National Park Guide

How to Plan a Crater Lake National Park Stargazing Trip in 2024

I’m pretty sure we can all agree that the national parks across the U.S. are some of the most fantastic places to visit – and many of them are as special after dark as they are during the day. Thanks to the foresight and continued efforts of politicians and ordinary people, our national parks protect wide swaths of natural land from development and pollution – including light pollution.

Located in the southern part of the “Beaver State,” Crater Lake National Park is Oregon‘s only national park – and it’s definitely a special one among all 64 parks out there. The park area protects the caldera of the volcano known as Mt. Mazama, following a series of explosive eruptions about 7,700 years ago. It is an almost other-worldly place – and difficult to reach. This makes it a prime spot for stargazing, since there’s limited development in the area, even from a tourism perspective to support the national park and visitors to it.

Crater Lake National Park Stargazing Hero

Having made my own first trip to Crater Lake for the 2023 annular solar eclipse, I had the chance to experience the darkness above the rim firsthand – and by golly, it is dark! If you want to visit and plan a Crater Lake National Park stargazing trip, you’ve come to the right place. Crater Lake sits on the edge of the future Oregon Outback Dark Sky Sanctuary and is high in elevation to cut down on atmospheric interference too.

No matter the reason that brings you to Crater Lake, it’s worth spending time under the stars here. Ready to plan your Crater Lake stargazing trip?

In this post, I promote traveling to a national park that is the traditional lands of the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla, Molalla, and Klamath peoples, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, among others. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.

This post was originally published in April 2023, and was updated most recently in February 2024.

How to Get to Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake Stargazing - South Entrance Sign

Before diving into the juicy part, we’ll tackle an essential item in the logistics of your Crater Lake Stargazing trip: how to get there. 

Crater Lake National Park is located in southern Oregon and, while you can get there with different modes of transport, I’ll focus only on how to get by car because it’s the most convenient way. 

The park has three entrances, and they can all be accessed by car. 

  • If you’re coming from the west (Medford), simply follow Highway 62 to the park’s West Entrance. 
  • If you’re driving from the south (Klamath Falls), take Highway 97 to Highway 62 and you’ll find the park’s South Entrance. 
  • If you’re arriving from the north (Eugene, Portland), leave Interstate 5 just south of Eugene and take Highway 58 to Highway 97.

Most travelers fly into Portland (PDX). If this is you, you’ll have to drive five hours to the park’s north entrance. Should you want to shorten the driving time, you can take a regional flight from Portland to Medford (MFR) or Redmond (RDM) and then drive about two hours to the park.

As a heads up, both the west and south entrances are open year-round, but the north entrance closes during the winter season. 

Where to Go Stargazing in Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake Stargazing - Panorama with Milky Way

Crater Lake National Park’s remote location and high elevation make it an excellent place for stargazing. Here are some of the best spots for stargazing in Crater Lake, where you’ll be spoiled with clear skies and minimal light pollution.

Rim Road

The Rim Road is the most popular spot (or should I say area) for stargazing in Crater Lake National Park. The road offers panoramic views of the night sky from basically any point along its 33-mile distance.  The Milky Way stretches from one edge of the horizon to the other, and there is so much starlight you don’t even need a flashlight. To find a spot, simply drive along the road or head for any parking lot on it. Below are a few of my favorite spots.

Watchman Overlook

Watchman Overlook is a great spot to admire Crater Lake from above; it also offers unique views of the night sky. If you hike all the way up to the fire tower, you can appreciate the immensity of our galaxy stretching all over Wizard Island. The best thing about Watchman Overlook, though, is that you have to hike to get there. Consequently, you’ll find fewer crowds compared to the vantage points that can be accessed by car.  

Crater Lake Stargazing - Milky Way over Mountain

Cloudcap Overlook

If you’re taking the drive around the East side of the lake, Cloudcap Overlook is an absolute must-stop for stargazers. Everything about this place feels like a postcard moment. Including the night. Make sure you arrive before sunset. You’ll witness the sun tinging the lake with vibrant shades of yellow and orange and then the magic of the stars looming into the night sky.

Sinnott Memorial Overlook 

Sinnott Memorial Overlook is the most popular viewing point in the park, both during the day and night. As the hike is short and sweet, the overlook gives a small glimpse of the beauty of Crater Lake to new visitors. In the daylight, you can take in views of Wizard Island, Llao Rock, and Mount Thielsen. At night, prepare to see some of the brightest stars.

Please note that this overlook is only open from late June to mid-October each year, so it’s best to check the Crater Lake NPS site to see what’s open depending on when you plan to visit. (It was not open when I visited!)

Where to Stay Near Crater Lake National Park 

Crater Lake National Park Stargazing - Overlook

Knowing what accommodation options you have is another important factor when organizing your stargazing trip. Below I’ve detailed the hotels and campgrounds you can stay in during your visit. 

Hotels near Crater Lake National Park

If you want to stay in Crater Lake, there’s one spot: Crater Lake Lodge. This is where I stayed for one night in the area, and it’s an incredible hotel primarily for its location right on the rim. Rooms aren’t hugely impressive, but the lobby has old-park charm and there’s a restaurant, bar, and lounge area that are well worth it on the whole.

If you love stargazing, but not so much camping, staying in a hotel during your Crater Lake stargazing adventure is a great option. Keep reading to find the best hotels. 

  • Union Creek Hotel – Ideally placed where Union Creek meets the Rogue River (which flows out of Crater Lake), this historic spot has cabins and rooms, and a single restaurant in town for meals. It’s easy to reach the park from the west or north entrances.
  • Prospect Historic Hotel – Located 30 minutes from the park, this charming hotel offers cozy rooms to crash before and after your visit to Crater Lake. Please, go to their restaurant. The food is astounding. 
  • Running Y Ranch Resort – This hotel is located in the city of Klamath Falls, which is about an hour south of the park. I stayed here during my October 2023 trip, and this luxury resort is popular for the amenities it offers, plus its proximity to a golf course.

