This year our weather stayed unseasonably nice through October, so we decided to take advantage of a three day weekend and enjoyed a shoulder-season getaway.
Visiting the region in the off months can provide a trip full of activities with drastically smaller crowds. Of course, you will still want to check weather and road conditions if you plan on visiting during this time, as large portions of the park, including the “must do” Rim Drive close due to snow. The park receives an average 44 feet per year!
Where to Stay
Crater Lake Lodge rivals the splendor of many of the old, historic National Park lodges. Originally opened in 1915, it spent years in disrepair due to poor construction. The lodge was completely re-engineered and remodeled in 1994 but its original charm remains intact. Rooms here are small, pricey and book up fast, if you have dreams of staying here, plan accordingly.
The Cabins at Mazama Village are basic but clean. They have queen beds and full bathrooms with stall showers and electricity. The two closest lodging options outside of the park are in Union Creek, which is 25 miles west of the park and Fort Klamath, which is 25 miles south.
We chose to stay at The Aspen Inn in Fort Klamath, as we thought the kids would get a kick out of staying in one of the A-Frame cabins there-and we were right. I also recommend the Union Creek Resort. They have 23 cabins of varying sizes, all of which have been or are in the process of being remodeled. The cabin we toured here was nicely appointed and would have been great for a large family or a couple of families traveling together. For additional lodging options between May and October, click here.
Where to Eat
When it comes to dining at Crater Lake, food is as limited as lodging. We packed breakfast bars, sandwich fixings, snacks, and beverages, and this turned out to be an excellent decision.
Crater Lake National Park has three places to dine and one grocery store open during the peak season, Rim Village Café & Gifts, Annie Creek Restaurant, Crater Lake Lodge Dining Room, and Mazama Village Camper Store.
During our visit only the Rim Village Café and Crater Lake Lodge Dining Room were open. We opted to have lunch at the Crater Lake Lodge Dining Room one afternoon. The food was good and the views were incredible. After our meal we ordered some hot beverages and enjoyed them in the rocking chairs on the patio overlooking the lake. This was such a wonderful way to rest and recharge after a busy morning exploring the park. Travel tip: If you plan to visit Crater Lake Lodge Dining Room between June and September, make a dining reservation.
A few dining options are also available in the town of Chiloquin, located approximately 40 miles south of the park. Melita’s Café, the Peak to Peak Restaurant located at the Kla-Mo-Ya Casino, and El Rodeo were all recommended to us by our hotel. We chose to have dinner at El Rodeo; the location is a little rough-around-the-edges but the food is delicious, real, authentic Mexican cuisine. Plus, the portions are generous and the prices are reasonable.
West of the park by 25 miles, located across the street from Union Creek Resort, is Beckie’s Café. Beckie’s is a rustic diner that serves homestyle fare and not to be missed pies. The Very Berry and Coconut Cream were the “hands down” winners of the four pie types we ordered, but they all were delicious.
Travel tip: Gas stations are scarce so if you do plan on venturing outside of the park for meals or anything else make sure you have enough gas to get you to your destination. The gas station in the park only operates from late May to mid-October. The closest gas stations outside of the park are the Prospect Service Station in the town of Prospect and the Crater Lake Junction Travel Center located in Chiloquin.
What to Do
With a place to rest your head and food in your belly, it’s time to explore! I recommend starting your visit by watching the film at the Visitor’s Center. The film is 22 minutes long and plays on the hour and half hour and is full of great information about the formation of the lake and the history of the park. The Visitor’s Center is staffed by friendly and knowledgeable park rangers who can also answer any questions you may have and point you towards activities, hikes, and adventures you will enjoy.
After watching the video, we drove up towards the main viewing area. We parked our car in the gift shop parking lot and walked a short way to the cliffs edge. The first time you see the lake it will nearly take your breath away. The beauty that lies before you is like nothing you have ever seen before. The water is intensely blue and the clouds in the sky cast shadows that seem to dance on the crater walls. We took a long time to observe and absorb the gloriousness before us.
Walk along the pathway that winds around this side of the lake and stop at the Sinnott Memorial Overlook. The Overlook allows for a closer look at the lake and the Interpretive Center located here has some fascinating information. We particularly liked the video that details the growth of Mount Mazama, the eruption that caused it’s collapse and the subsequent filling of the remaining caldera.
Having thoroughly taken in the initial awe, we decided to embark on the drive around the lake. A narrated tour on a trolley car is available for purchase but we opted to drive our vehicle and explore on our own. You will want to make frequent stops in order to enjoy the many different vistas around Crater Lake.
Allow approximately two hours so that you don’t feel rushed to take in the scenery. On the drive you will find a number of pull-outs for you to park your car, take in a different view and snap some photos. Make sure that you stop at the Pumice Castle Overlook and the Phantom Ship Overlook. Both offer up-close views of two of the parks famous attractions.
The Cleetwood Cove trail is the only trail that leads down to the lake’s shoreline and is one of the most strenuous hikes in Crater Lake National Park. On the second day of our trip, we were inspired to tackle this 2.2-mile round-trip hike. While the walk down was steep (but not too challenging), that same steepness proved to be more difficult on the way back up. A sign at the top of the trail claims that the walk up is equal to climbing 65 flights of stairs and I can say that it felt every bit of that. I still recommend this hike to all those who are able and willing to tackle it. Seeing the lake from the shoreline is gorgeous and peaceful. During the summer months you can catch a boat ride at the bottom and take a two hour tour with a stop on Wizard Island.
Our final adventure in the park was a visit to Pinnacles Overlook. Located in the south east corner of the park, Pinnacles Over look is something that many visitors miss. Take the six-mile detour off of the Rim Drive and park in the small parking lot; The Pinnacles are located a short walk from there. A fascinating sight, you can see the years of wind and water erosion at work.
Ashley Jorgenson is a part-time interior designer and full time mom who enjoys writing about travel. A native Californian, she now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two children. For more from Ashley, visit her blog at www.SeeAsh.com.