When to Visit Crater Lake National Park?

The fact that Oregon has only ONE National Park is….quite comical to me, considering how much pristine & beautiful wilderness lies in this state.  Just yesterday, I was looking up new (dog-friendly) hikes to explore near my home in Bend, Oregon: & there were over 500 to choose from!!!  Oregon indeed boasts a wild assortment of riches when it comes to the outdoors, & one of those spots is indeed its lone National Park: Crater Lake.  Famed for its depth (yes, it’s the deepest in America) & often called “the bluest lake in the world,” Crater Lake is worth visiting nearly every season of the year….but some are better than others!  Find out when to visit Crater Lake National Park & what activities are available to you all year-round.

When to Visit Crater Lake National Park? Girl Who Travels the World

I’ll just state right up front: this photo has not been altered or edited in ANY way. The water at Crater Lake National Park really is THAT blue.

Where is Crater Lake National Park?

And where are the closest airports?  Crater Lake is located in Southern Oregon, & the closest airport can be found in Klamath Falls (60 miles away).  The Medford-International Airport is 80 miles away, but offers more flight options than Klamath.  And if you’re traveling to the fun, outdoorsy town of Bend (which I recommend), the Redmond Airport is just over 100 miles away ~ or about a two-hour drive.

Crater Lake National Park

Redmond Airport

Klamath Airport

Medford Airport

Quick Facts About Crater Lake

  • The elevation at Crater Lake National Park is 6,178 feet (1,883 meters), which is high enough to make snow & accessibility an issue for at least half the year (November through May). 
  • Crater Lake is 1,932 feet (592 meters) deep, & is the deepest lake in the United States. The deepest lake in the world is called Lake Baikal, which can be found in Siberia. 
  • Crater Lake National Park sees 482,000 visitors per year ~ but 80% of them visit during summer!! (So try visiting during a different season, if you can…). 
  • There are two main hotels actually within Crater Lake National Park: 1) Crater Lake Lodge, which is the more “upscale” option ~ but still with lots of rustic charm, & 2) The Cabins at Mazama, which frankly look a little….dismal. Camping may be a better option than staying at the Cabins! 
  • Speaking of camping, there are two developed campgrounds within Crater Lake National Park: 1) Mazama Campground (yes, next to the aforementioned Cabins), & 2) Lost Creek Campground. Both are only open during summer.
  • Can You Swim in Crater Lake? YES!!! In designated areas, & as long as you don’t mind the C-O-L-D!!
  • Can You Fish and/or Kayak in Crater Lake: You CAN fish in Crater Lake, & they actually encourage it! Anywhere along the shoreline is fine, or on Wizard Island. But kayaking or bringing any recreational boat or device on the lake is a NO.
  • Is Crater Lake National Park pet-friendly?? The good news here for dog-lovers is….YES!! In certain, designated areas, ~ but it’s a lot more territory than the average National Park.  Dogs can be walked on-leash on any paved road, in parking lots, & up to 50 feet away from either ~ as long as there’s no snow!  During summer & fall, walk along the 1/4 mile paved promenade which starts at Rim Village, & gives you great views of the lake. Also during summer & fall, you can take your pup on four of Crater Lake’s hiking trails: 1) The Godfrey Glen Trail, 2) Lady of the Woods Trail, 3) Grayback Drive (as long as no snow), & 4) The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). This is actually a LOT of options for a National Park!

When to Visit Crater Lake National Park, Girl Who Travels the World

So the good news is….you CAN bring your pets to Crater Lake National Park! This is a photo of my dog, Dylan checking out Wizard Island during the summer, very close to Rim Village.

