Hi all! My name is Taylor Duncan and welcome to my article on Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. I grew up in Southeast Wisconsin just outside of Milwaukee. While growing up, I was fortunate enough to do a fair amount of travel including many trips to Oregon and a few international journeys.
I always took plenty of photos when I traveled but I found it unsatisfying to take random shots of experiences and locations. Instead, I wanted to come home with something I could be proud of to print and hang on my wall.
My passion for photography slowly developed from these experiences but really took off when I went to college at Oregon State University. Here I was easily able to drive to some of the most beautiful places in the country and practice my photography. After graduating college, I moved back to Wisconsin. Now, after six years, I’m back in the state I have come to love.
Why I Love Living in Oregon
I love that Oregon is diverse in many aspects, including the number of climates and landscapes that exist here. In about eight hours, you can drive across the whole state (weather and traffic dependent) and find yourself in deserts, mountain ranges, temperate rainforests, beautiful valleys and at the most stunning coastline in the country staring out into the Pacific.
Oregon is one of the country’s best natural playgrounds. There is something for everyone to enjoy here – including the epic Crater Lake!
Winter Backpacking Trip in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
I have been to Crater Lake six or seven times and it’s a place where I have developed some great memories. This last trip was no exception. A few friends, my fiance and I were discussing adventures we could go on this winter and we decided to do a winter backpacking trip. I had backpacked at Crater Lake in the snow before and had a great time, so I suggested it.
One of my friends had never been there and this was the perfect opportunity to introduce him to the park. In winter, it’s less busy and we could enjoy the views and discover the park with less people around.
We overnight backpacked and were there for about 24 hours. Not many of the facilities were open due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. For example, we didn’t experience the visitor centers and I would highly recommend checking those out when they reopen. Backcountry camping is free with a permit when Rim Drive is closed to vehicles for the winter.
Currently, also due to COVID, you have to self-register at the national park headquarters (Steel Visitor Center) and also park there – the designated overnight parking area. We wanted to camp near the Watchman which is one of the highest points you can get to that is located on the rim.
The Watchman is in my favorite area of the park on the west side of the lake. I think it has the best views because of its proximity to Wizard Island – a volcanic cinder cone which is the most beautiful feature in the lake.
From the designated parking area, we first snowshoed up 1.5 miles to Rim Village. There are views of the lake here and also restrooms and day-use only parking. We then continued for about 3.5 miles and camped near the southern base of the Watchman. It’s not for me, but you can backpack around the entire lake which is about a 31 mile multi-day adventure.
Top 5 Experiences at Crater Lake
Inspired by several of my adventures at Crater Lake (including my most recent winter backpacking trip), I believe the experiences below are some of the best activities – especially for first-time visitors to the park.
- Hike the Watchman Peak Trail: This is a 1.8 mile round trip hike (from the official trailhead, accessible by road in the summer) with about 400 feet of elevation gain. It offers one of the best views of the lake and the awesome Wizard Island – a volcanic cone/island at the west end.
- Drive around the lake during summer: The views are spectacular!
- Take a snowshoe adventure in winter: Whether it be a day trip or a backpacking excursion, you will absolutely love this winter activity.
- Walk to the top of Wizard Island: In summer you can take the ferry to Wizard Island and hike to the top. I haven’t done this yet but plan to.
- Check the views of the lake around Rim Village: This village is the main tourist centre of the national park with a couple of visitors centres.
Where to Stay when Visiting Crater Lake National Park
Lodging around Crater Lake is tricky. I have stayed at Crater Lake Lodge which is a fantastic experience but it can get hard to secure a room. You also have cabins and camping at Mazama Village, about seven miles south of Rim Village. But again, it can be hard to find a reservation at Mazama Village. Both of these places can be found at www.travelcraterlake.com.
I have personally not stayed at Mazama Village but would like to at some point. For other camping sites, there is a first-come, first-serve tent camp area called Lost Creek Campground with 16 sites located on the southeast side of the park about 14 miles east of Rim Village. I haven’t stayed here but will one day. Accommodation becomes limited outside of the park.
My Best Memories of Crater Lake National Park
My first winter backpacking trip at Crater Lake was my most memorable experience at the national park. It was in March, 2015 and I hiked to the north base of the Watchman. The road had been plowed and hiking was easy. The next morning, I woke up to see the Milky Way rise over the lake.
This was a magical experience with an incredible view. I photographed it until sunrise and treated myself to a delicious oatmeal breakfast! The hike out was rough, due to fatigue, but the views blew me away.
Need to Know Before you Go
- Do your research so you are prepared. Visit the Crater Lake National Park website at the National Park Service for the most up to date information. Things can change at any time so be flexible.
- Be careful when hiking along the rim as the trails can get close to the cliffs. During the winter there are cornices, patches of drifted snow that overhang on the cliffs. Movement near or on a cornice can cause them to collapse over the edge, potentially taking you down with it.
- If you are planning a trip to Crater Lake from Portland, and you can, I suggest driving to Bend and staying there first before heading to the lake. It’s now my new home and there is so much to do here. It makes the drive down more manageable. From PDX, it’s a 4 hour drive to the north entrance and a 5 hour drive to the south entrance. From Bend, it’s about 2 hours to the north entrance and 3 hours to the south entrance. Whatever you choose, give yourself extra time to travel more safely and to account for the unexpected like potential car accidents.
- Traveling from Bend, we like to fill our gas tank and take a break in La Pine or Chemult. There are several gas stations and a rest stop just past Chemult.
- Pack snacks and water.
- Download music or a podcast for the trip. There is spotty or no data service in the national park. It’s a great opportunity to unplug.
- Don’t make Crater Lake National Park your only experience when visiting Oregon, there is so much more to do and see.
- Have fun and remember to Leave No Trace!