbed a bottle of champagne and made our way out to the porch, which offered prime viewing of the nighttime sky with very little light pollution. Earth passes through the dust and debris of Comet Swift-Tuttle every year, creating the annual Perseid meteor shower. The bright pieces of comet debris strike a bright path through the sky at 37 miles per second!
Cleetwood Cove Trail
The Crater Lake boat tour was a definite highlight of the weekend. We were scheduled for the 9:30 a.m. tour, so we left a little after 8:00 a.m. to allow plenty of time to get to the boat dock. It took about 30 minutes to drive from the Crater Lake Lodge and another 20-25 minutes to walk down to the boat dock via the Cleetwood Cove Trail. Getting down to the boat dock was a trial unto itself. Cleetwood Cove is the only trail that takes visitors down to the water and consists entirely of switchbacks, dropping about 700 feet to the lake’s edge.
Morning on the Lake
The morning was cool, with the hazy sun peaking over the rim of the crater. Even with the wind whipping at our sides, it was almost impossible not to get lost in the blueness and the tranquility of the place. The guide spoke periodically throughout the tour, pausing when we picked up speed to motor around to points of interest. We cruised by Phantom Ship, Pumice Castle, lava dikes and other notable land forms. Our tour guide also pointed out the Old Man of the Lake, a 30-foot tall 450-year-old floating hemlock. A 4-foot piece sticks out above the water and bobs around with the current.
We also passed Wizard Island, the top of a small cinder cone volcano within Crater Lake. There’s a separate tour that drops off at Wizard Island for a couple hours, leaving visitors to explore and scale the cinder cone. After the tour, we watched some adventurous folks jump into the freezing cold waters of the lake from atop a rocky outcropping next to the dock.
Viewpoints before leaving
Before heading out, we stopped at Vidae Falls and all of the viewpoints on the East Rim. Though weekend events didn’t turn out quite as planned, we turned the obstacles to our advantage — and it made for one very unique and memorable trip. It was hard to tear our eyes away and get on the road.
For more information on planning a trip to Crater Lake, read the National Park Service “Crater Lake: Things to Know Before You Come” article here.