Can You Drive All The Way Around Crater Lake?

Trees growing on Crater Lake cinder cone surrounded by water

Thousands of years ago, a volcanic eruption caused the collapse of a mountain peak. That eruption and collapse created the wonder of Crater Lake in Oregon. Is there a way to drive around this lake to appreciate its unique beauty?

You can drive around Crater Lake; the Scenic Rim Drive circles the lake in its entirety. This road offers visitors 33 miles of beautiful lake views, Pacific Northwest mountain vistas, and lush meadows. The road lies high above the lake, giving a grand perspective of this beautiful area.

Crater Lake is a fabulous destination for a vacation or a stop on a road trip. On the Scenic Rim, drivers can appreciate the beauty of this iconic lake. Continue on to find out what to expect from a drive around the Scenic Rim.

Driving the Scenic Rim

Crater Lake is in the south-central area of Oregon, nestled in the Cascade Mountains. It is about a six-hour drive from Portland and about three hours from Eugene. This lake has a rich history that includes the Native Americans, mountain men, and settlers.

The Native Americans inhabited the area where Crater Lake lies for centuries before the settlers arrived. The first visitors to this area were explorers and fur traders who ventured into the region in the early 1800s. They soon discovered Crater Lake and marveled at its beauty.

The unique geology of this lake helps add to its beauty. Since it’s a collapsed volcano, the mountains lead directly to the water, leaving little room for a shoreline. This feature makes the lake have a picturesque, clear-blue look.

In 1902 Crater Lake became the sixth national park in America and is still one of the most popular parks today. It is the deepest lake in America. At 1,943 feet deep, it’s deeper than the height of the Empire State Building.

To get to the Scenic Rim, visitors should drive to the park on Highway 62. This highway meets up with Crater Lake National Park Road, which spirals down into the crater and leads to Rim Village, Annie Springs Entrance, North Junction, and West Rim Drive.

The drive around Crater Lake is 33 miles and can take up to two hours to complete without stopping. The road is paved and has occasional turnoffs where cars can let other vehicles pass them.

Some of the turnoffs have enough room for a few cars to park and explore a scenic overlook and some historical sites.

Entrance sign to national park on log and boulder pedestal

There are no fees to drive the Scenic Rim Drive, but there are fees to enter Crater Lake National Park. Admission is $20 per vehicle and $10 for motorcycles.

There is no vehicle restriction on what vehicles to drive, but the National Park Rangers suggest unhitching any trailers or campers before getting to the Scenic Rim Drive. They recommend this because there are tight turns, low guardrails, and sheer drop-offs that make it dangerous for some vehicles.

Any parking spots available along the road will be the size of cars, so if you’re in a larger vehicle like an RV, you might need to drive the Scenic Rim without stopping at any overlooks.

The National Park Service also recommends not driving the road when fatigued because it takes a lot of concentration to drive this road safely. In addition, the lack of shoulders on many stretches can leave motorists nowhere to go if they need to pull over.

The road winds its way through forested areas, open meadows, and past volcanic peaks. There are several pullouts where you can stop to take photos or explore the area on foot.

Road Trip Answers Fun Fact: If you want to have a unique memento of your visits to the national parks, purchase a Passport to Your National Parks® book from the park service. The stamp for Crater Lake is available at the post office at the park headquarters and the Rim Village Cafe and Gift Shop.

You may enter Scenic Rim Drive from any point along its route, except for the southern entrance at Pinnacles Road. That section of road is typically closed during the winter months due to heavy snow.

There is also a trolley service that visitors can purchase tickets for. This service starts and ends at the Crater Lake National Park’s Community House. Tickets are $40 for ages 13 and above. Children ages 6-13 are $18, and children under 5 are free.

The best time of year to visit Crater Lake is during the summer when the roads are open or when the fall leaves change color. However, the park receives over 750,000 visitors a year, so be prepared for crowds if you are going to the Scenic Rim.

