How to Plan a Crater Lake National Park Stargazing Trip in 2023
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 Mount Mazama, following a series of explosive eruptions about 7,700 years ago. It is an almost other-worldy 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.
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 Oregon Dark Sky Sanctuary, and is high in elevation to cut down on atmospheric interference too.
No mater the reason that brings you to Crater Lake, it’s worth spending time under the stars here. This post is an excellent compliment to any 20203 eclipse-viewing plans you might have too, as Crater Lake is in the path of the 2023 annular solar eclipse – I love to think of viewing a ring of fire in the sky over a former ring of fire on land! 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.
How to Get to Crater Lake National Park
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.
As a heads up, both the west and south entrances are open year-round, but the north entrance closes during the winter season.
A little bit for those arriving by plane. 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.
Where to Go Stargazing in Crater Lake National Park
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 is one of the, if not the, most popular spots for stargazing in Crater Lake National Park. The road offers panoramic views of the night sky virtually everywhere. 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. The North Junction is particularly nice.
Watchman Overlook is a privileged spot to admire Crater Lake from above. But it also offers unique views of the night sky. From 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.
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 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.
Where to Stay Near Crater Lake National Park
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
It also has a restaurant and bar. 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.
- 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.
- Diamond Lake Resort – This is one of the most popular resorts as it is located almost outside the park. You can book one of its cabins or lodge rooms. It also has a restaurant, gift shop, and offers some recreational activities.
- Shilo Inn Suites Hotel – This hotel is located in the city of Klamath Falls, which is about an hour from the park. It offers comfortable rooms and suites with various amenities such as a pool, hot tub, and fitness center.
- Running Y Ranch Resort – Also located in Klamath Falls, this luxury resort is popular for the amenities it offers. There’s a gorgeous swimming pool, hot tub, kiddie pool, and large 190 degree sauna.
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. There are tours available from the Cleetwood Cove dock.
- See the sunrise along Rim Drive: Some people argue that Crater Lake looks its best when the first rays of sunshine fall. And they are right. Get in the car before the sunset and enjoy one of the most beautiful views you’ll ever witness. Also, you can easily pair it with your Crater Lake national park stargazing session.
- Visit the Crater Lake Lodge: The historic Crater Lake Lodge offers stunning views of the lake and surrounding mountains. 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.
- Go fishing: Crater Lake is home to several species of fish, including rainbow trout and kokanee salmon. Fishing is allowed in the lake with a valid Oregon fishing license.
Other FAQ About Stargazing in Crater Lake National Park
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. Iy you can get picky, try to find a time when the humidity is high and there’s no full moon to interfere with your stargazing experience.
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?
Oh, yes! You can see the northern lights in Crater Lake. The place is located in southwest Oregon and is one of the best places to see northern lights in the Northwest.
Is Crater Lake National Park open at night?
Yes, Crater Lake National Park is open year-round, 24 hours a day. So feel free to arrive whenever you please. However, not all entrances are open year round. Just the west and south entrances.
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.
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.
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.