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The Best Things to Do at Crater Lake National Park in One Day

Crater Lake National Park in Southern Oregon is simply amazing! Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States (1,949 feet) and its deep blue hue is mesmerizing. The lake was created from a volcano eruption, and the water is there from decades of rainfall and snowmelt. There are no streams that flow into this lake at all, which contributes to the stillness of the water. Because the water is so still, there are always amazing reflections! There are so many great things to do at Crater Lake, especially if you’re visiting in the summer months. Keep reading to plan your trip!

rim drive crater lake

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SEE ALSO: How to Have the Best Summer Weekend in Bend Oregon

Crater Lake National Park Trip Overview

  • PTO/Vacation Days Needed: 0-1
  • Permits Needed?: No
  • Entrance Fee: $30 per car (but if you’re planning on visiting multiple national parks this year, I recommend buying the annual national parks pass for $80!)

Best Time to Visit Crater Lake National Park

how to spend one day in crater lake national park

Crater Lake National Park is technically open year-round, but most of the trails/roads close down in the winter months due to snow. The best time to visit Crater Lake National Park is in the summer, from July-September. The Rim Drive normally opens starting in mid-July.

How to Get to Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park is located in Southern Oregon. There are a few different airport options to get you there (if you don’t live driving distance):

Closest Airports to Crater Lake National Park

  • Medford (MFR) – 1 hour and 15 minutes to Crater Lake
  • Redmond (RDM) – 2 hours to Crater Lake
  • Eugene (EUG) – 2.5 hours to Crater Lake
  • Portland (PDX) – 4 hours to Crater Lake

There are direct flights from LAX to all of these airport options. I recommend flying into Redmond (RDM) and basing yourself in Bend, Oregon for the weekend. Bend is such a cool town!

You’ll need to rent a car to get there. When I went to Crater Lake, I flew into Redmond and I ended up using Turo for the first time, because my flight landed in the evening and all the rental car spots were closed.

How Much Time to Spend in Crater Lake National Park?

I think that 1 day in Crater Lake National Park is enough to see the highlights. If you have the time, it would be nice to spend 2 days there and spend the night at one of the lodges within the park.

Where to Stay at Crater Lake National Park

If you want to spend more than one day in Crater Lake National Park and stay overnight, there are a few options. There are two lodges that are within the national park, and a few options that are just outside the park. I recommend:

  • Crater Lake Lodge: If you want to stay inside the park. They have a nice patio with rocking chairs and a great view of the lake! It’s also conveniently-located to several trails and lookout points.
  • Red Blanket Cabins: located just south of Crater Lake National Park, these cute log cabins would be a perfect nature escape
  • Crater Lake Resort: located just 10 minutes from the south park entrance, this resort with 15 cabins has great reviews!

The Best Things to Do at Crater Lake National Park in One Day

If you only have 1 day in Crater Lake National Park, don’t worry – that’s still plenty of time to see the highlights!

1. Rim Drive

best things to do in crater lake national park

Rim Drive is the scenic drive that takes you all the way around the lake. The full road is normally open from mid-July to mid-October. This beautiful drive takes you 33 miles around the entire lake, with 30+ stops and viewpoints along the way. If you plan to drive the full Rim Drive, make sure you check the conditions here to ensure it’s open the whole way!

My two favorite overlooks along the Rim Drive were:

Watchman Overlook

watchman overlook crater lake national park

This is one of the first overlooks you will get to if you enter the park from the North entrance. The views are breathtaking! You also get a great view of Wizard Island from here.

Phantom Ship Overlook

phantom ship overlook crater lake national park

This one is about a 30-minute drive south of the Watchman Overlook. Phantom Ship is the name of this rock formation in the lake that looks like a pirate ship! You get a great view of it from this lookout. Unlike Watchman Overlook, where you can just hop out of your car and see it, this one requires a short hike to the viewpoint. It’s a 0.85-mile loop trail with 128 feet elevation gain. Nice and easy!

2. Cleetwood Cove Trail

For most of your time spent in Crater Lake, you’ll be on ridge lines overlooking the lake from above. If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering “how can I get down to the lake level of Crater Lake and jump in for a swim?” There is only one spot in the entire Crater Lake National Park that takes you down to the shoreline, and that’s via Cleetwood Cove Trail.

The trail is 2.1 miles round trip, and has 610 feet of elevation gain. On the way there, you’ll be going down the whole time to get to the shore of the lake. This means that the way back is tough – going uphill along switchbacks for most of the whole way. It’s worth it, though! Getting down to the shore and swimming in Crater Lake is amazing. The water is so clean and clear! This is one of the best hikes in Crater Lake National Park.

If you’re feeling brave, there’s also a cliff here that juts out over the water, making it a perfect place to jump off!

3. Take a Boat Cruise

If you’re wanting to get out on the water and have the time, you can take a boat cruise on the lake! The boat cruises depart from the bottom of Cleetwood Cove Trail. There are a few different options to choose from, depending how long you want your cruise to last. You can check out the options and book your boat cruise here. The boat cruises normally open for business in mid-July. I visited Crater Lake National Park on July 15th, and unfortunately they weren’t quite open yet (the employees told us that the boat cruises would start running the week after). So if you’re wanting to include this activity during your one day in Crater Lake, I would plan your trip for August or September to ensure that you can do it!

4. Go for a Hike

There are quite a few hikes to choose from in Crater Lake National Park, but if you only have one day, I recommend choosing one of the below two hikes:

Watchman Peak Trail

  • 1.7 miles roundtrip
  • 400 feet elevation gain
  • starts at the Watchman Overlook
  • switchbacks up to a historic fire lookout
  • expansive views of Wizard Island

Garfield Peak Trail

  • 3.5 miles round trip
  • 1,076 feet elevation gain
  • starts right near Crater Lake Lodge
  • Panoramic views of Crater Lake, Wizard Island, and the Cascades from the top

5. Get a Drink at Crater Lake Lodge

If you need a break from hiking, swimming and exploring – grab a drink at the Crater Lake Lodge! They have a full bar inside the lobby and you can take your drink out to the patio and sip it on a rocking chair overlooking a view of the lake.

After Your One Day in Crater Lake National Park

If you are heading North to Bend, Oregon (which I recommend!) you should definitely stop at both Umpqua Hot Springs and Toketee Falls, about 40 minutes from the North entrance. Both of these natural sites are epic, and you NEED to see them if you are in the area!

Packing List for Crater Lake National Park

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  • Close-Toed Water Sandals: These are the ones I have, they’re great! Will be useful for swimming in the lake/walking along the shoreline
  • Hat: gotta protect yourself from the sun! A lot of the trails here are exposed with no shade.


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