Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and the 9th deepest lake in the world.
The lake is contained within a Caldera created by a volcano that erupted and then collapsed in on it self. The lake is not a typical lake, filled by rivers or streams. All the water that is inside the lake came from rain, snow, or snow melt, which makes it one of the cleanest large bodies of water in the world. I always knew this fact, but it wasn’t until I got there that I found out that you could actually hike down to the water, touch it, and even swim in it if you wanted, via Cleetwood Cove trail. But beware, Cleetwood Cove trail is known to be steep and strenuous. The hike back to the top is equivalent to climbing 65 flights of stairs, so it is marked for hikers that are pretty physically fit. This trail is open mid-June to October. There are vault bathrooms at the start and bottom of the trail.
While there are over 90 miles of hiking trails in the Crater Lake National Park, you can also chose to drive the rim of the crater, if hiking isn’t your thing. There are plenty of easy trails and or look outs along the East and West Rim Drive. Plaikni Falls seems like a pretty chill walk thru an old growth forrest to a waterfall that is also fed by snowmelt, not Crater Lake, as one would expect.
We chose to do the Garfield Peak trail. It is a 3.6 mile (round trip) rocky hike to the top of Garfield Peak where you will have panoramic views, above the crater, at summit. Most of the hike gets more and more scenic, the higher you go on the trail. We are moderately fast hikers and it took us 31 minutes to summit and 40 minutes to get down. The hike recommends allowing yourself 2-3 hours for the entire hike.
Difficulty of this hike:
It is marked as “Strenuous,” which, I think, keeps most people off of the trail. We saw maybe 10 people on the trail, which is a stark difference from the groups of tourists we saw getting off buses near the Crater Lake Lodge and Gift Shop.
While this hike climbs 1,010 feet in elevation over 1.7 miles, I didn’t think it was too strenuous. Maybe it was my racing the sun attitude, as we decided to jump on this trail pretty late in the afternoon, as soon as we spotted Garfield Peak. However hard it was, the reward at the top, seclusion along the trail, and the views all along the trail definitely made any difficulty or struggle worth it. If that sounds good to you and you are still worried about the “strenuous” label, there are plenty of pull offs, with rock benches to sit on and take in the view and catch your breath.
Free Camping Near Crater Lake:
There are no free campsites inside the National Park, but the Sno-park’s on the North and South and South entrance of the the boundary are free camping in the Summer months. There are vault toilets at each spot.
We camped at the North Crater Lake Trail Head Sno-Park, which is also apparently a PCT parking lot. There are vault toilets here and picnic tables. There are no views as it is amongst the trees off HWY-138, but it is so quiet. We were there with two other vans, but you could hardly tell as we all had our own little tree coves to pull into.
We checked out the Annie Creek Sno-Park, the South Entrance free camping, off of the 62, going into Crater Lake National Park. There were a couple 5th wheels and tents at the end of the huge parking lot. It looked to have views, if we were headed back south, we would have stayed here for the views.