Imagine standing at the very top rim of a destroyed volcano and looking out to see a wide-open horizon, vaster than you’ve ever seen before.
Standing atop these ancient remnants of the volcano, known as Mount Mazama, you can see far down into the crater beneath you. Cerulean blue water reflects the vast sky above.
In the middle of this giant calm blue lake, there is an unassuming and gentle island shaped sort of like a wizard’s hat.
These are the scenes of Crater Lake National Park. With a depth of 1.943 feet, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States—and one of the most beautiful!
Each year, tens of thousands of RV campers come to visit this alluring national park for its great cliffs and the incredible purity of its water. Crater Lake is considered to be one of the cleanest and clearest large bodies of water in the world.
Scheduling time for an RV camp trip to this southern Oregon national park is well-worth the journey. Surrounded by old-growth forests and a wide array of wildlife, Crater Lake National Park has everything you’d expect from the Pacific Northwest, and more!
That’s why we’ve compiled this all-inclusive guide for RV adventurers and explorers seeking to visit Crater Lake. Read on to learn more about the top attractions and campgrounds for your next RV camp trip to this extraordinary ancient volcano!
The History of Crater Lake
Crater Lake is situated at the heart of a dormant volcano. Once standing 12,000 feet tall, the volcano collapsed in on itself after a major eruption 7,700 years ago. Since then, the humungous caldera at the center was filled and filled entirely by rain and snowmelt.
Incredibly, local Native Americans witnessed the collapse of Mount Mazama all those years ago. Their legends still support the event, keeping it alive through oral narratives passed down through the generations.
One ancient legend tells the story of two Chiefs locked in an intense conflict. Llao of the Below World and Skell of the Above World were battling at the peak of Mount Mazama. Ultimately, Llao’s home beneath the volcano ended up being destroyed as a result of the battle, thereby creating Crater Lake.
On June 12th, 1853, a trio of gold prospectors passing through the area were allegedly the first white settlers to witness the lake. They named the sapphire body of water “Deep Blue Lake,” although the name eventually fell out of favor with the locals who started moving to the area years later.
In 1870, a man by the name of William Gladstone Steel devoted much of his life and fortune to the establishment of a national park at Crater Lake. Steel spent his time naming the various landmarks around the area and even organized a USGS expedition to study the lake in 1886.
Due to Steels’ efforts, along with the help of other characters, Crater Lake National Park was founded on May 22, 2902 by President Theodore Roosevelt. It is officially the fifth-oldest national park in the United States and the only national park in Oregon.
Getting to Crater Lake National Park
RV adventurers will be delighted to find that there is a scenic, 33-mile road that encircles Crater Lake. Almost every stop offers a magnificent view of the deep blue water below. This also makes it extremely easy to spread out from the crowds to take in the peaceful scenery surrounding you.
In the summer months (May 22 – October 31), Crater Lake charges the usual fees common to most national parks. Non-commercial vehicle passes cost $30, motorcycle passes cost $25, and bicycle and pedestrian passes cost $15. Each pass is good for up to seven days.
If you decide to visit in the winter instead, the cost is 10 dollars cheaper for non-commercial vehicles and motorcycles. You might also want to consider the Crater Lake Annual Pass for $55, the American the Beautiful Annual Interagency Pass for $80. There is also a nationwide annual senior pass available for $20, and a nationwide lifetime pass for $80.
Crater Lake National Park is just under a four-hour drive from Portland. The fastest route is to take I-5 S and then head eastward on OR-58. Upon nearing the national park, it’s a quick shot down US-97 S to OR-138 W. This will allow you to enter the park from the North Entrance.
From the south, near San Francisco, Crater Lake National Park is about a six-and-a-half hour drive. Your best bet will be to take I-80 E out of the city to I-505 N. From there, it’s a couple hour’s drive up I-5 N to US-97 N. Finally, once you reach the exit for OR-62 W, you should be able to follow this road directly to the park’s South Entrance.
One thing to note is that the park’s North Entrance is closed for about seven months of the year, due to snowy conditions. It’s usually open from mid-May to late October.
There is a seasonal gas station located at the Mazama Village Store within the park. The rest of the year, the closest gas stations can be found in the towns of Prospect and Chiloquin, both nearly 30 miles outside of the park.
RV Camping near Crater Lake
The park has two developed campgrounds, but only one is able to accommodate RVs.
The Mazama Campground is located in an old-growth forest just seven miles south of the Rim Village, near Highway 62. There are 214 sites available to tent campers and RVs but the campground is only open in the summer.
In June, all of the sites within the Mazama Campground are first-come, first-serve only. However, in July, August, and September, 75% of the sites can be reserved in advance, either online or by phone.
The maximum RV length at the Mazama Campground is 50 feet. None of the sites have full hookup accessibility, but there is potable water, warm showers, laundry facilities, and a dump station within the park. There is also very limited cell reception within the park, so it’s a good idea to have alternative things to do while you’re camping.
