3 Winter Activities in Crater Lake National Park

Located around the deepest lake in the United States, which fills a volcano-formed hollow within the Cascade Mountains in southern Oregon, Crater Lake National Park is revered year-round for the true-blue color of its water, one-of-a-kind landscapes, clean air and quiet ambience. But the park takes on a different character in the winter, when it’s shrouded in snow and visited only by a few tourists who want to relish in a paradise of solitude and snow sports. Be one of the few and check out these three Crater Lake winter activities.

Snowy trees at the edge of Crater Lake Snow covers Crater Lake National Park about eight months of the year, giving winter enthusiasts plenty of opportunities to explore by foot, ski or snowboard.

 

Getting to Crater Lake National Park

Fly into Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport and follow Oregon Route 62 about 75 miles northeast to access Crater Lake’s southern entrance (the north entrance is closed between November and June). “Folks can also call the visitor center for the latest conditions,” says Crater Lake public information officer Marsha McCabe. “It’s important in the snow to go slowly,” she adds. “Take your time. Don’t hit the brakes too fast or too hard.”

Take a Ranger-Guided Snowshoe Tour

On average, Crater Lake National Park receives more than 40 feet of snow every year, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck indoors when visiting the park during the winter. Every weekend in Crater Lake from December to April, and daily during the late December holiday peak, park rangers offer a guided snowshoe tour around a 2-mile off-trail loop near the lake. Learn about the park’s plant and animal life and the fascinating volcanic history of the region. Crater Lake sits on a volcanic depression, known as a caldera, which was formed when Mount Mazama erupted about 7,700 years ago. The tour is free — including snowshoe rentals — so all you’ll need to pay is the $15 winter entry fee for your vehicle.

Getting to Your Ranger Guides: The snowshoe tour begins at Steel Visitor Center, just off Oregon Route 62.

Three skiers on a multiday backcountry ski trip in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon Ski cross-country style without worrying about weaving through crowds during a winter vacation in Crater Lake.

 

Go Cross-Country Skiing

The park is beloved year-round for its stunning views and the peaceful feeling of being surrounded by nature. Rim Drive, the 31-mile road that circles the lake, is closed to cars in winter, but it’s open for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. From the Rim Village Visitor Center, ski or snowshoe the 8-mile loop to Watchman Overlook for views of Wizard Island, a volcanic cinder cone on the lake’s west end. Or challenge yourself to the full loop. It’ll take more than a day, so you’ll need to prepare to backcountry camp overnight, but you’ll have the trails mostly to yourself — only 12 percent of the park’s more than 700,000 annual visitors come to the park between October and April. Dedicated visitors who do the trip year after year say the solitude and incredible lakeside vistas make it all worth it.

Before heading out on your multiday journey, pick up your free, mandatory backcountry permit from the Steel Visitor Center at the park’s headquarters, the only overnight parking location in Crater Lake during winter.

Getting to the Loop: Begin at the Steel Visitor Center, where the rangers can offer advice, recommend the best routes and help prepare you for conditions.

Crystalwood Lodge Dating to the late 1800s, Crystalwood Lodge offers Crater Lake visitors a place to warm up and feel at home after a full day of winter adventure in the park.

 

Cozy Up by the Fire

If multiday treks through the snow and ice aren’t your cup of tea, how about enjoying a cup of tea (or hot chocolate) by the fire? The Crystalwood Lodge is just a few minutes away from the national park and offers access to snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and dog-sledding excursions — and a warm meal and bed at the end of the day. While Crater Lake winter camping is great for hard-core adventurers, almost everyone can appreciate a nice fire and a warm drink, or cold beer, after a day of fun in the snow.

Getting to Crystalwood Lodge: Drive about 20 miles south from the park via Oregon Route 62 East and the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway. Visitors driving from Medford can take Route 62 toward Crater Lake before turning right onto Oregon Route 140. Follow that for about 45 miles and then turn left onto the Volcanic Legacy National Scenic Byway.

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About the Author

Charles Cody Siler is a writer, photographer, cyclist and active travel guide based in Bogotá, Colombia. His work has appeared in Club Traveler magazine, Gambit Weekly, Berkeleyside and other publications. He spends his summers working as a guide in Iceland, where he tries his best not to antagonize the local sheep.