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Is the Road Around Crater Lake Open Year-Round? 

The entire Crater Lake loop is usually open from July to October. However, heavy snowfall in the winter frequently closes the road.

snow covered Wizard Island a volcanic cinder cone inside crater

The road sometimes doesn’t open until July because crews have to remove snow and clear any rock slides. Due to weather conditions, it can be closed, so always check with the park service before heading out. The weather closures make the road even busier since it is only open at certain times of the year.

When the road is open, drivers can expect to share it with bicyclists. This road appeals to cyclists because it’s a loop, and there are steep gradients and sharp turns. In addition, the cyclists on the road will slow down your driving because there is little to no shoulder on the road, so cyclists ride on the road.

One key to enjoying your time on this road is to take your time. It is usually a slower road, so if you expect to take your time and enjoy the views and stops along the way, you are sure to have a good time.

Is Swimming Allowed in Crater Lake? 

Yes, swimming is allowed in Crater Lake, but only in designated areas. There are designated swimming areas near Cleetwood Cove. Unfortunately, the water temperature is frigid, so most people don’t last more than a few minutes in the ice-cold water.

Girl swimming in crystal clear water on rocky shore

The National Parks Service discourages swimming in the middle of the lake because it’s dangerous. They recommend you not swim anywhere in Crater Lake except in designated areas close to shore. There is a one-mile trail down to Cleetwood Cove. The hike down is relatively easy, but the hike back up the 750-foot hill is the difficult part.

From Cleetwood Cove, visitors can go on a boat tour of the lake where they visit different parts of the lake, and park rangers talk about the historical significance of this place through stories about the people and landmarks around Crater Lake.

The reward of making it to Cleetwood Cove is the ability to wade, swim and fish.

Why is the Water so Blue in Crater Lake? 

The water at Crater Lake is some of the purest and clearest in the world. It has a deep blue color that is caused mainly by the surface of the water reflecting the blue sky.

Another aspect of the water is how clear it is. The bottom is primarily rocks and hardly has any dirt, so there is nothing that gets stirred up and makes the water cloudy.

The lake is also so clear because there aren’t any rivers flowing into Crater Lake. The only water that flows in and out of the lake is from rain and snowmelt. These water sources help to keep it clean but also make the water cold all year long.

Is Crater Lake an Active Volcano? 

Though this area is still monitored for seismic activity, Crater Lake is considered a dormant volcano.

Scenic view of Wizard Island in center of crater surround by blue water

According to the National Park Service, there is no evidence of geothermal activity under Crater Lake, which leads scientists to believe the volcano has been dormant for thousands of years.

What is the Best Time of Year to Visit Crater Lake?

The best time to take a trip to Crater Lake is during the summer. The park has a lot of activities and events that take place in the summer months, such as hiking, boating tours, and camping.

Summer is when the weather will be most pleasant. The temperature at Crater Lake is typically in the 60s and 70s, but it can get quite hot during the day in the peak summer months.

The fall is also a great time to visit because of the pleasant weather and changing leaves. The colors are usually at their peak in October. In addition, there is less traffic during the fall months, so you’ll be able to enjoy more of the lake without the crowds.

During the winter, snowfall can be heavy, so there are not many options for activities other than cross-country skiing or sledding.

A Road Unlike Any Other

The Scenic Rim drive is so unique because of how different Crater Lake is. The lake is the result of a dormant volcano and filled with thousands of years of snowfall in the middle of an ancient volcano. As a result, the views are unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.

All along the drive, visitors can gaze across the 4.9-mile wide lake. The road twists and turns as it climbs to the top of the Rim. Several viewpoints offer dramatic views down into Crater Lake.

In addition, there is a diversity of wildlife to see along the way, including deer, elk, and more. There’s nothing not to love about exploring Crater Lake via the Scenic Rim drive.

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There are numerous natural and man-made wonders I'm ready to find and explore, from Maine's rugged coast to California's Big Sur cliffs and everywhere between.