Winter at Crater Lake | Explore!

Winter at Crater Lake

Crater Lake in the Winter

Winter at Crater Lake National Park is a quiet time.    It begins with the first large snowfall in October or early November and continues into May or June.  Tourists are few and generally spend a few minutes enjoying the lake, visitor center and  gift shop before moving on.  Craig Ackerman, Park Superintendent,   told us that a group of Chinese tourists was  bused the 85 miles from Medford to Crater Lake only to spend precisely six minutes at the rim tossing snowballs at each other before returning to Medford.   It’s great that they saw the lake and experienced the snow, but it’s also sad that they missed so much that the park has to offer.  If nothing else,  winter at the rim is a time to absorb the beauty and power of nature at its finest.  On a clear day with the blue sky reflected from the much deeper blue lake and contrasted with the whitest of snow, the scenery is the finest in the world.  During a squall, the scenery may be limited to a few feet in front of you.  A calm snow can blanket everything in minutes, adding a beauty of its own.  These are the moods of Crater Lake.  They are to be enjoyed, contemplated or endured, depending upon your frame of mind.

Wizard Island in Nasty Weather

Wizard Island in Nasty Weather

In the winter, driving is limited to the road to Rim Village as all other roads are buried in snow.  Only the Steel Information Center at park headquarters and the restaurant and store at Rim village are open for visitors.  There is no entrance fee in the winter.  If you arrive on a weekday, you won’t have much company.  On a sunny weekend, however, the rim parking areas may be nearly full as locals partake of the nordic skiing and snowshoeing opportunities around the rim.   Of course with 15 feet, or more, of snow at the rim, park crews aren’t able to keep many parking spaces free of snow.

A bull dozer with a tough job ahead.

Bulldozer with a Challenge

Park workers are focused on snow management and keeping the road open to Rim Village.   In April of 2011, the calendar suggested spring, but it was still winter at Crater Lake.  The road had been closed due to an avalanche for several days the week before our visit.  To find out if the road to Rim Village is currently open, call 1-541-594-3000 (followed by option 1, then option 2) and listen to the recorded message. You may also call the visitor center at 1-541-594-3100. Workers use huge rotary snow plows, loaders and bulldozers to move the snow aside.  It is, however, impossible to keep the entire rim road open in the winter.  Later on crews begin breaking through the snow along the west side of the lake in a weeks-long effort to open the north entrance to the park.  In 2011 it was particularly difficult.  Some January rain soaked a six-foot layer of snow turning it to ice.  That layer was compressed by new snow forming an almost impenetrable barrier.  Not only that, as the snow began to melt the water  reached the ice layer making it extremely slippery.  Given the slopes upon which this snow rests, the avalanche danger was extreme

A Road at Crater Lake Headquarters

A Road at Headquarters

If you come to Crater Lake in the winter without snowshoes or skis,  your options are fairly limited.  It’s best to come in the morning, before the sunshine softens the snow.  You’ll be able to walk up an often slippery snow slope to get spectacular views of the lake.   Contemplate the winter moods of the park.  Those moods are driven by the weather and can change from moment to moment on the many blustery days.  Be aware that the snow overhangs the cliffs on the rim.  Getting too close to the edge can lead to an exciting ride with a deadly ending.  In 2011, significant snow lingered well into July when a visitor decided to get too close to the caldera and found himself 300 feet down the slope to the lake.  It took park workers five hours to rescue him.  He then spent several weeks in intensive care.  He was lucky.

Visitors sometimes find a perch near Crater Lake Lodge.  It offers protection from south winds and a wide open view of the lake.  As the day progresses and the sun warms the snow, you’ll find your boots sinking deeper.  When your weight breaks the fragile surface crust, you will be sinking to your knees or even deeper.  It’s best to return to the parking area at this point as it becomes increasingly difficult to move on the snow.  You may want to walk around the roads at park headquarters.  For many people its a new experience to stand between vertical walls of snow 12-feet or more tall.  The lovely rustic buildings that make up the Historic District are all but invisible under 12 feet of snow.

Administration Building at Crater Lake National Park

Administration Building

With snowshoes or nordic skis (our preference) it’s an entirely different story.  If you’d like to try snowshoeing, guided walks are offered every Saturday and Sunday at 1:00 p.m. from late November or early December through the end of April.  Snowshoes are loaned free of charge and no previous snowshoeing experience is necessary.  Get all the details and sign up in advance at the Steel Visitor Center or by calling 541-594-3100.  Beginning in January of 2012, the concessionaire at the park is offering snowshoes for rent in case you want to set off on your own.  They are available at the Rim Village Gift Store.

