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  • Writer's pictureChasingBuffaloesandBeyond

What to See and Do in Crater Lake National Park

Updated: Jan 19, 2022

Crater Lake National Park West Entrance
West Entrance of Crater Lake National Park

And so it begins, our first National Park camping trip with our 8 month old son. As we set off at 5am for our seven hour drive to Crater Lake National Park, we were hoping to get in a few hours of driving while our son was still sleeping - score one for road-tripping with a baby - he slept for the first 3 hours of the trip! Are you crazy? This is the common question we receive from friends and family as we set about planning this adventure. No, we are not crazy! You CAN travel with young children AND have a great time! One of our biggest beliefs as parents was to start young, so that our son grows up traveling, and venturing out on long trips. I will admit, I did sit in the back of the car this trip to keep our son company, but overall the seven hours flew by and we arrived at Crater Lake National Park.

Mom and baby with tent and camping gear at campsite in Mazama Village Campground
Our campsite at Mazama Village Campground

Crater Lake is located in a very remote region of Oregon and was designated as a National Park in 1902 as the 5th National Park in the country. The crater that the park is named after was created about 400,000 years ago when Mount Mazama erupted and left behind this giant crater that eventually filled in over the years with rainwater. Unfortunately on our trip, we were dealing with wildfire smoke hazing out our views and eventually forced us out of the park a day early due to our campground being evacuated. Luckily we did get a couple days in the park to explore and take in the beauty of the area before having to leave.


Lady of the Woods

Castle Crest Wildflower Garden Trail

Vidae Falls & Plaikni Falls

Pinnacle Overlook & Trail

Rim Village

East Rim Road and Cleetwood Cove

Watchman Outlook Trail

Godfrey Glen Loop

Seven Feathers Casino Resort



Mom and baby hiking the Lady of the Woods Trail in Crater Lake National Park
Lady of the Woods Trail

Day 1: After our long day of driving, we needed to get out and stretch our legs. We had just enough time left in the day to stop by the Steel Visitor Center for a look around and complete a few quick hikes. We hiked the Lady of the Woods Loop (0.5 miles). This trail is a quick and easy walk to a giant boulder that was carved in 1917 by Earl Russell Bush who was living and working at Crater Lake as the Crater Rim drive was being built.

Rock sculpture called  Lady of the Woods in Crater Lake National Park
Lady of the Woods sculpture - carved in 1917.


After this we also walked the Castle Crest Wildflower Garden Trail (0.4 miles). This trail is one of the shortest hikes in the park, but was stunning as it was brimming with wildflowers! This is an absolute must if you happen to visit during the summer months while the wildflowers are in bloom!

 Dad and baby hiking Castle Crest Wildflower Garden Trail in Crater Lake National Park
Castle Crest Wildflower Garden Trail
Stone pathway and beautiful flowers along the Castle Crest Wildflower Garden Trail
Short hike, but absolutely beautiful!
Pink, yellow and white wildflowers in full bloom along the Castle Crest Wildflower Garden Trail in Crater Lake National Park
Wildflowers in bloom along the Castle Crest Wildflower Garden Trail


 Vidae Falls viewpoint from along the road in Crater Lake National Park
Great roadside view of Vidae Falls

Day 2: For our first full day in the park, we headed straight to Rim Village to try and take in the views of Crater Lake. Unfortunately, upon our arrival - the rim was so socked in with smoke we couldn't even see the lake! Hoping the smoke would blow out sometime later in the day, we headed for a view of Vidae Falls. Vidae Falls is a 100 foot waterfall and is the easiest waterfall to view in Crater Lake as it's located right by the road. After a quick stop viewing the falls we continued onto Plaikni Falls (2 miles roundtrip). This was a great hike - the wildflowers were in bloom and Brecken enjoyed getting to splash around a bit in the water as we enjoyed our views of this 20 foot plunge waterfall.

Dad and baby standing in front of Plaikni Falls in Crater Lake National Park
Beautiful Plaikni Falls! Our favorite hike while visiting Crater Lake National Park.


Our next stop for the day was, the Pinnacles Overlook & Trail (1.2 miles roundrip). For those wanting just a quick look at the area, you can access the overlook near the parking lot or continue on for a short hike to see a bit more of the area. This area features some unique volcanic pumice spires along the edge of the Wheeler Creek canyon walls.

Mom and baby at the start of the Pinnacles Trailhead in Crater Lake National Park
A bit smoky - but still a beautiful area to see!
Unique Pinnacle formations in Crater Lake National Park
The unique Pinnacle formations


After finishing this hike, this we decided to head back to the Rim and see if could glimpse our first look of Crater Lake. And as luck would have it - would could see the lake! We then spent the remainder of the day enjoying Rim Village which included the Sinnott Memorial Overlook, Rim Visitor Center and Crater Lake Lodge.

