Winter at Crater Lake
Updated: Jul 11, 2018
It seems to not be well known, but Crater Lake is open all year around. Maybe it’s because they close off most of the park during the winter months, but to see this magical place covered in snow is worth the trip! Technically the park might be closed at any given time, since Crater lake is so high up, a storm can pass through dumping feet of snow, which might close the park for a few days as they work on opening it back up. So, before you go, check the crater lake website to make sure they are open (they have live updates), the weather forecast, and trip check to see if the roads are clear for your comfort level of driving in the snow.
The Crater Lake website will give you a ton of great information about safety, activities, directions, snow shoe hikes (they even offer free guided tours and free snow shoe rentals, so go check out that!), I won’t cover what is in the link provided, but I quick overview: in the summer time they have both the North and south entrance open, in the winter time only the south entrance is open. If you’re coming from southern Oregon or California, no big deal, but if you’re coming from Portland, plan on adding some extra drive time.
My wife Jessaca and dog Juniper loaded up our camp trailer and stay the weekend up there. There is no camping in the park during the winter months, but again, the crater lake website provides you with nearby alternatives. Correction, you can tent camp in the park, and will need to get a permit for that. Since we enjoy a warm bed I night, we noticed the closest option for a camp trailer was a snow park about 10 miles outside the park. The snow park was free with a northwest forest park pass. Since I was towing a trailer, I waited for the weather to have a good 4 or 5 days of no snow before our trip so I knew the roads were clear. At this point, we also had a very light winter, when we arrived at the snow park, normally this time of year this would be a big parking lot busy with big trucks and snowmobiles to ride off during the day, but there were only patches of snow on the ground, allowing us to have the whole place to ourselves. It’s not fancy camping, it’s a bare parking lot, but does have a fire pit stocked with wood, and an awesome cabin with a fire place inside. I’ve seen acts of vandalism on these places over the years, and people stealing firewood, I’m sure you are not that type of person, but in case you are…. please don’t! People volunteer their time to offer these cool places for the public enjoyment.
(Snow park camping)
Off my soapbox, and back to the trip, crater lake is just about a 10-15-minute drive away. It only climbs in elevation, and by the time you get to the park, there was plenty of snow even for this light winter. I was amazed to see how little people were here. I was used to coming in the summer and waiting for an hour just to get up to the park entrance. This time we drove right in, no one at the gate, no traffic, and lots of parking. If you have been here in the summer, you’ll be used to driving around the whole lake. Well in the winter, you drive up to the lodge and that’s it. Its snow shoes or skis from there. Just a few short steps from the parking lot, you will see crater lake in all its glory, so you don’t need to put any hiking effort into it, but if you’re an adventurer, you can hike as far as your hart desires.
Sunset and sunrises are always my favorite for photos, so we stayed out late and brought some beers to enjoy the views. It’s up high with no shelter from the wind, so any little breeze feels like a gusty cold tornado, so dress warm no matter how nice it looks. We also made it up for sunrise, and if you really like not seeing people, this was the time to come. We had the whole park to ourselves to watch the sun come up over the crest of the crater. I would love to come back for star shots, but on this trip, there were too many clouds in the sky. I planned this trip with no clouds in the forecast, but the weather is very hard to predict at Crater, so you never know what you might get, so again, dress warm no matter what. You can bring dogs to just the main area of the park, but are not allowed hiking around the rim, so based on your trip plans, make sure you plan around your furry friend.
I don’t have a whole lot of photography tips for here, it’s beautiful and hard to get a bad photo. There are a lot of foot prints around the rim in the snow, and when you’re focused on the beauty of the lake, it’s easy to miss all the messy footprints, but when looking at the photos afterwards, it’s all your eye seems to see, so make sure you are either cropping it out, or find a nice place with no footprints when trying to get some foreground. Also, the park entrance is south, but it’s south west, since the sun drops in the west, if you want a sunset shot of the sun dropping over the crater, you probably have a 15-mile hike in front of you. Sunrise though, you are already on the right side, so even from the parking lot is a good shot, and a great shot is maybe just a mile or so.
If you have any questions, concerns, comments, or complains, please let me know in the comments below!