Visiting Crater Lake National Park from Medford, Oregon
Crater Lake is one of the most jaw-dropping water sights in North America. It’s the deepest lake in the U.S. and is the pinnacle of an entire National Park (the aptly named Crater Lake National Park). Crater Lake is a bit of a drive to get to no matter where you’re coming from in Oregon, but one of the easiest ways to get there is from Medford.
Here is why you should make Medford your base for visiting Crater Lake and a detailed Medford to Crater Lake itinerary so you have a fantastic day seeing this coveted Oregon landmark.
First off, Where are Crater Lake and Medford?
Crater Lake is located in the southeast region of Oregon. Due to its location on the southern end of Crater Lake National Park, you either have to go through Bend and drive all the way around the eastern side of the park, or head down I-5 and situate yourself on the western edge of the park and then drive into the park and up to Crater Lake.
Note: You can also stay in the national park, but there are only a couple lodges and they book up early and can be quite expensive. Which is why I recommend planning on staying in Medford and driving to Crater Lake from there.
How Far is Medford to Crater Lake?
It takes roughly an hour to get to the entrance to Crater Lake National Park. From there, it’s another 45 minutes or so to get up to the lake itself. This drive winds through the mountains as you gain altitude. Soon you’ll see signs for Crater Lake.
I recommend parking at the main parking lot. Be prepared for having to circle a couple times, but people are in and out pretty frequently so you shouldn’t have to wait long for a parking spot at this location.
After you park, you’ll see a lodge-like building in front of you. If you’re like me, you’ll stop there first to use the restroom! Then walk beyond it and *bam*. You’ll be face to face with the breathtaking views of pristine, tranquil Crater Lake.
This is a family-friendly part of the lake to visit since there is a concrete half-wall divide between the walking path and the steep cliff that tumbles down to the lake. Still, don’t let your kids out of your sight! It’s a long way down.
As you walk along the lake, you’ll come to another small building that is a great spot to stop in and learn more about the history of the area. It’s also a tiny gift shop with stuffed animals, t-shirts, posters and plaques, and other trinkets to help you remember your time in Crater Lake by.
After taking in the extraordinary views at this stop, keep driving up the road to the next stop. There’s another small parking lot here. Pull off and do the walk along the wooden pathway down to the viewpoint over Crater Lake.
This view is one of my favorites of the lake. It’s serene and feels more rustic and peaceful being out on the wooden viewing platform, as opposed to the busier pathway by the main parking area.
If the road is open, continue the drive around the lake for more incredible views. But even if the road is closed (it can’t be open until all the snow is cleared, which often isn’t until June) drive from Medford to Crate Lake for the views from the eastern edge of the lake are well worth it and will no doubt be a highlight of your Oregon road trip.
Things to Do in Medford
If you find yourself with extra time in Medford due to Crater Lake not being fully open yet, take advantage of this beautiful and artsy Oregon city by heading out for an evening in the fun downtown area — or plan on an extra day or two in Medford after touring Crater Lake just to explore this fun city and the other things to do around it.
Here are some top things to do in the city center of Medford:
- Watch a show at Holly Theatre, Medford Dance Arts Center, Collaborative Theatre Project, or the Craterion Theater to experience the performance arts part of Medford.
- Visit local art galleries, such as the Art du Jour Gallery and Rogue Gallery & Art Center.
- Eat some local farm to table cuisine at one of the downtown restaurants.
When I was in Medford, I stumbled upon a little street festival with food trucks and live music called Dancing in the Streets. It was very welcoming and so much fun!
Medford is located within the Rogue Valley. Here are some things to do near Medford.
- Table Rocks Hike
- Rogue Valley Wine Tasting (Definitely don’t miss Augustino’s treehouse wine tasting room!)
- Learn more about the history of the area at the Golden State Heritage Site in Wolf Creek, the Crater Rock Museum in Central Point, and the Eagle Point Historical Museum in Eagle Point.
- Drive to and then do the short hike to Mills Creek Falls.