Crater Lake's Rim Village under the snow.

Rim Village

During our April visit there were a few inches of fresh powder on top of the crusty old snow, a skiers paradise.  When the weather is nice, skiers prefer following Rim Drive westward from Rim Village.  It’s usually an out and back trip to one of several destinations: Discovery Point (1.2 miles, these are all one-way mileages), Wizard Island Overlook (2.3 miles), Union Peak Overlook (3.1 miles), Watchman Overlook (3.9 miles), Diamond Lake Overlook (4.6 miles) or North Junction (6.0 miles).  Note that traveling is sometimes very hazardous past Watchman Overlook.  When it’s windy or snowing,  the rim can be uncomfortable and unsafe.  In these conditions, skiers prefer the East Rim Drive, starting near the Steel Information Center.  This is also an out and back opportunity.  Popular destinations include Vidae Falls (3.1 miles), and Sun Notch (4.5 miles).  There are avalanche chutes along the way, so get the details on alternative routes and current condition information at the Steel Center before you start out.  The park offers several other trails as well.  Be aware that these trails are not groomed.  You may have to break trail, but those that follow will appreciate your efforts.

To us, the greatest winter adventure is to circumnavigate the lake on skis or snowshoes.  Under the best conditions, this 31-mile trip can take 3 days.  It requires winter camping, survival skills and knowledge of avalanche safety.  Fewer than 100 people make this trip each year, usually in late March or April, when the days are longer and the weather is better.  Like all back country camping in the park, a free permit is required. General snow-play is always an option at Crater Lake in the winter.  Sledding and inner tubing can be great fun if you choose your play area carefully.  Be sure there is no way to get in front of cars, that there are few obstacles in the way, and that you’ll be able to stop safely.  Ask for help locating a spot when you are at the Steel Center or speak to one of the ski patrol members you may see around Rim Village.


Winter at Crater Lake Rating

Winter is a surprisingly great time to visit Crater Lake National Park.  The view across the lake on a clear winter day is the best on the planet. Getting to the park in the winter can be an adventure in itself.  With rapid weather shifts and deep snow almost any journey into the back country is threatening in a way that gets the adrenaline pumping.  For those that make the trip around the lake, it’s a world class adventure.  The variety of things to see and do at the park is limited in the winter.  The great historic treasures in the park are mostly under the snow.  There are some fun opportunities for kids if you bring sleds, inner tubes, skis and other equipment.  Overall, our rating totaled a 7.0 on our scale of 10.  If you’ve visited the park in the winter, give us your thoughts in the comment box below.

More Information

For more information about winter activities at Crater Lake, check out the winter edition of the park’s newspaper Crater Lake Reflections.  It also includes a map of the park.  Check out the Crater Lake Web Cameras for a current view of the Lake (remember the photos will be black at night).  Also, check out our blog post on driving in winter conditions, to help you get there safely.


This article, the photos and the video were created by Jerry Haugen, Pathfinder.  ©2011-2013, Global Creations LLC.  All rights reserved.

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21 Responses to “Winter at Crater Lake”

  1. Colin says:

    You describe how Crater Lake offers spectacular scenery during a three day snowshoe/cross country ski trip around the perimeter. Due to heavy snow and limited road openings, it seems the trip would have to start and finish at the Park Visitor Center. Since the National Park website says parking is limited here, what areas do you recommend for overnight parking?
    Thanks for the article,

  2. Pathfinder says:

    Hi Colin,
    Great question. Your trip can start either at the visitor center or at Crater Lake Lodge. The Park Service keeps the road between the restaurant/store and the lodge open and you can park in the middle of the road in a sort of island area. That’s best if you want to ski clockwise around the lake. If you want to ski counter-clockwise, you can park near the Steel Visitor Center. When you pick up your back country permit (free) at the Steel Center, you will be directed to an appropriate parking spot. Your vehicle will likely be buried upon your return, but you’ll probably have a shovel of some sort with you. If not, and it’s during working hours, park staff will be happy to lend you a shovel. By the way, that 3-day trip is a best case. Weather and a variety of other factors can, and probably will, make the trip longer.

  3. Loie says:

    What are the best low-cost nearby lodging options (indoor, with heat!), in your opinion?

