Key information: Crater Lake
- Extraordinary circular lake under deep cliffs, inside a crater left by a massive volcanic explosion.
- This day walk (or less) is around the crater rim is high in the mountains of Oregon, with magnificent views all round.
- Beautiful changing colours of the lake far below you.
- Walkopedia rating87
- Natural interest18
- Human interest3
- Negative points4
- Total rating87
- Note: Negs: popularity, some crowding
- Length: Some 35 km/day or less
- Maximum Altitude: 2,440m
- Level of Difficulty: Variable
As with many of the world's best walks, Crater Lake is a bit freaky. A huge volcano, Mt Mazama, exploded catastrophically some 7,700 years ago. Nothing especially unusual so far (other than size – it was the largest explosion in the Cascades for millions of years), but get this: it left a perfect crater rim, up to 9.7 km across, varying less than 300m in height in its entirety. Inside, beneath its cliffs, is a huge and very blue caldera lake, containing a new little ash cone. At 1,943 feet (592 meters) deep, Crater Lake is the seventh deepest lake in the world and the deepest in the United States.
Initially christened "Deep Blue Lake" by John Wesley Hillman, the first European American to lay eyes on it in 1853, Crater Lake has long been sacred to the Klamath tribe of Native Americans, who may have witnessed the explosion of Mount Mazama and the development of Crater Lake.
Due to several unique factors, most notably that it has no tributaries or inlets, the waters of Crater Lake are some of the purest in North America.
At 2,440m (8,000 ft), Crater Lake is the highest point for mile around; look one way and see the serried uplands of Oregon’s Cascade range; turn around and you are gazing across this wonder of nature.
You can walk round the lake in a day, enjoying the changing light and new angles; or make shorter expeditions if you prefer: the choice is yours. There are many places to walk, depending on how you feel; the paths tend to wind through the pine forest of the outer slopes, emerging regularly to breathtaking views on the crater rim. One of the best of the shorter walks is the one hour round trip from the Crater Lake Lodge to the peak to its south, the highest point of the rim, to discover the area’s best views.
The air is thinning here, so be prepared to be a bit breathless.
Up to 500,000 people come here each year. High times can be crowded.
A extract from Wild by Cheryl Strayed:
“My guidebook had been correct: my first sight of it was one of disbelief. The surface of the water sat 900 feet below where I stood on the rocky 7,100-foot-high rim. The jagged circle of the lake spread out beneath me in the most unspeakably pure ultramarine blue I’d ever seen. It was approximately six miles across, its blue interrupted only by the top of a small volcano, Wizard Island, that rose 700 feet above the water, forming a conical island upon which twisted foxtail pines grew. The mostly barren, undulating rim that surrounded the lake was dotted with these same pines and backed by distant mountains.”
Other accounts: share your experiences
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
See also expedition planning, including our universal expedition checklist.
Walkopedia encourages responsible travel.
Oregons Wilderness Areas: The Complete Guide by George Wuerthner, Westcliffe Publishers (2003) contains a chapter on The Crater Lake National Park and is especially useful if you are looking to explore other parts of Oregon on your trip.
100 Hikes in Southern Oregon by William L. Sullivan, Navillus Press (2003) contains a section on walks around Crater and Diamond Lakes. Again, it is good if you are looking to explore more of Oregon.
Crater Lake National Park Trail Map by Trails Illustrated National Geographic Society Maps (1998)
Stanfords: www.stanfords.co.uk. The best (and the most user-friendly) online source of maps (and is also good for guidebooks).
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
Crater Lake typically receives a huge amount of snow that during the winter months (November – April), making much of the area inaccessible. July, August, and September are the times when dry, warmer weather are most probable and you are consequently more likely to enjoy better walking conditions. October was beautiful (and pretty empty) when we were there. A typical daytime high temperature during these three months is around 67°F (19°C), but can range from 40°F to 80°F or more (4°C to 27°C). Temperatures cool off rapidly in the evening, with a typical nighttime low around 40°F (4°C), while some nights dip below freezing.
Due to the relatively short season of accessibility enjoyed by this fantastic location, it is liable to be busy at this time.
Weather shapes and defines Crater Lake National Park annually to such an extent that it is imperative that you are aware not only of the climate trends when planning your visit, but of the specific forecast for the individual day/days of your trip. In winter snow is usually present from October and tends to remain in most places until the following June. Summer weather is more predictable, with warm, dry days and cool nights. However, there may be days even in August, when the lake is completely shrouded in cloud and fog. People visiting Crater Lake National Park should be prepared for all kinds of weather, any time of the year.
Permits are needed to do this walk. They can be obtained on entrance to the park and cost $10 (for a 7 day car pass).
See “Walk Summary” above.
Possible problems, health, other warnings
Mountain weather: rain, severe cold and wind are possible at any time of year. Come prepared.
Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
Heights: can be dangerous; not for those who have difficulties with heights.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
Almost everyone does this walk independently.
You can join organized expeditions. Worth checking organizers out on the web.
Though this is a day walk and there is no need to find accommodation en route, there are two options for lodging in Crater Lake National Park and two campsites available during the summer months.
Crater Lake Lodge is rather special; an atmospheric old building perched on the crater rim. It is normally open mid-May through mid-October. Advance reservations are strongly recommended.
Mazama Village Motor Inn is located in the Mazama Village complex. It is open June through early October, and reservations are recommended.
Mazama Campground is the significantly larger of the two campsites and is usually open mid-June through early October (opening and closing times strongly dependent on the weather). Running water, flush toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings are provided.
Lost Creek Campground is open from mid-July to early October. This campground is first come, first served only. Again, weather can impact the opening and closing dates of the campground.
Other information and tips
Useful websites and information
There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
• www.nps.gov – The National Park Service website.
• www.wikipedia.org - good, general introduction and reference.
Other things to do in the area
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.
Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
share your experiences
Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
Responsible travel matters, a lot. How you travel will make a real difference - for better or worse. PLEASE consider this when making plans. Read more