Most trailheads and facilities in Crater Lake National Park
are found along the 32 mile Rim Drive
), which circles the whole of the lake and is fully open between late June and mid October. The road is quite good, not too narrow, though steep and winding in some places, and is also popular with cyclists. Steel Information Center
and the park headquarters are located at the south end of the loop, beside the intersection with the southern entrance road from Mazama Village
; also near here are two short trails
(Lady of the Woods
and Castle Crest
) that visit meadows and streams in the adjacent forest.
Driving north (the clockwise direction around the loop), the road climbs steeply, winding across the hillside at the upper end of Munsen Valley
, up to another junction right on the crater rim, where the lake is seen for the first time. A spur road leads to Rim Village
, location of more facilities including a 71 room lodge, several shops, a second visitor center, a restaurant, and the trailhead for the 1.7 mile path to Garfield Peak
. Continuing north, the Rim Drive returns to the forest for a short distance and re-emerges by the edge of the crater at Discovery Point
, an overlook close to Wizard Island
, which may seen either from the roadside or by a short path to a nearby hilltop.
The road then bends away again to avoid an isolated peak (Watchman), coming back soon after to the most popular viewpoint on the west rim, Watchman Overlook
, right opposite the island - close enough to see its crater, the boat landing pier and the islets on the west side, separated from the main island by shallow channels. A 0.8 mile path
begins beside the overlook and climbs to the fire lookout tower on the summit of the Watchman, for even better views of the island.
West and North
North of the Watchman are several lesser overlooks before the Rim Drive arrives at the junction with the northern entrance road, enters the forest once more, passes two shady picnic areas and reaches the very large parking area for the Cleetwood Trail
. This route is popular both for the boat trips which depart from the path's end, and for the hike itself, descending a cool, forested slope to a rocky area along the shoreline. Back on the road, more viewpoints follow, as the drive stays close to the crater rim and curves back south, turning inland again after a few miles to avoid a steep section, where the land rises another 1,000 feet to Cloudcap, a rounded summit close to the lake. A one mile side road leads to Cloudcap Overlook
, a fine viewpoint on the west side of the peak - the highest road-accessible overlook around the rim. This road is not plowed so is open to vehicles later in the season, though at other times hikers may reach the viewpoint on foot, from the main drive. A few weather-beaten whitebark pines grow near the rim but the overlook is quite unobscured by trees, and provides one of the best views in the park.
Close to the Cloudcap intersection, the Rim Drive passes another picnic area and the trailhead for the 2.5 mile path to Mount Scott
, considered the most strenuous of the hikes along the loop drive, though still (in summer) easily completed in half a day. Continuing south,
the road passes two more viewpoints, one of Pumice Castle
, a rather small outcrop of orange pinnacles, and the other of Phantom Ship
- this is a small, rocky island, actually the partly submerged end of a volcanic dyke, set against a backdrop of very steep, wooded cliffs. This feature is better viewed from the west side at another overlook (Sun Notch), further along the highway. Opposite Phantom Ship Overlook, a 6 mile road forks off to the southeast, descending steadily along the valley of Sand Creek to Pinnacles Overlook
, a viewpoint of a group of tall, slender pumice spires, eroding away from the cliff face on the south side of the valley. The half mile Pinnacles Trail
passes more of the spires then exits the park and continues as a track through the adjacent Winema National Forest. Also along the highway are the Lost Creek
tent-only campground and the trailhead for the newly created Plaikni Falls Trail
, which crosses level, wooded ground to a secluded cascade.
The southern part of the crater rim is the highest and steepest, so the road becomes rather bendy and runs mostly out of sight of the lake, with only two places of note en route. One is Sun Notch, a gap in the rim at the upper end of a glacial valley, giving good views of the lake and of Phantom Ship to the east. An easy trail leads through a patch of trees and across grassland to the start of a very short loop, partly along the forested crater rim. Precipitous, colorful cliffs rise up at either side, 1,000 feet above the turquoise-blue waters of Chaski Bay. The other location is Vidae Falls, a several stage waterfall best seen in morning or early afternoon. A narrow upper falls flow into a wider cascade lower down, all enclosed by dark rocks, wildflowers and rich green plants. After here, the highway crosses several more streams, upper forks of Annie Creek, and arrives back at the junction with the southern park entrance road.