  4. Pathfinder says:

    Hi Loie,

    I apologize for the delay in responding. Here is the list of motels provided by Dahniel Ferris from Discover Klamath Visitor & Convention Bureau:

    Crater Lake Bed & Breakfast
    Lodging Type: Hotel/Motel
    City: Fort Klamath
    52395 Weed Road Fort Klamath, OR 97626
    Phone: 541-381-9711 Fax: 541-381-0960
    Price: $99 or less
    A great lodging choice in the Crater Lake National Park area. Beautiful year round, each season outshines the other. QUIET rural setting. Just 15 minutes from the south entrance to the Park.

    Crater Lake Resort & Cabins
    Lodging Type: Cabins
    City: Fort Klamath
    50711 Highway 62 Fort Klamath, OR 97626
    Phone: 541-381-2349 Fax: 541-381-2343
    Price: $99 or less
    Located just 25 miles south of Crater Lake on Highway 62. Cabins and RV camping available.

    Jo’s Motel & Campground
    Lodging Type: Hotel/Motel
    City: Fort Klamath
    52851 Hwy 62 Fort Klamath, OR 97626
    Phone: 541-381-2234 Fax: 541-381-2231
    Price: $99 or less
    Jo’s Motel & Campground invites you to be comfortable, whether you’re camping, lodging or just passing through. Guests will enjoy full kitchens in two-bedroom suites and park model cabin. Jo’s Motel and Organic Grocery was recently chosen for inclusion on National Geographic’s geotourism map. See why by visiting them any day between 9 AM & 7 PM. Prepare to be impressed by their full line of organic groceries & meats, fresh produce and dairy, full breakfasts, as well as sandwiches, burgers, and fries. Pick up snacks, beer, and a wide selection of wines.


  5. Group Travel Specialists says:

    There are so many beautiful things to see in Oregon, Crater Lake among them. In the summer, winter, spring or fall, Crater Lake is gorgeous and these photos offer a fresh look at what this majestic location looks like under snowfall.

    If you are visiting Oregon, it is a mere 250 miles from Portland Oregon to the majestic Crater Lake. So many beautiful places to see, it does not matter the time of year, go and explore all the beauty that the Pacific NorthWest has to offer.

  6. Climbing Betty says:

    Do you know what the policy of the park is for pets? We love to have our dog accompany us when we cross country ski.

  7. Sorry Betty, that’s not permitted in the Park: “Pets are not permitted on any ski routes or in the backcountry. Pets are permitted on leash up to 50 feet from plowed roads, and parking areas.” For all the details about winter park use see:

    The park is, however, surrounded by National Forests that do, in general, allow dogs to travel with skiers.

  8. Jeff says:

    How are conditions up there for skiing around the rim so far this winter? Any reason to wait until March or April?

  9. Hi Jeff,
    There isn’t much snow for Crater Lake, at the moment, but there is still plenty to ski on. so that’s not an issue (check the web cams at .

    The problem is the rapidly changing weather. Had you gone last week you would have faced a blizzard pushed by hurricane force winds. The recommendation for going in the spring is the tendency for more stable weather then. The bottom line is, go when you want, but be certain to check the weather forecast and be prepared to settle in for a few days if things change.


  10. Hong says:

    Hi, Jeff:

    I and my friend want to snowshoeing around crater lake 4/17-20/2015, do you think the snow and weather condition will be good for us to do it at that time period?



  11. Hi Hong,
    Snow has been sparse this winter. Today there were 30 inches on the ground at park headquarters. Average for the date is 120 inches. There is a storm moving through now with a prediction of 8 to 19 inches additional snow by Wednesday. The weather has been quite variable this year, so it’s hard to guess the conditions a couple weeks out. Best if you give the park a call at (541) 594-3000 closer to your planned trip.

  12. Donald Marshall says:

    Thanks for all the great info.
    We will arrive Crater Lake on October 13th and hope to be able to complete the drive around the Lake, weather permitting. Any comments would be appreciated.

    brgrds, Don

  13. Hi Don,
    Regardless of the Rim Road situation, come anyway! Even if it’s closed, you will still be able to get to the rim from the south entrance (usually) and the snow adds to the beauty of the lake. Summer visitors miss that. Some of the services at the park close earlier in October (see: and you can always check the park website for current conditions (
    Best wishes,

  14. swami says:

    Hi Jerry

    I writing this to you from sunnyvale,CA. We as a family of 4 ( with 2 little boys) are planning to visit crater lake. we have booked a hotel in klamath falls in the last week of november. I checked the weather only after booking the hotel and am kind of in doubt. we are not used to extreme cold conditions but the sight and feel of snow is something we would love. I have the below questions :-

    1. would it be safe to drive from sunnyvale in a honda odyssey van to klamath falls ?
    2. how is the drive to klamath falls to crater’s lake in odyssey van ?
    3. would there be a fear of avalanches or frost bites ?

    please let me know if it is safe to visit there in november end especially with two boys aged 5 and 2.

    thank you very much jerry.

