Crater Lake National Park Rim Drive and Dip

Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States at 1,943 feet of water filling the Cascade Range volcano caldera.

There are no river or stream outlets from Crater Lake. Snowmelt and rain water replenish lake evaporation annually to maintain a relatively stable lake surface level. Crater Lake National Park was authorized May 22, 1902.

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Crater Lake receives about 500,000 visitors annually. Crater Lake National Park has a north entrance and south entrance. The south entrance is 60 miles northwest of Klamath Falls and 90 miles northeast of Medford, Oregon. The north entrance is 100 miles southwest of Bend, Oregon. Portland is about 240 miles north of Crater Lake. Last year the north entrance was buried under snow in mid-June when I tried to access the park from Bend, Oregon.

The approaches to Crater Lake National Park are heavily forested rural areas of Oregon with few services and towns between Bend, Klamath Falls or Medford and Crater Lake National Park.

Crater Lake Park Headquarters and Visitor Center

Crater Lake is another one of the Cascade peaks that receives abundant snowfall each year. The average annual snowfall at Crater Lake is about 44 feet. Yeah, 533 inches of snow is an average year of snow.

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June 17, 2011 Crater Lake Visitor Center (elev. 6,450 ft.) during my visit last year. Snow was a real impediment for my 2011 visit to the park. There was less than one mile of the 33-mile Crater Lake Rim Road open on June 17, 2011.

I felt the most needed item I did not pack for my June 2011 trip for the Travel Blog Exchange TBEX11 from Monterey, California to Vancouver, British Columbia was a pair of snowshoes. The heavy snowpack still on the ground all across the Cascades from California to Washington and even around Grouse Mountain Park, Vancouver would have made snowshoes a well-used item on my two-week mid-June road trip last year.

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July 18, 2012 Crater Lake National Park Visitor Center.

No snow to the roof of the Crater Lake Visitor Center when I arrived last week. The snow season for 2011-12 was light at about 75% the average snowfall for much of the Cascades in California and Oregon. This year there was only 395 inches of snowfall at Crater Lake since last October 1.

Kind of shocking factoid I saw researching this article is the snowfall average by decade at Crater Lake has actually dropped over 25% in the past 80 years. The heavy snowfall at over 600 inches in 2010-11 was the average snowfall for Crater Lake in the 1930s and 1940s. Light snowfall like this year’s 395 inches is rapidly bringing the snowfall average down.



Crater Lake Rim Drive

Crater Lake Rim Drive opened on July 17, 2012 for the full 33 miles of road that allow a drive around the circumference of the volcano caldera.

The surface of Crater Lake has an elevation 6,173 ft. Crater Lake Rim Drive has road elevations 1,000 to 2,000 ft. higher than the lake surface. Even when the temperature is over 90 F. in Medford, Klamath Falls and Bend, the temperature up on Crater Lake’s rim might only be in the 40s to 60s.

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Standing about 1,000 feet above Crater Lake’s water surface at Discovery Point.

Crater Lake formed relatively recently in geologic time from a cataclysmic eruption around 7,700 years ago of Mount Mazama, a 10,000 to 12,000 foot volcano. The remnants of the volcano collapsed inward forming the deep caldera.  It is estimated the caldera took about 800 years to fill with snowmelt and rain to create the Crater Lake we see today.

Crater Lake Rim Drive

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Discovery Point, Crater Lake National Park.

Crater Lake is about 5 to 6 miles across. Originally Crater lake was called Blue Lake due to the intensity of blue light reflecting off the lake surface. The shades of blue color are dazzling to the eyes and really brilliant on sunny days.

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Crater Lake boat tour passing by Wizard island.

Crater Lake Rim Drive is a 33 mile road around the lake that takes about one hour of driving time; several more hours if you stop to hike or take a boat ride or swim in the lake. Rim Drive is only open for about three months of the year from an opening date usually in July to closure sometime in October.

The snowpack still present on July 18 prevented access to the closed Watchman Peak Trail where there is a 1932 historic fire tower lookout located at one of the highest points in the park.

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Watchman Peak fire lookout tower is one of the highest points in Crater Lake National Park. The lookout is a moderate one hour hike from the Rim Drive.

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Watchman Peak, Crater Lake National Park.

