14 things to do at Crater Lake in autumn
Everyone flocks to Crater Lake National Park during the warm summer months as the snow is melting and the weather is perfect to view this spectacular 6-mile-wide caldera holding North America’s deepest lake. And in winter, the visitors who brave the cold temperatures are treated to a white winterland contrasted with the deep blue waters and skies. But fall, with its warm, seasonable days and cool, crisp evenings, is sometimes forgotten when thinking of visiting Oregon’s National Park.
We’re here to tell you that fall is an awesome time to visit Crater Lake – the roads are still clear, the temperatures are nice, and the sky and water are perhaps at their bluest and most stunning hues. Fall is also the last chance to visit before winter drops around 44 feet of snow, which is perfect for cross country skiing and snowshoeing, but maybe not ideal for more fair-weather travelers. The snow starts falling around mid-October, and you can see the weather report here or a road report here.
Another benefit to visiting Crater Lake during fall is fewer crowds. The park draws an average of 482,000 visitors each year and about 80% of those are during the brief summer months. That means you will practically have the run of the place, while most services and areas are still open.
As Crater Lake’s close neighbors just 23 miles away, we’ve got a lot of ideas of what to do at the park during the fall. The following are just a few of the many fun and memorable things you can see and experience at Crater Lake National Park in the autumn season.
1) Drive or Bike around Rim Drive
A “must experience” for any trip to Crater Lake, the Rim Drive is 33 miles and it circles the caldera’s rim with amazing views throughout. With many stopping viewpoints and trailheads along the way, it may take you most of the day to fully enjoy and discover all it has to offer. You can also relax and take a break at several picnic areas.
2) Cleetwood Cove Trail
Touch the actual blue waters you’ve seen from higher up or in photos! The Cleetwood Cove Trail is the only access to the lake’s waters – legally. It’s a 1.1-mile, relatively steep trail that is obviously easier going down than coming back up. But for the somewhat adventurous, it gives you access to a firsthand look at the amazing blue water. Bring plenty of water as there is no access at the bottom, unless you drink the lake water (which you actually can).
3) Devil’s Backbone
This volcanic radial dike with an ominous name towers 427 feet in the air and runs up the entire canyon rim. Being so tall and only 20 feet across at its widest, it’s an impressive site along the Crater Lake Rim Drive.
4) Pinnacles Overlook
Eroded from the canyon’s walls are these magnificent 100-foot-tall spires called “fossil fumaroles” – where rising volcanic gas fused with volcanic ash deposits to become solid spears. It’s a hike to get to them, with the trailhead at the end of Pinnacles Spur Road, which is 7 miles southeast from Phantom Ship Overlook on the Rim Drive.
5) Phantom Ship Overlook
Everyone knows Wizard Island, but there’s another smaller island named Phantom Ship, which resembles a “ghost” pirate ship. Though it looks small, it rises about 16 stories out of the water. Phantom Ship Overlook at Kerr Notch is along the Crater Lake Rim Drive.
6) Pumice Castle Overlook
This outcropping of orange pumice rock that resembles a castle protrudes from Crater Lake’s east wall. About 1,300 feet above the lake’s surface, the pumice is 190 feet thick.
7) Watchman Overlook
Get up close and personal at this excellent stop along the Rim Drive to see Wizard Island. It’s one of the drive’s highest points at 8,013 feet, and there’s a 1.6-mile hiking trail to give you an even better vantage point of the island.
8) Discovery Point
In 1853, John Wesley Hillman first discovered Crater Lake at this point and named it “Deep Blue Lake” for obvious reasons. Discover this point for yourself – just to the west of the visitors center is a trail leading to Discovery Point.
Autumn was made for hiking. The cool, fresh air at Crater Lake is invigorating and the available trails are nearly endless – offering more than 90 miles of hiking plus 33 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. Lots of trailheads lead to lots of peaks overlooking Crater Lake for glorious views during the fall season. A few of our favorites are Watchman Peak Trail (500-foot climb in less than a mile) looking down on Wizard Island, Garfield Peak Trail (1000-foot climb in 1.75 miles) with views of Phantom Ship, Mt. Steven (1500-foot climb in 2.5 miles) looking down on the entire lake, and the Pacific Crest Trail traverses through Crater Lake National Park.
10) Climb Mt. Scott
While at one of America’s premier natural sights, why not get an even more grand view from atop 9,000-foot Mt. Scott, which was once a volcano itself. You can see the entire lake in one stunning and panoramic viewpoint that also includes the Klamath Basin and Eastern Cascades. It’s 2.5 miles one way and about a 5 to 6-hour roundtrip with great views nearly the entire way. Along the route you’ll see alpine wildflowers, pumice, and forests. The trailhead starts on the East Rim Drive, 14 miles east of the Park Headquarters, where you should check to make sure snow hasn’t covered the trail.
There are two waterfalls viewable at Crater Lake National Park – one along the Rim Drive and another accessible by a short hike. Vidae Falls is 3.1 miles east of the Park Headquarters located on East Rim Drive. It’s a 100-foot waterfall that drops over a series of rocky ledges. To see Plaikni Falls, take the East Rim Drive to the Phantom Ship Overlook, and then another mile south on Pinnacles Road you will find the trailhead. From here, it’s a 1-mile hike across Kerr Knotch where you will see the waterfall.
Not many people know you can actually go fishing at Crater Lake, but you can – and you don’t even need a license! While not native to the lake, fish were introduced from 1888 to 1941 and today Rainbow Trout and Kokanee Salmon are still filling the waters. There’s no limit on how many you can catch, but you can only use artificial lures and flies. Fishing is open year-round but realistically fishing season is May 20 through October 31 due to snow. You can access the lake by Cleetwood Trail on the north side of the lake – there’s about .25 mile of rocky shoreline for angling. Fishing allowed from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset. There are also several streams in Crater Lake National Park, but they are difficult to access because they’re located in steep canyons.
In addition to bald and golden eagles, the most common birds you can see at Crater Lake National Park include ravens, Clark’s Nutcracker, Gray Jay, Steller’s Jay, Dark-Eyed Junco, and Mountain Chickadee.
Some of the animals you may see are Roosevelt Elk, Mule Deer, Black Bear, Coyote, Bobcat, Porcupine, Yellow-bellied Marmot, Pine Marten, Snowshoe Hare, Pika, Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel, and Townsend Chipmunk.
So there you have it: a lot of reasons to experience Crater Lake in fall! With so much to do and see, and with the weather still nice and the crowds a low more manageable, it’s the perfect season to experience Crater Lake in a whole new light. Experience the even deeper blue hue of Crater Lake in fall!