Overview of Each Season at Crater Lake…

  • SUMMER = July, August, & September.  Let’s start with summer, since it’s far & away the most popular time to visit. Summer is really the only season when the roads, facilities, & trails are all FULLY OPEN ~ & when you’re pretty much bound to have good weather & clear lake views.  There are over 90 MILES of hiking trails at Crater Lake: & summer & fall are pretty much the only time they’re accessible….so make sure to add a hike to your itinerary when visiting during this time! Other great summertime activities to enjoy at Crater Lake: biking, boat tours of the lake (including to Wizard Island), photography, trolley tours, picnicking, or hiking to one of Crater’s two waterfalls ~ Vidae or Plaikni.
  • FALL = Late September & October.  Okay, so the bad news: fall is REALLY short at Crater Lake! Ha ~ technically, autumn is really only October, as the snow starts a’ falling in November. But the best thing about fall (aka October) at Crater Lake is that you can do virtually everything you can do during summertime….with wayyyy less people. That’s why fall gets my personal vote for the best time of year to visit Crater Lake, & why I’ll be heading there with my puppy + friends this October to check out at least one of their pet-friendly hiking trails!
  • WINTER = November – May.  Winter is lonnngggg at Crater Lake (seven months, give or take), & unless you enjoy winter sports & have a 4X4: I’d skip visiting during this season. Sure, the lake is gorgeous ~ but you can pretty much count on the North Entrance being closed ALL winter long, as well as Rim Drive….leaving only the South & West Entrances open. BUT: if you’re a winter outdoor enthusiast, you can cross-country ski along Rim Drive (which is closed to traffic in winter), snowshoe, camp in the backcountry, downhill ski (no chairlifts here ~ hiking required), snowboard, sled, or simply just bring the kids & play in the snow! Views of the lake are often obscured during winter, but if you love snow: consider enjoying Crater Lake this upcoming winter….minus most of the crowds!
  • SPRING = May & June.  Winter is LONG at Crater Lake ~ which means spring is quite SHORT, & can have very unpredictable weather! May at Crater Lake still sees, on average, 20 inches of snowfall; but in June, there’s typically only 4 inches. Hiking trails are still covered with deep snow in May & June, so if you’re coming to hike….you’ll be disappointed. Rim Drive & the North Entrance are often still closed, making activities very limited during spring. You can view the lake at Rim Village & possibly snow shoe….but due to how limited activities are: spring would be my least favorite time of year to visit Crater Lake.

Photos of Crater Lake National Park, by Season

When is the Best Time to Visit Crater Lake National Park? Girl Who Travels the World

Visiting Crater Lake during the summer virtually guarantees good weather ~ but inevitably bigger crowds. Try to visit on a weekday.

Visiting Crater Lake in Summer, Girl Who Travels the World

And summer is the ONLY season where you can even attempt to swim in the lake, like my friend Amanda, pictured here jumping in the lake!

When is the Best Time to Visit Crater Lake National Park? Girl Who Travels the World

Dark pines & juniper frame the lake beautifully, making for epic shots from nearly every angle.

Visiting Crater Lake in Summer & Fall, Girl Who Travels the World

Boat tours to Wizard Island are only available from July thru September, so take advantage if you want to get out on the lake! Note: there is a steep descent down to the dock, so not suitable for everyone.

Visiting Crater Lake in the Autumn, Girl Who Travels the World

Fall is fleeting at Crater Lake! From late September through early November, you can still expect good weather, very little chance of snow…& if you’re lucky, you’ll catch the changing of the fall colors!

When to Visit Crater Lake National Park, Girl Who Travels the World

Winter at Crater Lake.

Visiting Crater Lake in Winter, Girl Who Travels the World

One of the best things about visiting Crater Lake during winter: Rim Drive is CLOSED to vehicles…which means you can cross-country ski or snow shoe your way around the lake!

Visiting Crater Lake National Park in Spring, Girl Who Travels the World

This is Crater Lake in the spring….STILL SNOW!! Limited activities: but gorgeous, nonetheless. Photography by The Northcoast Photographer.

When to Visit Crater Lake National Park?

If you’re not able to find lodging right at Crater Lake, I have two recommendations: either head south to the lovely Running Y Lodge in Klamath Falls.  Or, if you’re looking for a town with a lot of great bars, restaurants, & outdoor adventures: head up to Bend,the largest town in Central Oregon.  My top hotel pick here is Tetherow, a high-end golf resort situated on a bluff overlooking the mountains. 

Simply gorgeous! 

xoxo Noelia

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