Head to Crater Lake National Park in the snowy months to avoid the summer crowds and get a secluded campsite. You can backpack the whole rim (33 miles) in 3-5 nights or just make it an overnight at Watchmen or Hillman Peak.

Why Go? Avoid the crowds in summer and have the entire 33 mile long rim and 21 square miles of beautiful Crater Lake to yourself. Sunrises and sunsets that will take your breath away; stars and a milky way you can get lost in for days. Expect solitude and beautiful scenery, nothing less. The 360 degree views from top of Watchman Peak, Hillman Peak, Mt Scott and Garfield Peak are breathtaking.

Difficulty ranges from intermediate to advanced depending on length of trip and activity (snowshoeing vs climbing). Blizzards, avalanches, cornices, and steep, icy slopes are just some of the hazards to be prepared for during the winter months at Crater Lake. The north side of Watchmen Peak and area near Phantom Ship Overlook are particularly prone to avalanches. You would be wise to not attempt to enter the caldera itself. Avalanches and icy conditions can create hazards at several points along the path on Rim Drive. Prior to your trip, you should be familiar with avalanche safety and check current weather and snow conditions.

If doing the whole Rim loop (33 miles) anticipate 3-5 days, depending on weather. If looking for something shorter, I recommend snowshoeing or cross country skiing to Watchmen Peak (4 miles one way) or Hillman Peak (5 miles with Avalanche Detour). This is a beautiful overnight or day trip with breathtaking views. Hiking along snow covered Rim Drive is certainly easier and offers great views, but with a bit more effort, a hike along the rim itself offers even more stunning vistas (be aware of cornices).

Things to Know before you go:With an average of 44 feet of annual snowfall, expect seasonal road closures in the winter and closure of the park’s north entrance.

Check the roads and entrance before you go at: The NPS Plan Your Visit Page

Directions for winter/spring arrival:From the North (Winter):From Roseburg - Route 138 east to Route 230 south to Route 62 east to the park's west entrance.From Bend - Route 97 south to Route 62 north and west to the park's south entrance.From the South (Year Round):From Medford - Route 62 north and east to the park's west entrance.From Klamath Falls - Route 97 north to Route 62 north and west to the park's south entrance.

Parking: Park at Rim Village (Sno-Park Permit not required in winter). The road around the park (Rim Drive) is closed and unplowed in winter and serves as main hiking trail.

Permits: A FREE backcountry (overnight use) and/or special use permit (snowshoeing, Cross Country Skiing, etc) are required and can be picked up at Park Ranger Station or see the Crater Lake Permits Page for more information. No dogs are allowed.

Map: Crater Lake map here.

Although a trip in either direction is possible, I recommend starting at Rim Village and proceed clockwise around the lake. If planning to camp, you are requested to camp at least 1 mile from Rim Village and at least 100 feet from any water source. In winter you are allowed to camp near the rim, just be very careful of cornices. There are some great areas to camp between Discovery Point and Watchmen Peak. Open campfires are allowed only if "dead and down" wood is used to fuel the fire. though most down wood is covered by deep snow in winter.

Areas in and nearby the park have little to no cell phone coverage so plan accordingly in case of emergency. The nearest gas stations are 35 miles away in the towns of Chiloquin and Prospect.

Check out: National Park Service PDF for further information.

In the park, three sources of information may be available. The Steel Information Center is located by Park Headquarters, three miles below the rim. The Rim Information Desk, open weekends, is located in the Café Building at Rim Village. The Canfield Ranger Station, also near Headquarters, has varying winter hours. Call (541) 594-3100 for further information.

Afterwards, enjoy an amazing pie, hearty meal, hot drink, or cold microbrew at Beckie's Cafe in Union Creek Resort Beckie's Cafe in Union Creek Resort.

Pack List

  • Winter conditions at Crater Lake can vary, often changing quickly. Backcountry visitors should be prepared for all possible conditions and have appropriate winter backcountry clothing and gear:
  • Snowshoes or cross country skiis; trekking/ski poles
  • Sunglasses & sunscreen (if its sunny, you will definitely be thankful)
  • Clothing: moisture wicking layers, water and windproof layers, gloves, hat etc
  • Gaiters (depending on snow conditions)
  • 3 or 4 season tent (if camping)
  • Warm sleeping bag and sleeping pad (if camping)
  • Snow shovel (if camping)
  • Crampons & ice axe or skins (recommend if climbing Hillman Peak, Mt Scott, Garfield Peak, and potentially Watchmen Peak depending on snow conditions)
  • Headlamp (if after dusk)
  • Campstove, fuel, and food (if camping or boiling snow for water)
  • Camelback or similar water reservoir sufficient for day hike (may freeze overnight), nalgene bottles
  • Camera and Tripod
Show More
RT Distance 33 Miles
Activities Camping, Photography, Skiing, Snowshoeing, Backpacking, Hiking
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Spring, Winter
Trail Type Loop


Leave a Review

Overall rating: 

Looking Forward To Going Here!

Thanks for posting this Dan! I've always wanted to go here and am even more excited now about planning a trip! Cheers!

breath taking

This is one of the most beautiful hikes in Oregon, next to Mnt Jefferson. I tried to snowshoe the rim in 2015 in February, the conditions looked great, but after the first day we got caught in a blizzard and had to turn back after one night. This hike is not for the beginner, it is a grueling hike, with lots of hills, but its worth every step. I hope to try again soon. Be prepared for anything as the weather will change without notice and forecasts are not reliable.

One of the best winter overnights I've ever done. Crater Lake is a truly special place no matter the time of year, but in winter you have a lot more solitude to enjoy it! Be sure to check the Crater Cam before you go if you can - winter is hit or miss with the weather here!

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