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Wizard Island is a cinder cone volcano rising 755 feet above the Crater Lake surface.

The crater of Wizard Island is about 500 feet across and 100 feet deep. Two times a day during the boat tour season there is an opportunity to be dropped off at Wizard Island for three hours. There is a trail to the summit crater of Wizard Island.

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Wizard Island, Crater Lake National Park

A yellow film on parts of the lake surface is pine pollen from the numerous trees around Crater Lake.

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The sides of the caldera are highly unstable for hiking. There is only one trail down to the water’s surface of Crater Lake at Cleetwood Cove. This is the location on the north side of the lake for boat tours, swimming and fishing. Fish are not natural to Crater lake and were introduced in the 20th century. Fishing is encouraged to remove the non-native species.

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West side of Crater Lake caldera.

Miles of pine forest surround Crater Lake National Park in all directions.

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Forests, lakes and mountains as far as the eye can see is a common feature of the Cascade range.

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Mount Thielsen (9,184 ft.) is an extinct Cascade shield volcano eroded by glaciers.

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In this photo the top of Wizard Island and the lake surface are relatively close to level. The trees are leaning on the caldera slope.

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I find an appealing animism in this old tree.

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Forest grows down to the waterline in places around the caldera of Crater Lake. In other places the caldera has been scoured of trees.

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Watchman Peak seen from the north side of the lake near Pumice Point.

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Llao Rock (elev. 8,049 ft.) is a large slab of dacite lava rock. This is the highest precipice on the Crater Lake Rim rising nearly 2,000 feet above the lake surface (elev. 6,173 ft.).

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Crater Lake Boat Tours

During the summer months the National Park Service offers a ranger-led 2-hour guided boat tour traveling counter-clockwise around the Crater Lake caldera. This year the season for boat tours is June 29 through September 16, 2012.

Departures are hourly from 9:30am to 3:30pm. Boats hold 37 passengers.

Boat Tour Ticket Prices

  • $32 Adult (12 and up)
  • $42 Adult (Wizard Island drop-off)
  • $21 Child (3-11)
  • $27 Child (Wizard Island drop-off)
  • 20 tickets for each boat tour are available for advance purchase. The remaining 17 tickets are sold in the park beginning 24 hours before tour.

I walked up to the Cleetwood Cove parking lot boat tour check-in and ticket booth around 11:30am. I could have bought the last ticket for the 1:30pm boat ride at the parking lot sales booth. The weather was predicted to get rainy. I passed on the boat tour. Actually the weather improved through the afternoon. Mountain weather was really unpredictable during my road trip.

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Near the top of Cleetwood Cove Trail for the hike down to the boat dock.

Cleetwood Cove Trail has advisory warnings for hikers for this 60 to 80 minute roundtrip to the boat dock at the lake’s surface. This is the only authorized trail around the Crater Lake rim where hiking to the lake surface is allowed. Swimming and fishing are allowed at this point in the park.

Cleetwood Cove Trail is a switchback dirt trail taking hikers 700 ft. down the caldera face to the lake surface.

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Upper section of Cleetwood Cove Trail, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.

Cleetwood Cove trail starts out at a low gradient and I thought there were quite a few benches on the path to rest. The trail has a much steeper gradient nearer to the lake surface. Hiking back up to the parking lot in the 65 degree temperature and sun had me wishing there were more benches on the trail to rest. One water bottle was not sufficient for me for the two hours I stayed at the lakeshore.

The round trip hike from the parking lot to the lakeshore takes about 60 minutes with the hike uphill taking 30 to 40 minutes and possibly longer if you need to make more frequent rest stops coming back up the caldera wall.

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Cleetwood Cove Trail view of Mount Scott (8,929 ft.), the highest elevation in Crater Lake National Park.

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Human design of natural elements on Cleetwood Cove Trail.

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Stuck between a rock and a hard place. My backpack provides scale.

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Cleetwood Cove boat dock and swimming spots.

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Crater Lake caldera view from Cleetwood Cove looking to Mt. Scott.

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Swimming at Cleetwood Cove. I had no idea swimming was allowed in the lake. I took a brief dip. The water felt like the Pacific Ocean in Monterey; certainly tolerable for a couple minutes to jump in and splash around in the deepest lake in the United States.

