You may have heard talk of winter wonderlands, but we’re here to tell you: Crater Lake is something special. Situated relatively close to civilized life but largely untamed, this 183, 224 acre park gets less than 500,000 visitors annually, approximately three quarters of them during the park’s short summer. Which means, for those willing to bundle up, that there’s a lot of national park to enjoy in virtual solitude from roughly November through late May.
Two of the most important basics to consider when planning a winter trip are transportation and accommodation. Highway 62, which runs west from the park to Medford for connections to I-5, is kept plowed, as is the road in to Rim Village (Munson Valley Road). Obviously, you still won’t want to attempt this without a good set of chains. Though you’ll discover the Steel Information Center open (call the morning of your visit for updated weather information), don’t expect to find a place to rest your weary head or pick up a three-course meal. Campgrounds, the park lodge and even facilities in Mazama Village close up shop during these cold months. Importantly, you’ll need to bring along your own snow gear, whether you lean towards snow shoes or cross country skies, as you won’t find any rental shops in the area, either (though there are places to rent cross country skis and snowshoes in Medford, however, like Berg’s Ski and Snowboard Shop).
A fine way to enjoy an introduction to the park in winter is on a ranger-guided snowshoe walk, usually held on weekend days. Optionally, strike off on your own. Popular options include a snowshoe hike down to the lake’s edge (just be prepared for a steep hike back to the rim) and cross country skiing around snow-covered Rim Drive. It’s a 33-mile trip to get all the way around, so if you decide to tackle the whole thing you’ll want to bring all the gear you’ll need to do some backcountry camping. Otherwise, try an easier, ungroomed (but marked) trail like Wizard Island Overlook or Mazama Village Loop. Snow? Check. Stunning scenery? Check. Outdoor Adventure? Thank you very much.