If you plan on camping outside of the park, there are some great alternatives too! The areas of Fort Klamath, Union Creek, Diamond Lake, Prospect, and Chiloquin offer additional private campgrounds to seek out.
The Crater Lake Resort 20 miles outside of the park’s South Entrance has 12 full hookup RV sites available in the summer. It’s quiet and cozy, and it has free WiFi!
The Farewell Bend Campground has 61 sites available for tents and RVs with a maximum length of 40 feet. Most sites are open and reservable between mid-May to mid-October.
The Union Creek Campground accommodates smaller RVs with a maximum length of 28 feet. There are 74 sites available and some have electric hookups.
You’ll find the widest variety of RV campground within the vicinity of Diamond Lake, 25 miles north of the park’s North Entrance. Broken Arrow Campground, Diamond Lake Campground, Diamond Lake RV Park, and Thielsen View Campground all offer great options for camping near Crater Lake National Park.
Attractions at Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake National Park is essentially a hiker’s paradise. There are several trailheads that allow you to hike down to the water for a cool dip in the 55-degree water.
One popular hike leading down to the water is the Cleetwood Cove Trail. For most of the hike, you’ll be following a switchback down to the water and descending over several hundred feet in elevation. Just keep in mind that if you choose to hike down, you’ll have to be prepared for the hike back up.
Alternatively, if you’d prefer to keep the hiking to a minimum, you’ll still get great views of the park on the Rim Drive. As one of the greatest national park roads in the United States, expect to look over delicately tranquil scenes from multiple different vantage points. Some of the top lookout points include: Discovery Point, Llao Rock, the Cloud Cap Overlook, the Phantom Ship Overlook, and the Devils Backbone.
Another incredible option at Crater Lake is to take a boat tour out to Wizard Island at the center of the lake. Wizard Island is actually a cinder cone that formed after Mount Mazama collapsed in on itself. Essentially, it is a volcano within a volcano.
Although kayaking and canoeing is not allowed on the lake to prevent invasive species from entering the area, it’s possible to take the Wizard Island Shuttle from Cleetwood Cove out to the island. Once on the island, you’ll have three hours to hike, explore, and swim in the cerulean blue water.
In addition to Crater Lake itself, the national park also has a number of other features well-worth visiting. Plaikni Falls, for example, is one of a number of beautiful waterfalls within the park. The easy two-mile roundtrip hike off of Rim Drive leads through old-growth forests and fields of colorful wildflowers.
Most of the allure of Crater Lake National Park can be more closely experienced by taking some the 90-miles of hiking trails throughout the area. However, the fact that Rim Drive encircles the park is a huge bonus. It’s possible to watch the sunrise and the sunset over the crater in the same day, and the night sky is totally worth sticking around for!
When to Visit Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake National Park can be visited throughout the entire year for fun-filled adventures. However, there is much more available to do in the summer months.
In fact, the Rim Drive is only open in its entirety during the summer. Most of the other roads are also blocked off in the winter months, significantly reducing the options for exploration.
Although a wintertime visit can yield views that less people get to see, the best time to visit is probably between mid-May and mid-October, while most of the facilities and roads are open. On additional thing to consider is that wildfires tend to happen in July and August, which may significantly reduce your views of the vast horizon.
In particular, the best time to visit Crater Lake National Park is probably in early July. Most of the snow is melted by this point, but it also stays cool enough to make your hikes relatively comfortable. You’ll also be able to drive the entire Rim Drive, stay among the old-growth forests in the Mazama Campground, and avoid the wildfire smoke.
In July, the average high is 69-degrees Fahrenheit, with lows of around 41-degrees. The lake sits at around 57-degrees. On the opposite end of the spectrum, in January, temperatures range between 34-degrees and 18-degrees. January also receives an average snowfall amount of 100-inches.
Any time of year can be awe-inspiring for an RV camp trip to Crater Lake. What really matters most is what kind of experience you want to have, and where your preferences lie. If you’re the kind of person that doesn’t mind the cold and appreciates serene landscapes of blanketed snow, then by all means, plan your visit for the winter. If you plan on doing a lot of hiking, and maybe some swimming, then summer may be the best option for you.
Either way, Crater Lake National Park is sure to take your breath away!
Crater Lake: A Deep Blue National Park
Crater Lake National Park is one of several national parks formed by volcanic activity. This makes the landscape extremely rugged and extraordinarily beautiful, all at the same time.
While Crater Lake may not have the same amount of variety that some other national parks have, it is certainly one of the best for calming reflections and tranquil relaxation.
If you are feeling confident enough and want to experience an even greater view, it’s possible to hike up to the peak of Mount Scott from the Rim Drive trailhead. This fairly steep two-and-a-half-mile trail will take you to a summit 8,929 feet above sea level.
The two best features of Crater Lake National Park is undoubtedly something that we so often take for granted: water and air.
The deep blue horizons and the deep blue lake come together in a way that refreshes the soul. That’s why an RV trip to Crater Lake National Park should undoubtedly be placed high up on your list!
Interested in visiting other National Parks, then be sure to check out our National Park checklist guide.