When heading up to Southern Oregon, one of the most popular sites is Crater Lake. Known for its pristine blue water, incredible views, and unique geological features, it is a must stop for anyone visiting Oregon and road tripping on the west coast. But is it safe for families in the time of COVID? Is Crater Lake possible as a day trip? I am here to tell you all you need to know to have a fun and safe trip to the pristine blue water, and picturesque cliffs of Crater Lake National Park.
We started our day at Mt Shasta, California, with some good friends before we started the two hour drive up to Crater Lake. The road was incredibly picturesque with farmlands, mountains, and forests. As we crossed into Oregon and past the Klamath Lake area, we entered the beautiful National Forests that surround Crater Lake
We hit a little traffic waiting to pay the entrance fee to enter the park, but otherwise, it was a smooth short 10 minute drive to Rim Village, the main visitors area of Crater Lake National Park, and the jumping off point for most of the park. Once we pulled up to the parking area, we got a glimpse of the clear blue water peeking out from the surrounding mountains. We parked and rushed to the walking path. There we all sucked in our collective breath as we saw the breathtaking vista before us.
Crater Lake is truly a unique structure. It was once a volcano that ,after a massive explosion ~7,000 years ago, collapsed and created a crater. Eventually, it cooled then filled with snow and rain to the depths you see today. It continues to be fed by rain today. Due to the fact that it is a rare structure that is not fed by any rivers or tributaries, it has no pollutants and is some of the purest water in the world, making the deep blue you notice so famous.
One of the unique features is Wizard Island in the middle of the lake. A volcanic cinder cone made after the volcanic explosion, it is now the largest such in Crater lake and forms an island in the middle of the lake. My kids thought it looked like a wizard’s hat, and after reading one too many Rick Riordan books, were convinced there was a secret witch school on the island that only other wizards and witches could see.
Navigating the Park
Crater Lake turned out to be quite a manageable park for a day trip. From Hwy 62, once you enter the park there is one road that leads to Rim Village. This is where you find the most food options, bathrooms, and a visitors’ center. Rim Village is also where Rim Road, the road that circles Crater Lake, meets from both directions. Rim Road is a two-lane road that contains lots of scenic pullouts and overlooks along the way .
We chose to park in the Rim Village area and walk and hike from there. By the village there are several beautiful lookout points, and it is paved for a good portion of the way, making it an easy walk. We also made it down to the Sinnot Memorial Overlook, where there is a covered platform that is hanging over the lake, and gives you a clear, un-blocked view.
- To make Crater Lake a day trip, make sure to leave early in the morning. Crater Lake is about 1.5 to 2 hours from the nearest big town. If you add on driving around Rim road, you will want to make sure to leave yourself plenty of time.
- The website recommends you give yourself two hours to drive around Rim Road including stops. We left Mt. Shasta too late and chose to skip that part of the park and were sad we missed it.
- Fill up on gas before leaving for Crater Lake. There are very few gas stations (and no major chains) within two hours of the park. There is one pump in the park, but it can have a long line.
- There is almost no cell reception in the park and for most of land surrounding Crater Lake National Park. Make sure to download the maps beforehand and/or bring paper maps with you.
- If you have little ones, keep a close eye on them when walking around the rim. There are some steep drop offs right along the side of the path. My kids are cautious, and even they had me worried several times.
- Due to COVID, the visitor’s centers are not open. They are providing Junior Ranger workbooks at the gift shop, but they will not swear you in as a Junior Ranger
- Even though during normal times there is plenty of food available, at time of publication, most of the food available for sale is grab and go. In addition, they limit the number of people who enter the shop. On a busy weekend it can be a 15+ minute wait just to get inside. I would make sure to bring a picnic lunch and some snacks to avoid any hangry breakdowns.
- There are plenty of restrooms available, but note they limit how many people can be inside, and the lines maintain the 6 feet social distancing protocol, so the line may appear long.
- When in crowded areas, always wear your mask, and always do your best to keep 6 feet of social distance. That can be relatively easy on the path, but more difficult down the stairs and in the overlook and within the shop itself.
- Crater Lake is not running any of its tours during this time, including the popular boat tour on the lake.
After spending a few hours walking the paths, checking out the view, and enjoying the clean fresh air, it was time to head back down to Medford and the rest of our Southern Oregon trip. But at the end of the trip, when we asked the kids what the most memorable part was, they both agreed, it was the mazing water and views of Crater Lake.
Crater Lake National Park
- Hours: The park is open 24 hours, but Rim Road will generally close due to deep snow in mid-late October, and reopen in late May / early June
- Costs: Cars with up to 15 passengers pay $30 in summer and $20 in winter
* Photos taken by Atma Photography
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