Late Fall Road Trip To Crater Lake

On a nice fall weekend we decided to drive to Crater Lake, Oregon’s only national park. And, I’m ashamed to say, our first and only national park trip since long before the pandemic. This road trip to Crater Lake was a bit different than other trips I’ve taken there, namely because we had our two small dogs with us. If you’re considering visiting Crater Lake, be sure to check out our post, the Ultimate Guide to Visiting Crater Lake. It’s still one of the most useful guides I’ve seen.

I had heard stories over the past few months of national parks being overrun with visitors — overflowing trashcans, having to make appointments to enter, or being people turned away. Happily, I can report that we had none of those negative experiences during our road trip to Crater Lake. The park was well-populated that day, but there was parking and the park seemed attended to, with rangers on site. We drove around the rim, made a few stops for views, and had a picnic lunch. We went into the gift shop and took a short hike at The Lady of the Woods Trail.

Keeps dogs safely on a leash and in hand at Crater Lake, because cliffs are steep.

Dogs in Crater Lake

You can take dogs into the park, but they have to be on leash all the time (obviously). At the entrance, we were told “paws on pavement” only. And we more or less saw people observing that rule. The brochure says “paws on pavement” or within 50 feet of a paved surface, and some people seemed to take a liberal interpretation of that distance.

The only main difference was that there are some trails you aren’t supposed to take dogs on, and that frankly, would be too steep for most dogs. Out of the park’s 16 hiking trails, the park only allows dogs on four of those. We visited The Lady of the Woods Trail, which is a fairly easy .7-mile loop trail that goes around the park headquarters. Self-guiding brochures are available with info about 10 stops along the trail, which highlights the park’s architecture. The trail’s name refers to a sculpture of a woman carved into a boulder along the trail.

The Lady of the Woods trail highlights the park’s architecture.


Views anywhere in the park are scenic, such as this view from the Lady of the Woods trail.

Although the park’s brochure describes this trail as “easy,” I would say it’s only moderately easy. The ground is uneven and there is some uphill. Since I have asthma and the park is at an elevation of nearly 6,200 feet, I had to take it slow and rest a couple of times. For wheelchair users, they would definitely need some help in places. Also, on the day that we were there the entrance was blocked off due to closures or construction (we weren’t sure which) and there was temporary signage directing visitors to a new entrance. We almost missed the signs and gave up. If you go, look for some small printed white signs tied on to the fence.

The other trails that you can take dogs on are:

  • The Godfrey Glen Trail – winds through old-growth forests
  • The Grayback Drive – where mountain biking is allowed
  • The Pacific Crest Trail – which makes two road crossings in the park, each with a parking lot

In the winter and spring, pets are allowed only on one park trail: the Pacific Crest Trail, which is open to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing and will be covered in snow unless you go in the mid-summer. You can also walk your dog around Mazama Campground, when it is open. We were there in late October and the campgrounds were already closed.

Closures in Crater Lake

One of the reasons we decided to go on this fall weekend in October is that many of the roads close on November 1 or sooner if there’s snow. Crater Lake is one of the snowiest inhabited places in the USA. Each winter, the park area receives about 42 feet of snow. This forces closures of the park’s Rim Drive and North Entrance to automobiles. Once closed, many people ski and snowshoe along the Rim Drive. The North Entrance Road becomes a snowmobile trail. It’s only the road to the Rim Village from the south entrance that is open all year round — and only then when there’s not significant snow. While this is a scenic drive, there’s a lot you’re going to miss if you only see this short route.

Due to COVID, many of the park’s activities that you normally could do in the summer were not operational. This includes trolly tours and boat tours of the lake.

A model of Crater Lake in the foreground, with the real thing in the background, at Sinnott Overlook.

Planning a Visit to Crater Lake

Because of the deep snow and seasonal closures, Crater Lake is one of the national parks that you really need to check current conditions on before you go. Since we had the dogs with us this time, there were a lot of hikes we wanted to go on that we didn’t get to. Next time, we’ll visit the Pinnacles Overlook, which requires a 6-mile detour from Rim Drive to see colorful, 100-feet tall volcanic spires. We also want to return and hike to Watchman’s Peak to watch the sunset, and to Castle Crest, for wildflowers in June and July.

Crater Lake Lodge is the kind of place that you have to reserve months or even years in advance. But there are plenty of RV parks, some campgrounds, and some hotels and lodges in the area. During high season, you may have to drive an hour or so from a hotel to the park, but that still makes for an easy day trip.

I feel glad that we got to at least visit one scenic national park this year. If you have a scenic area or a national park near you, don’t wait! Get out there and enjoy it.