Camping in Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park has two campgrounds where stargazers can spend the night: Mazama Campground and Lost Creek Campground.

  • Mazama Campground – The largest campground, Mazama Campground sits seven miles south of the lake and features 214 campsites. It’s open from mid-June through late September and has tent and RV sites, as well as some walk-in sites.
  • Lost Creek Campground – This campground is a lot smaller. It only has 16 sites. It’s located 16 miles north of the lake and stays open from early July through early September Like the one above, it has tent and RV sites. 

What to See & Do During the Day in Crater Lake National Park

Sure, you know what you’ll be doing at night. But what about during the day? Well, Crater Lake has tons of fun activities to fill in your diurnal itinerary. 

  • Drive the Rim Road: One of the must-do things in Crake Lake is driving the Rim Road. It’s 33 miles of breathtaking views of Crater Lake and the surrounding landscape. You’ll find numerous overlooks along the way, where you can stop to take photos and enjoy the scenery.
  • Go Hiking: Like in most national parks, there’s no shortage of hiking trails in Crater Lake. You’ll find trails for all fitness levels. Some of the most popular are Watchman Peak Trail, Garfield Peak Trail, and Discovery Point Trail. 
  • Follow Cleetwood Cove Trail to the Lakeshore: This 2.2-mile trail leads down to the lake and is the only spot where visitors can access the water’s edge.
  • Explore the Pinnacles: The Pinnacles are a collection of jagged spires that rise from the volcanic landscape. There’s a short trail that leads through the area, providing a unique hiking experience.
  • Take a Boat Tour: Boat tours are another great alternative to get a unique perspective of Crater Lake and its geological features, including the iconic Wizard Island. There are tours available from the Cleetwood Cove dock. 
  • Visit the Crater Lake Lodge: The historic Crater Lake Lodge offers stunning views of the lake and surrounding mountains, even if you’re not staying there. You can also grab a meal at the lodge’s restaurant or enjoy a drink on the outdoor patio.
  • Visit the Museum at Sinnott Memorial Overlook: Next to the Sinnott Memorial Overlook is a museum with exhibits about the park’s geology and history. If you want to better understand how the nature around you evolved throughout centuries, this is the place to get that info.

Other FAQ About Stargazing in Crater Lake National Park

Stargazing in Oregon - Bob Wick for BLM via Flickr
Photo credit: Bob Wick for BLM via Flickr

Have other questions about your Crater Lake stargazing trip? Check below to have them answered.

When is the best time to go stargazing in Crater Lake?

The best time for stargazing at Crater Lake is during the summer months, from June to September when the nights are warm and clear. During this time, the skies are typically clear and the park is fully open. As Crater Lake is highly seasonal, you should be prepared for inclement weather and/or closures between October and May.

Can you see the Milky Way while stargazing in Crater Lake? When?

Absolutely! You can see the Milky Way in Crater Lake. To appreciate it in all its glory, go during the Milky Way season from March to early May. 

Can you see the northern lights in Crater Lake?

It’s possible to see the northern lights from Crater Lake on those rare occasions when aurora activity is exceptionally strong and visible in the contiguous U.S. You’ll want to be in the Rim Village area looking north, and the lights – if visible – will be visible along the northern horizon.

Is Crater Lake National Park open at night? 

Yes, Crater Lake National Park is open year-round, 24 hours a day, weather permitting. Be sure to check the park conditions if you’re planning to visit between October 1st and May 31st to see what parts of the park are open (or not).

Stargaizing in Detriot -Silhouette of Trees

Are there guided night tours in Crater Lake?

Unfortunately, no, there are no guided night tours in Crater Lake; this is in part because of the rules and regulations of tours operating in national parks like Crater Lake – as well as the remoteness of this park which makes it a bit more burdensome for tours to operate.

Is there a dark sky festival in Crater Lake?

Again, unfortunately, no. There is no dark sky festival hosted in Crater Lake. But, who knows? Maybe in a few years! 

Have any other questions about planning a Crater Lake stargazing trip? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll help you make the trip memorable.

Share this to help others enjoy the night sky!

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Valerie is the founder and editor of Space Tourism Guide. She grew up in Alaska, has lived across the U.S., and traveled around the world to enjoy the night sky from many different perspectives. Join her on this journey to explore space right here on earth.

4 Comments

  • ReNee Lemos

    Do you or anyone know of any private persons willing to show and or tell us when we can see northern lights. I’m trying to take my best friend of 30 years to see northern lights. She can not travel on a plane or boat due to cancer treatments coming up in JUNE however we live in Oregon and we heard a nurse say that Crater lake is a good place to see northern lights. But I’m trying desperately to pin point a good time don’t want to waste a trip if she can’t see it… No point in letting her down… It’s a surprise kind of… We talked about it but she doesn’t think we can see them in Oregon. I have a little money saved. So if anyone could help me please. Please send info to email. Thank you kindly and Be well.

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      Valerie Stimac

      Your friend is right – it is very uncommon to see the aurora in Oregon, and I would not plan a trip on it. Additionally, you can usually see the aurora best between September and March, so you need to plan your trip during that part of the year. Unfortunately, if you are unable to travel, you will be hard pressed to visit a site that the aurora is more commonly visible, like Alaska.

  • Anthony Gallow

    Hi Valerie. Thanks for the informative post. Is it possible to see the Milky Way from crater lake in late august? I’m planning a trip with kids who have never seen it. Thank you!

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