written by Lindsay McWilliams | featured photo by Todd Quam
Crater Lake National Park sees 43 feet of snow fall on its land each year, making it one of the snowiest places in America accessible by car. And while the average hikes on park trails might leave you knee-deep in snow, floating on the surface of the snow with a pair of snowshoes makes it doable. Fortunately, at Crater Lake, you don’t even have to pay for the snowshoes.
Oregon’s only national park offers ranger-led snowshoe tours each winter, starting in November and ending in May. The scenic, two-hour trips across the snow are about a mile in distance and free of charge. The park provides snowshoes, and entrance to the park is free in winter. These trips require reservations, so call in advance to claim space for your group.
A true winter excursion, snowshoe tours at Crater Lake offer the opportunity to be inside a real-life snow globe—the site of the picturesque lake, flakes of white whirring overhead. All of the snow but without the danger of the backcountry.
“It’s kind of a magical place in the winter,” said park ranger David Grimes, who leads the tours each season. “It reveals things that you can’t see in the summer.”
During the tours, Grimes encourages groups to look for and identify animal tracks in the fresh powder. Rangers use this opportunity to educate the group on winter ecology and the season’s importance for Crater Lake’s environment. “Without the winter, Crater Lake may not be the deepest lake in the country,” Grimes said.
When you arrive at the park for the snowshoe tour, check in at park headquarters to learn your starting location. Most tours start at Rim Village, but it can change depending on the weather. On clear days, the ranger will guide you around the rim of the lake atop (at times) 15-foot-high walls of snow. When the sky is cloudy, the lake becomes “invisible” and a ranger takes you into the shelter of the snow-laden forest.
Grimes said the park rangers lead the snowshoe tours regardless of the weather. Snowshoers could be out in the middle of a blizzard for their first time. This is why warm, waterproof clothing and footwear is essential.
Wherever you’re coming from, make sure you leave with plenty of extra time to get to the lake, as weather conditions often slow your progress. Also note that while the park is open all winter, some entrances to the park are closed.
After the tour, skip the subpar sandwiches at the Rim Village Café and head out of the park to Beckie’s Café in Union Creek. Beckie’s serves greasy-spoon diner food and twelve flavors of famous pie. The nearby scenic Diamond Lake Resort’s Mt. Bailey Grill and South Shore Pizza are good alternatives, too.
Lodging is not available at the park during winter, but Union Creek Resort—about 10 miles from Crater Lake—is open year-round. One of the oldest resorts in the area, Union Creek is neighbor to Beckie’s Café and has access to the nearby Upper Rogue River Trail.
Wherever you land, you’ll want it to be cozy, warm and dry with plenty of hot chocolate in hand. Even snow globe figurines need hot chocolate after a day in the snow.
To reserve a tour, call the Crater Lake visitor center: 541.594.3100
Trail: Silent Creek Loop
Rental On-Site: Yes
Mt. Ashland Ski Area
Trail: Mount Ashland Summit Trail
Rental On-Site: No
Trail: Zig Zag Loop
Rental On-Site: Yes (free with guided tour)
Trail: Trillium Lake Loop Trail
Rental On-Site: No