Slightly smoky view of Crater Lake from Rim Village in Crater Lake National Park
Finally a clearing in the smoke - our first view of Crater Lake


 Dad & baby along the East Rim Road in Crater Lake National Park
Enjoying the overlooks along the East Rim Road

Day 3: More exploring! We drove along the East Rim Road making stops to enjoy the views out over the rim. We stopped for a quick hike at the Sun Notch Loop Trail (0.7 miles) and then continued exploring along the East Rim Road with stops at the following great overlooks: Phantom Ship Overlook, Pumice Castle Overlook, Cloud Cap Overlook. Then for our favorite part of the day - we hiked to Cleetwood Cove (2.2 miles roundtrip). Hiking to Cleetwood Cove is the only way to actually access the water at Crater Lake and was a highlight of our trip! Swimming in Crater Lake is quite the experience as the water is extremely cold! Summer water temperatures can range between 50-60 degrees! We all got in for a quick swim - AND IT WAS COLD! One thing I would highly recommend that we were not able to do on this trip is to take a boat tour of the lake - the park does offer boat rides that leave from Cleetwood Cove that will take you around for a scenic tour of the lake. Unfortunately, they do not allow children under the age of 2. Hopefully we will return someday and taking this boat ride will be at the top of our list!

Mom and baby in hiking backpack at Cleetwood Cove in Crater Lake National Park
Hiking to Cleetwood Cove for a swim in Crater Lake!
Dad and baby swimming in the clear waters of Crater Lake at Cleetwood Cove
Clear and cold! We loved being able to take a quick dip in Crater Lake!


 Mom and baby at the start of the Watchman Lookout Trail in Crater Lake National Park
Ready to hike the Watchman Lookout Trail

Day 4: This turned out to be our last day in the park, after being out and about exploring, we returned to our campsite to find it was being evacuated due to an approaching wildfire. Luckily we were able to get in a full day of exploration before having to pack up and leave. Our first stop of the day was for the Watchman Lookout Trail (1.6 miles roundtrip). The Watchman Observation Tower was built in 1932 as a fire watch tower and offers some of the best views of the entire park. It is a steep 420 feet in elevation in only 0.8 miles as you hike to the top - but this trail is definitively worth it! The views from here were amazing - until the smoke quickly moved in and blocked most of it!

Man pointing up the rocky hillside towards the Watchman Lookout Tower in Crater Lake National Park
Yep, that tiny building at the top - that is our destination!
Man next to the Watchman Tower in Crater Lake National Park
Built in 1932, the Watchman Tower is a great example of iconic 'parkitecture'
Smoky view from the Watchman Lookout Tower in Crater Lake National Park
View of Crater Lake from the Watchman Lookout Tower


From here we had one more trail we wanted to complete this day, so we headed to the Godfrey Glen Loop (1 mile). This short trail offers a nice walk thru old-growth forest and views overlooking the unique columnar walls of Munson Creek Canyon & Annie Creek Canyon.

Beginning of the Godfrey Glen Trail in Crater Lake National Park
Godfrey Glen Trail - short but well worth the trek!
Rock canyon walls along the Godfrey Glen Trail in Crater Lake National Park
Unique canyon walls along the trail

After all this hiking we decided to head back to the campsite to relax a bit - and it was then we found out that our campground was being closed down and all campers were being asked to leave due the wildfire getting too close. Yikes! By the time we packed everything up and headed out - the smoke was quite thick! Probably best we were leaving as breathing such air probably wasn't the healthiest!



Day 5: If we wouldn't have been evacuated from the park a day early, our plans were to finish off our trip by hiking Garfield Peak (3.4 miles with 1010 elevation). Now, with a baby on our backs, this would been a pretty strenuous hike but looked to be amazing! Maybe next time we will be able to fit this one in. Instead to end our trip we spent our last night of the trip at Seven Feathers Casino Resort in Cannonville, Oregon where we enjoyed as much pool time as we could before heading home.


Interested in planning your own trip to Crater Lake National Park? Below is our summarized itinerary for you to follow or adjust to your own preferences. ENJOY!

Day 1: Travel to Crater Lake National Park. Stop at Steel Visitor Center, Hike Lady of the Woods Loop (0.5 miles) and Castle Crest Wildflower Garden Loop (0.4 miles)

Day 2: Rim Village (includes Sinnott Memorial Overlook, Rim Visit Center, Crater Lake Lodge), Vidae Falls, Plaikni Falls (2 miles roundtrip), Pinnacles Overlook & Trail (1.2 mile roundtrip)

Day 3: Drive along East Rim Road, Sun Notch Loop (0.7 miles), Phantom Ship Overlook, Pumice Castle Overlook, Cloud Cap Overlook, Cleetwood Cove Hike (2.2 miles roundtrip), Swim in Crater Lake while at Cleetwood Cove

Day 4: Watchman Lookout Trail (1.6 miles roundtrip), Godfrey Glen Loop (1 mile roundtrip)

Day 5: Hike Garfield Peak (3.4 miles with 1010 elevation), Travel Home

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