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Crater Lake National Park is breathtaking with its crystalline blue water and unrivaled beauty. Oregon’s only national park, Crater Lake National Park takes a bit of effort to reach but one sight of the lake makes the drive from Seattle worth it. (Image: Rebecca Mongrain/Seattle Refined)

The best time to visit Oregon's only National Park is RIGHT NOW

Just seven hours from Seattle, Crater Lake National Park is breathtaking with its crystalline blue water and unrivaled beauty. Oregon’s only national park, Crater Lake National Park takes a bit of effort to reach but one sight of the lake makes the drive worth it. There are two easy ways to access Crater Lake from Seattle, the fastest is down I-5 through Eugene and the other takes you along Oregon State Hwy 97 past Bend, Oregon.

More than 5 miles wide and surrounded by cliffs almost 2,000 feet high, Crater Lake came into existence approximately 7,700 years ago when Mt. Mazama exploded, leaving behind a crater. The mountain collapsed when its underground chamber emptied of lava. Eventually rain and snowmelt filled in the caldera, creating a sapphire-blue lake. Crater Lake has no water source feeding it which means the water only comes from rain and melted snow. The lake is 1,943 feet deep. Crater Lake is the clearest and deepest lake in the United States. It is the the ninth deepest lake in the world.

The best time to visit Crater Lake is between July and mid-September when the Rim Drive is open. Parts of the park’s roads close during other times due to snowpack. Taking time to drive the entire Rim Drive earns visitors many rewards from opportunities to see Wizard Island to fantastic old growth forest views.

Where to Stay

Lodging opportunities close to Crater Lake National Park are limited. The park itself hosts Crater Lake Lodge, The Cabins at Mazama Village, Mazama Campground and Lost Creek Campground but visitors will also find plenty of lodging opportunities in the nearby towns of Medford and Ashland, Oregon.

Crater Lake Lodge is spectacular to stay at and accepts reservations 18 months in advance. The 71 room lodge originally opened in 1915 and had extensive renovations done in 1995. The rustic charm of the lodge makes for a unique stay within the park.

For a basic stay, the Cabins at Mazama Village provide a clean cabin with queen beds and full bathrooms. The closest lodging outside the park are in the towns of Union Creek, 25 miles west and Fort Klamath, 25 miles south.

Where to Eat

Food opportunities are severely limited at Crater Lake and BYOF (bring your own food) is strongly suggested. Picnic area abound through out the park and who says great memories haven’t been made while eating off the hatch of one’s Subaru?

The few dining opportunities within the park include the Rim Village Café, Annie Creek Restaurant and Crater Lake Lodge Dining Room. If you plan to visit Crater Lake Lodge Dining Room between June and September, dining reservations are strongly suggested. The views from the dining room are spectacular and worth a visit. There is also a grocery story open during peak season, Mazama Village Camper Store with limited options.

What to Do

Crater Lake offers a vast amount of activities for both the avid outdoorsy type and the more comfortable viewing sights from the car type.

Back in 1941, Crater Lake was stocked with rainbow trout and kokanee salmon. The fish now number in the millions and offer a great fishing opportunity to those ready to cast their lines. Cyclists will love cycling the Rim Drive with its spectacular views. The East Rim Drive will be closed to motor vehicles on Saturday, September 8 and Saturday, September 15, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. in 2018 to allow bicyclists and pedestrians an opportunity to enjoy the 24 miles of scenic roadway without vehicle traffic.

Hikes abound through out the park and avid hikers will even find the Pacific Coast Trail running through parts of the park. There are hikes for almost everyone with plenty of wheelchair-accessible (stroller friendly!) paths. Fantastic views can be found by climbing to the top of Watchman Peak and overlooking the lake. The parks visitor guide provides a pretty through guide to the over 90 miles of hikes along with distance and elevations.

For the adventurous, take a two-hour paid boat tour to Wizard Island from Cleetwood Cove Trail. Advance reservations are recommended with 18 tickets for each tour available by calling 888-774-2728. The remaining 19 tickets for each tour go on sale 24 hours before each tour and and are available from self-serve kiosks inside Crater Lake Lodge and the Annie Creek Gift Shop. Warning! The hike down to the boat area is steep and strenuous with a drop of 700 feet in 1.1 miles. The climb back up to the parking lot is equivalent to climbing 65 flights of stairs and provides a good booty blast.

Stargazing at Crater Lake provides a sparkling sight. The dark sky over Crater Lake allows visitors to see meteors, satellites, planets and the starry galaxy above them.