Trip Recap: Crater Lake National Park Itinerary

In 2017 Crayola introduced a crayon to their collection.  By popular vote, the name “Bluetiful” won a regular spot in Crayola’s line up and a chance to decorate the crafts of kids everywhere.  At the time the crayon came out, Crayola took some heat that they were teaching kids a ‘nonsensical’ word – Just what does bluetiful mean anyway?

Crayola’s “Bluetiful” crayon came out in 2017. Image provided from

We’re pretty confident though, that anyone who has looked down from the rim at Crater Lake National Park knows exactly what ‘bluetiful’ means.  Our first look at Crater Lake will always rank high in our list of national park memories. The water in Crater Lake reflects a blue that’s hard to describe in words. It’s even harder to forget once you’ve seen it.

With Crater Lake National Park our official counts went to 27 of the 60 national parks and 65 of the 417 total units in the National Park Service.  It was our first national park in Oregon and the second stop on our Oregon Road Trip.  Unlike most of our national park trips, we only had 24 hours to take in the park.  We arrived around 3 pm on Day 1 and departed by 3 pm on Day 2.  Yet when we look back on the trip, over and over it’s the crystal clear, blue water that stands out as the best part of the park.

Today we’re sharing our Crater Lake National Park itinerary and trip recap.  It’s some notes about what we liked about the park, our favorite spots to see the lake, and what we’ll plan for on our next visit.

Our Crater Lake National Park Itinerary

Day 1 – 3PM – The Pumice Desert

Our Crater Lake National Park itinerary begins from the north entrance of the park and an area called the Pumice Desert.  Like most people, we knew that Crater Lake formed from the collapse of an ancient volcano.  What we didn’t know was that when Mount Mazama collapsed, it sent a massive pumice and ash cloud miles into the air, covering the area completely.

As a result, the vegetation in Crater Lake looks much different from the rest of Oregon.  Very little can grow in the pumice and there’s almost no topsoil.  The trees in and around the rim area are squatty and windblown.  There’s not much for shrubs or grasses.  Few deer, elk, or other large mammals live near Crater Lake because there’s not much to eat.  Not what we expected, but exciting and fun to hike in a new environment.

Pumice Desert area – near the north entrance of Crater Lake National Park

Day 1 – 6 PM — The Watchman Trail

After setting up our tent in Mazama Campground, we headed back up Crater Rim Drive to a ranger-led evening hike.  The National Park Services offers sunset hikes up The Watchman Trail most evenings during the summer months.  The hike was short (about 1 1/2 hours), climbing up some moderate switchbacks to the Watchman Fire Tower.  The tower was under construction for the season, but the view of the lake and sunset from the viewing platform were outstanding.  The ranger volunteer also gave us a good overview of some of the plants and animals we might find in the park.

Unfortunately, the summer wildfires kept things hazy for us.  We didn’t stay for full sunset, instead choosing to head back down and to the Crater Lake Lodge.

Sunset from the Watchman Lookout Tower. Oregon’s damaging wildfire season meant hazy skies for our visit.
Lady of the Woods sculpture in one of the boulders along the Lady of the Woods Trail in Crater Lake National Park

Day 1 – 8 PM — Crater Lake Lodge

The Crater Lake Lodge (in the Rim Village area) was built in 1915 overlooking the Southwest corner of the lake.  Like many of the Great National Park Lodges, the large lobby with crackling fireplaces is a step back in time.  We love visiting the national park lodges, even if it’s just to warm up for a few minutes after a hike.

Crater Lake Lodge also has a small exhibit on the history of building the lodge just off the lobby.  Here you can read about the challenges of building a structure that can withstand the 40+ feet of snow that falls at Crater Lake every winter.

Day 2 – 9 AM – Lady of the Woods Hike & Visitor’s Center

We woke early on our second day in Crater Lake only to find Crater Rim Drive almost impossible to drive.  The fog dropped visibility and it felt like driving around in a ping-pong ball.  Not wanting to miss out on time in the park, we opted to hike in lower elevation on a short, easy trail called Lady of the Woods.  The Lady of the Woods trail is named for a large carving in one of the boulders near the trailhead.  A park visitor carved the sculpture in 1917 on a two-week vacation.

The hike starts and ends at the Visitor’s Center parking area.  While waiting out the fog, we stopped in the bookstore to watch the park film, collect our passport stamps and talk with a ranger about the rest of our stops for the day.

Day 3 – 11 AM – Cleetwood Cove Trail

When the fog cleared off, we drove to the other side of Crater Lake to the Cleetwood Cove Trail.  The trail is the only marked way for visitors to get down to the lake level and dip a toe into the water.  At just over 2 miles, the hike travels nearly straight up and down the rim wall to the lake shore.  It’s definitely rated as a challenging hike, but worth it to enjoy a few minutes by the water.  It’s just as blue close up as it is from the rim!

During the summer months, the national park service also hosts guided boat rides out to Wizard Island and around the lake.  We didn’t have time in our shortened schedule for a boat tour, but still enjoyed a sandwich and snacks near the water.

Day 3 – 3 PM — Crater Rim Drive

We spent the rest of our afternoon driving the 33-mile long Crater Rim Drive.  The drive will definitely make it on our list of “Great National Park Drives” posts. Our favorite viewpoints were Cloudcap Overlook and Phantom Ship Overlook.  Like Wizard Island, Phantom Ship stands out as one of the most recognizable features of Crater Lake.  The large rock formation when viewed from Crater Rim Drive appears to be the masts of an old shipwreck.  The photos we took here are some of our favorite from the trip:

Leaving Crater Lake National Park

After finishing up the drive, we said good-bye to Crater Lake National Park.  We left out the south entrance towards Oregon Caves National Monument.  With just over 24 hours, we left thinking we needed a few more days to explore the park.  On our next trip, we’d like to take a boat ride on the lake, hike on Wizard Island, and climb Mount Scott, the highest point in the park.  We also can’t wait to try for a clear night and some stargazing.  Best part?  The first view of the Crater Lake from the rim and what “bluetiful” really means.

As always, we love to hear about what you did on your visit to Crater Lake National Park.  Share your favorite Crater Lake photos and trip itinerary in the comments or over on Facebook.  Here are a few more of our favorite photos:

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Greg & Amy
Chasing a visit to all 400+ units in the NPS
Current Count: 130/423
Next Stop: @hawaiivolcanoes


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