Editor’s note: Tours are expected to begin in July or August 2023 — check the tour website regularly to see when booking opens.
For decades, visitors to Crater Lake National Park have taken the mile of switchbacks 700 feet down to Cleetwood Cove in pursuit of a closer look at the country’s deepest lake. There, National Parks rangers have led guided boat tours, pointing out the craggy, lava-formed face of Llao Rock, the volcanic “masts” of the Phantom Ship island, and the tiny waterfalls that trickle down into the lake below.
During the pandemic, however, the boat tours paused, and Crater Lake National Park decided to update its boats in the hiatus. This summer, boat tours of Crater Lake will be offered in brand-new, larger boats to accommodate a new batch of visitors. Tours will be open for the season in the summer months — check the website for current dates, reservation information, and costs. Here’s more of what you might expect from these new vessels.
Learn All About the Lake From a Guide
Crater Lake was born in fire and lava. More than 7,500 years ago, Mt. Mazama erupted violently, destroying the mountain itself with so much force, it left a massive caldera — a crater — in its place. Over hundreds of years, snowmelt filled the pit, creating a lake that is more than 1,940 feet deep. The lake itself is picturesque, built into a dome of lava rock formations and whitebark pines, but for those interested in natural history and geology, Crater Lake is a gold mine.
The boat tour guides offer a wealth of information on the natural history of the lake, including how the eruption of Mt. Mazama created the lake’s islands and other landmarks, and how the snowmelt and depth of the lake impact its strikingly blue color.
Visitors can enjoy the lake from the deck of the boat — either via a 2-hour cruise around the lake or a cruise that allows for more time to stop and play at Wizard Island. A third option is to head directly to Wizard Island on a shuttle without cruising. Wizard Island is definitely a recommended stop, as visitors can hike, swim or seek out little critters like the Mazama newt, which can only be found at Crater Lake.
“It’s a truly unique experience — not many boats offer a tour with a park service ranger,” says Lisa Cesaro, senior director at Aramark, which manages concessions like boat tours at the park.
Experience the New Boat Fleet
On June 26, 2023, Katanacraft and Crater Lake enlisted the help of Chinook helicopters to drop the boats into the lake from above, a necessity given the secluded nature of the caldera.
While reenvisioning the boats for the tours, the team at Crater Lake knew they wanted to work with the people who live within the region. They enlisted the help of Grants Pass-based Katanacraft to build the new boats.
The aluminum alloy vessels — which measure 41 feet long — can hold 55 passengers and two crew members, about 20 more people than the previous ones. Improved safety, stability and fuel efficiency measures make for an improved ride, and innovations in the hull allow the boat to reduce the impact to the shore.
Naming the New Boats
The three boats have names in indigenous languages. You may find yourself on modokni (chosen by the Modoc Tribe and pronounced MO-DOCK-NEE, meaning “belonging to Modoc”), ʔewksiknii (chosen by the Klamath Tribe and pronounced OUK-SEEK-NEE, meaning “people of the lake”) or nɨmɨ (chosen by the Paiute Tribe and pronounced NEW-MUH, meaning “people”).
“It was a good opportunity for us to involve the local community,” says Kevin Snyders, the resident district manager of Aramark’s Oregon properties. “It was time for a refresh.”
If You Go:
- Keep in mind that the 2.2-mile round-trip hike to the boat dock, with a 700-foot drop in elevation, may be too strenuous for some people.
- Reservations are recommended. For upcoming tour information and reservations, see the boat tour booking site.
- Information about park fees and passes can be found here.
- Book well in advance for lodging at Crater Lake Lodge, The Cabins at Mazama Village or Mazama campground within the park, or browse nearby options.
Looking to spend a few more days in the area? Check out the gorgeous forests in the communities southeast of Crater Lake or follow the Upper Rogue River southwest of the lake to great hikes and river fun. You’ll find myriad dining options in addition to the park’s three restaurants.