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Deep water dive spot on the rocks about 15 feet above the surface with a clear view of the rock face below the waterline.

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There are toilets with a place to change into and out of swim suits near the Boat Dock at Cleetwood Cove.

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Chipmunks are all around Cleetwood Cove scavenging food and accepting  donations from all-too-willing tourists. The salt and vinegar potato chip was a one time taste this animal refused to try again.

Disclosure: I was not the person feeding the chipmunk. Feeding wildlife is actually an illegal act in Crater Lake National Park.

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Water Level Recording Gauge Tower at Cleetwood Cove.

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Crater Lake boat tour ready to depart from Cleetwood Cove. A Crater Lake research vessel is approaching the dock. These boats were originally brought to Crater Lake by helicopter.

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Bottles of water can be purchased at the boat dock shack at Cleetwood Cove. There is also a photo album showing how the boats were airlifted to Crater Lake.

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East Crater Lake Rim Drive.

In my opinion the views were better from the West Rim Drive of Crater Lake, but clouds and sunlight direction might have played a major factor in that assessment.

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Mount Scott, highest peak in Crater Lake National Park.

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Phantom Ship island is the remnant of an ancient volcano and part of a ridge that protrudes from the caldera wall with only the rocks of Phantom Ship above the surface of the lake. After this view point on the East Rim Drive the road moves away from the caldera rim on the south side of the lake as the road descends to a lower elevation to intersect with the main road near the Park Headquarters at 6,500 feet.

West Rim Drive begins about 200 yards from the Crater Lake Rim Village where you find a high priced café and gift shop.

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Rim Village gift shop and café.

Crater Lake Lodge at Rim Village is open year round and offers a restaurant and bar with afternoon appetizers.

West Rim Drive begins about 3 miles north of the Crater Lake Visitor Center about 50 yards before reaching the parking lot of Rim Village. The road exits at East Rim Drive about 1/2 mile downhill from the Crater Lake Visitor Center and Park Headquarters.

There are no food services along the Crater Lake Rim Drive. I drove back to the Lodge for food. Turns out that there is very little food available until 3 pm in the lounge of the Lodge. There is a restaurant in the Lodge for fine dining.

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Crater Lake Lodge at Rim Village, Crater Lake National Park.

I wrote up a review of the Crater Lake Lodge from my June 2011 trip.

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Crater Lake Lodge view.

Crater Lake National Park is an American treasure of water and light. The opportunity to travel clear around the Crater Lake caldera on the Rim Drive is a seasonal opportunity not to be missed when you get the chance.

Loyalty Traveler original post link: http://loyaltytraveler.boardingarea.com/2012/07/24/crater-lake-national-park-rim-drive-and-dip/

Related Loyalty Traveler posts:

The Lodge at Running Y Ranch, a Holiday Inn Resort Klamath Falls, Oregon (July 23, 2012)

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California (July 22, 2012)

Deep Blue Water Under a Mirror Sky – Crater Lake National Park and Crater Lake Lodge (June 25, 2011)

Under Cascade Blue Skies – Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, Oregon (June 23, 2011)


Ric Garrido, writer and content owner of Loyalty Traveler, shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests. You can follow Loyalty Traveler on Twitter and Facebook and RSS feed.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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  1. Looks like a lot of fun – can’t wait to see it first-hand – thanks for the report

  2. Ha! My dad was just at Crater Lake. I asked if he went for a swim, and he let me know that I was an idiot because it’s a crater and you can’t swim in it. I guess I’ll have to call him back and let him know he’s an idiot, because you can swim in it!

  3. @Mike – There are miles of hiking trails. I saw at least 200 cyclists biking the Rim Drive.

    Swimming and fishing and a boat tour on the lake. Fishing on Crater Lake is supposedly difficult from what I read since no live bait is allowed and the water is so clear that the fish can see the lure is artificial. The Park Service does not want to introduce new species to the lake which is why no live bait.

    @Sheryl – there is a photo album at the boat dock showing a woman diving from the rock area I photographed with the deep water.

    There were more women who dared to get in the water than men during the time I was there. Just remember your bathing suit, sunscreen, and change of clothes before hiking down. The car is a long hike back up the hillside.

    I recommend wearing shoes since it is rocky getting back out of the water and many of the rocks have sharp edges.

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