Family Vacations to Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Crater Lake, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Crater Lake (PhotoDisc)

Crater Lake National Park Family Travel Tips

  • See the lake from scenic stops along the 33-mile Rim Drive.
  • Take a hike on family-friendly trails like the Castle Crest Wildlife Trail.
  • Cruise the brilliantly blue lake or go fishing from Cleetwood Cove Dock.
  • Catch a play (and peek backstage) at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
  • Strap on your cross-country skis for a crowd-free winter visit.

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon's only national park, is in a remote area in the south-central half of the state 80 miles northeast of Medford, the nearest major city. While not a national park "superstar" (and fortunately lacking the crowds that this status brings), this park, set against the snowcapped peaks of the Cascade Mountains, has enough majestic beauty to be considered an undiscovered gem.

Crater Lake—the deepest lake in the United States at 1,949 feet—was created by the fiery eruption of Mount Mazama more than 7,700 years ago. The inward-collapsing mountain formed a caldera that filled with rain and snowmelt until it became the pure, deep blue it is today. Rim Village and the relatively new Sinnott Memorial offer interpretive exhibits to explain the geology and natural history of the area.

In summer, the 33-mile Rim Drive around Crater Lake provides access to more than a dozen scenic viewpoints. With young hikers, try the Castle Crest Wildflower Garden Trail, a 0.4-mile loop avoiding any grisly drop-offs that leads to a small brook and clusters of wildflowers that peak in July. Other family-friendly trails are Godfrey Glen, a one-mile stretch through ancient forests; Discovery Point, a 1.3-mile one-way trek with great lake views; and the slightly more strenuous Watchman Overlook, a 1.6-mile round-trip to a lookout tower.

To experience the lake up close, in summer take the one-hour, 45-minute ranger-narrated boat ride from Cleetwood Cove Dock. But be prepared. Getting to the dock requires navigating the very steep, one-mile-long Cleetwood Cove Trail, a challenging 700-foot descent and, then, return ascent. On the cruise you see towering cliffs, Wizard Island, a 760-foot cinder cone, and views of the Phantom Ship, a basalt island. In winter, Crater Lake visitors can strap on their skis for cross-country gliding over some of the trails and unplowed roads.

Virtually bordering Crater Lake, Umpqua National Forest's Diamond Lake district is home to the family-friendly Diamond Lake Recreation Composite, a good base for the area's fishing and hiking.

Ashland, 89 miles southwest of Crater Lake, hosts the Oregon Shakespeare Festival from mid-February to the end of October, staging plays by the Bard as well as other authors (kids six and older welcome). There are backstage tours, free pre-theater summertime outdoor music, and dance performances. Kids also like the playground, pond, and nature trail in Lithia Park in the center of town.

Tips: Crater Lake's Junior Ranger program is a good way for kids to learn about the park. Note, though, the Rim Village building that houses a café, buffet, and gift shop is closed for renovation until summer 2007; a new restaurant at the Mazama Campground is opening during summer 2006.

Recommended Side Trips: Medford, Oregon Caves National Monument, Bend's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 3 Oct 2007 | Last Updated: 9 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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