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Tips On Visiting Crater Lake National Park In Winter

I've been really looking forward to visiting Crater Lake National Park in Oregon for the past 5 years ! I wanted to see it both : covered under the blanket of snow, and on a nice sunny summer day.

During my winter trip, I was planning to go cross country skiing or fatbiking around the lake. May be even spend a night winter camping.  I heard that due to its isolation and the extensive amount of land surrounding the lake, star gazing is absolutely amazing !

In summer, I would love to go paddleboarding around the lake, and to visit Wizard Island ( and may be camp there ? ).

Not many people know, but till recently, Crater Lake used to be one of the most exotic places in the world to go scuba diving. For the dedicated diver, however, the lake also offers a unique experience. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States, and one of the clearest fresh water lakes in the world.

The first time I saw a picture of Crater Lake in winter, I knew I had to see it with my own eyes !

But as they say : "Don't believe everything you see/read on the Internet :(

When we arrived at n the middle of February... it was a complete white-out, and we couldn't see anything within 50 feet.

Tip : According to the park rangers we talked to, the best time to visit the park in winter is ...in early spring. End of March -beginning of April is a great time to visit the park. There is still plenty of snow, days are longer, and warmer, and the park is still crowds free.

Another advantage of visiting Crater Lake in winter/early spring - plenty of cheap accommodations nearby.  In the summer, the park is swamped by millions of visitors, which drives the prices of local accommodations way up, but even that won't guarantee you'll find a room or a camping spot.

But during our visit we scored a nice cozy room in Whispering Pines Motel ( which is about 35 minutes away from the park ) for about $55 a night. Nearby town of Chemult also offers plenty of cheap rooms under $100.

Things  To Do

As  mentioned above, I had great plans for my winter visit of the park. But because that time, I was there with my 8 year old, I, at least, hoped to go on a nice hike around the lake. But due to weather conditions, even that wasn't possible.

According to the park's website, in the winter ranger-led snowshoe hikes are offered on weekends, usually beginning in late November and running through late April. And cross-country skiing is available on a number of trails and - when the road is closed - along Rim Drive.

You can also go snowmobiling from the North Entrance (off Highway 138) to North Junction (approx. 10 miles).

Winter Driving

Please be aware that areas in and close to the park have little to no cell phone coverage. In planning your trip, also know that from November to May, there is no gasoline for sale in the park. The nearest gas stations are 35 miles away in the towns of Chiloquin and Prospect.
Because roads inside and close to the park are typical mountain roads with many curves and a number of drop-offs, and weather can change suddenly ( with snowstorms even in August ) traction tires and snow chains are advised.

Park Fees

Probably the biggest advantage of visiting Crater Lake park in winter is that there is no entrance fee during that period ( BUT, there is a rumor the park will start charging $10 winter entrance fee in 2017-2018 ).

Overall Impression

Honestly, I didn't feel like it was worth the drive to see the park in winter, but mainly because we didn't see anything at all.

If you find yourself driving nearby ( especially in the spring ), I'd probably recommend to make a stop to take a few pictures, and may be go for a short hike, and to play in the snow.

Or if you're a hard core adventurer who love winter camping, it would be an epic trip to go cross country skiing or snowshoeing, and camping at the park.

But driving for several hours just to take to look at a lake, and to take a picture ? Not sure it would worth it.

As I wrote about my other disappointing experience visiting the official waterfall of Washington state ( Palouse Falls ), some Natural Wonders only look great on a picture.

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