All American Road Trip: Hiking, Hot Springs & More in Crater Lake National Park

What makes Crater Lake National Park so unique? Well, for starters, it’s the deepest lake in the U.S., 1,943 feet, to be exact. Crater Lake formed over 77,000 years ago when Mount Mazama volcano erupted and imploded on itself, creating a massive divot in the earth. Over the centuries, a lake was formed in its place. No streams are feeding the lake—it is fed entirely by rain and snow.

The entire Crater Lake National Park area is perfect for a family or couples’ getaway. As the only National Park in Oregon, it is truly unique, with old-growth forest and wildlife viewing galore. Here is a three-day itinerary that hits all of the highlights.

Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. Photo Courtesy of John Manard

DAY 1 – CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK

Your first day is all about exploring the lake! Summer is a great time to visit because all roads will be open, and great hikes can be found everywhere. Start early and beat the crowds with a morning hike along the Godfrey Glen Trail. This 1.1-mile hike is perfect for viewing The Pinnacles, a geological feature of pumice spires formed due to the collapse of Mount Mazama on the southeast corner of the park. The Godfrey Glen Trail is also pet-friendly during summer and fall months.

The Visitor Center opens at 9 a.m.—be sure to drop by after your hike to watch the film for an excellent learning opportunity about the park’s history and how the lake was formed.

The Sinnott Memorial Overlook at Crater Lake National Park. Photo Courtesy of Jim Culp

Make your way to Rim Village, where you can visit the Sinnott Memorial Overlook for some of the most sweeping views in Crater Lake National Park. Roll down the windows, put on your sunnies and continue the sightseeing along West Rim Drive. There are plenty of breathtaking viewpoints along the way. Take a break from the driving and hike down the steep Cleetwood Cove Trail to the water’s edge. Here, you’ll see the amazing color and clarity of the lake up close from the only legal access point to reach the shores of Crater Lake.

View of the Phantom Ship and Wizard Island by boat at Crater Lake National Park. Photo Courtesy of Wayne Hsieh

Complete your drive by exploring the East Rim with stops at Kerr and Sun Notch for epic views of Phantom Ship Island, a cinder cone in the middle of the lake. Visitors do not have access to this island. Wizard Island, however, is accessible via tour boat. Personal watercrafts are prohibited on the lake, so this is your only chance to get some quality time on the water. The entire Rim Drive loop is generally open from June to October.

Stop for lunch at Rim Village Café and walk the promenade. If you still have some time, stop by the Pumice Desert, a geological attraction located in the northern section of the park. When Mount Mazama collapsed, this area was covered with pumice up to 200 feet deep. Can you believe that?

Kayaking the Wood River at Jackson F. Kimball State Park. Photo Courtesy of Michael (a.k.a. moik) McCullough

DAY 2 – KIMBALL STATE PARK

If you thought the waters of Crater Lake were stunning, wait until you arrive at our next destination. About 20 miles southeast of Crater Lake on state Route 62, you’ll find Jackson F. Kimball State Park. This beautiful park makes for a great day trip from Crater Lake and is heavily laden with gorgeous ponderosas, lodgepoles and quaking aspen. Established in 1955, there are 19 acres to explore, including the Wood River headwaters. Here you can camp, picnic and enjoy various water activities.

Anglers will love the great fishing in the Wood River, with plenty of rainbow, brook and brown trout to be had. With clear, sparkling waters, canoeing or kayaking is a must. Paddle along the four-mile Wood River Run toward Agency Lake for a mellow and scenic route that ends at the Wood River Day Use Area. Take the short trail connecting the main campground to the headwater’s location. The park is open from mid-April through October and is typically closed in winter due to inclement weather.

The Umpqua Hot Springs in the Umpqua National Forest. Photo Courtesy of Mitchell Friedman

DAY 3 – UMPQUA NATIONAL FOREST

Make sure to pack your bathing suit, because just 44 miles northwest of Crater Lake are amazing hot springs not to be missed. The Umpqua Hot Springs are a naturally occurring cluster of geothermal pools hidden away in Oregon’s national forest. The trailhead to get to the springs can be found about 4.5 miles from the town of Clearwater off state Route 138.

Explore more of Umpqua National Forest by making a stop at Toketee Falls. The one-mile, out-and-back trail to get to the falls is suitable for all skill levels and is pet-friendly, as long as your furry friend is on a leash. Toketee is a two-tier waterfall cascading over towering basalt columns which makes for excellent photos.

Mount Thielsen from Diamond Lake in the Umpqua National Forest. Photo Courtesy of Al Case, Ashland Daily Photo

Nearby Diamond Lake offers a ton of water activities such as boating and fishing. Epic hiking can be found at Mt. Thielsen Trail. This is a fantastic 10-mile, out-and-back trail for the more adventurous hiker, featuring mountain Hemlock, beautiful wildflowers and plenty of elevation gain.

Where to Stay in Crater Lake, Oregon

Crater Lake is a great home base for exploring the area, and there are several options to fit all budgets. Open mainly during the summer months; these are the best places to stay in and around Crater Lake National Park.

The Mazama Village Store in Crater Lake National Park. Photo Courtesy of Virginia Hill

For something more affordable, Mazama Campground is the only developed campground within the park and has over 200 tent and RV sites surrounded by old-growth forests. Each site comes with a picnic table, fire ring and bear-resistant food locker. There are modern bathrooms, water spigots and bear-proof trash bins throughout the park. The short 10-minute walk to Mazama Village offers paid showers and a small general store to load up on supplies and firewood.

Prospect, Oregon, is about 40 miles southwest of the park, and here you will find Union Creek Resort. They offer accommodations ranging from cozy, well-appointed cabins for two, up to vacation homes for up to eight people. The on-site restaurant, Beckie’s Café, serves down-home comfort food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s also pet-friendly!

The Crater Lake Lodge at Crater Lake National Park. Photo Courtesy of rebecca.shiraev@sbcglobal.net

Crater Lake Lodge first opened its doors in 1915 and is a gorgeous historic attraction. It can best be described as rustic luxury at its finest. It is the only accommodation overlooking the lake, with nicely appointed rooms and a great restaurant on site. Rocking chairs outside the back of the hotel facing the lake provide a great place to hang out during the day or under the stars at night.


The Great American Road Trip. Photo from our Original Series Venturing Out: Park 2 Park

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