  15. Hi Swami,

    1. I see no problem with a Honda van – if the heater works. If there is snow or ice at that time, you might want to bring tire chains or cable chains and know how to put them on. To get here, the safest way is to take I-5 to Weed then US-97 to Klamath Falls. That avoids a pass on I-5 that is sometimes a problem. Usually we don’t get much snow until later in December – of course that’s hard to predict.
    2. Again, no problem with a Honda van. The drive is pretty flat until you get to the Park itself. If there is snow, you might want to have those tire chains to help get up the hill without slipping around. With all the sunshine here, the snow melts off the roads pretty fast. You just need to drive with respect for the road conditions.
    3. There shouldn’t be enough snow at that time of year to have any danger of avalanches. There is only one place on the way to Rim Village that is sometimes closed due to an avalanche. Your odds of getting hit by an avalanche are somewhere close to zero. I’d be more afraid of driving around Sunnyvale. If it’s cold enough, you can get frost bite, but wear your coat, hat, boots and gloves and keep the heater on when in your van and you should have no trouble.

    It is, of course, safe to visit in November. Lots of people live here all winter, including kids of all ages, without any problem. As far as extreme cold, it’s pretty rare for it to get a lot below zero here, but it happens occasionally. Dress appropriately and cold will not be an issue. The kids will love it. Now, I hope we have some snow for your visit! Well, there may not be snow in Klamath Falls, but it’s a pretty sure bet there will be some at Crater Lake.

    When it gets time to come, you can check the webcameras to see what’s happening:

    Crater Lake
    Road Cameras from Weed to Klamath Falls

    Best wishes,

  16. swami says:

    Thank you very much jerry for your guidance. i am feeling confident now and would not be cancelling my hotel reservation ! we take it as a good chance to experience the snow. i will buy those tire chains for my van to be safe. i will contact you once more, in the third week of November before starting our travel for your guidance.

  17. Hi Swami,

    I’ll be happy to help however I can as your travel date gets closer. I’m sure you will have a great time.


  18. Janice chua says:

    We would like to backpack and camp in crater lake second week of December for two nights. Where can we go hike and camp that is open besides diamond lake?

  19. Hi Janice,

    If you want to camp in the park, you can camp anywhere in the backcountry at least one mile away from a plowed road. You will probably need your skis or snowshoes to get there and, even if there isn’t any snow when you set out, you should expect snow before you return and carry skis or snowshoes with you. Ask for up-to-the-minute advice when you get to the park. For all the details see:

    Have fun!


  20. Abhishek says:

    Hi Jerry,

    We are a group of 6 (2 driving down from Seattle and 4 from Sunnyvale California) planning to visit on Thanksgiving weekend 2015. I have a few questions.
    1: Is it safe to visit crater lake in late November ?
    2: Are there enough activities we can do for 2-3 days ?
    3: Will the lake be visible/accessible ?
    4: Will snow chains be required for cars ? If yes, will they be available anywhere near the national park ?

  21. Hi Abhishek,

    1. Yes, it is safe. The park is open and staffed year-around. When you arrive, stop at the Steel Visitor Center and ask about any special hazards. Most dangerous in the winter are the snow overhangs along the rim above the lake. Stay well back from the edge to avoid collapsing a cornice and falling down the cliff. There may be avalanche hazards in some places so ask about that. None of this may be an issue at Thanksgiving time, but one never knows.

    2. National parks do not provide much in the way of ‘activities’, you will need to make your own. They do sometimes offer snowshoe walks, but otherwise bring your cross country skies, sleds, saucers, snowshoes and whatever you need to play in the snow – assuming there is snow then. If snow is lacking, you will be able to take various hikes. How far you go depends upon your winter outdoor skills.

    3. Yes, most likely the lake will be visible. Sometimes snowstorms can make it hard to see as shown in photo in the article.

    4. It’s hard to say about chains or traction tires. It all depends on the weather. Your best bet is to buy a set of chains before you come. I believe Les Schwab Tire Stores will sell you a set then refund the cost if you don’t use them. They will also instruct you on how to install them. Be sure your winter driving skills are sharp. Take AAA’s advice.

    Be sure to check the park’s web cams at: At the moment they appear to have a little bit of snow and ice on the roads. The view of the lake is spectacular today.

    Be aware that you will be entering the park from the south entrance as the north entrance and the rim road closed on November 1, for the winter.

    Enjoy your visit!


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