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The Guide to Crater Lake Camping in a Camper Van

Crater Lake Camper Van Rentals

No trip to Oregon is complete without a stop at the state’s only national park, Crater Lake National Park! A road trip from Portland to Crater Lake or a Crater Lake camping trip should be on every Oregonian’s bucket list. Located in Southern Oregon, this national park is home to the United State’s deepest lake, Crater Lake. After the volcanic Mount Mazama experienced a massive eruption 7,700 years ago, a large crater was formed. It eventually filled with water and formed the spectacle that’s now known as Crater Lake. 

While Crater Lake is the park’s highlight, Crater Lake National Park also offers a variety of other geological features and outdoor activities for adventure enthusiasts. To help you make the most of your time at Crater Lake, we’ve compiled the best things to do, places to stay, and other important information about the park. After reading this guide, you’ll be prepared to hop in your dream camper van and head to Crater Lake National Park!

Portland to Crater Lake National Park: Distance and Estimated Travel Time

Crater Lake National Park is closest to the Portland Escape Camper Vans hub. The exact time and distance of the drive from Portland to Crater Lake will vary depending on which park entrance you choose to enter through.

Although the North Entrance is the easiest way to get from Portland to Crater Lake, it’s closed from November until May or June. The South and West Entrances are open year round, though.

From Portland to Crater Lake National Park’s South Entrance, the drive is approximately 294 miles one-way and takes about 5 hours and 3 minutes.

Why Rent a Camper Van for a Trip from Portland to Crater Lake National Park

Renting a camper van is the best way to immerse yourself in all of Crater Lake National Park’s natural beauty. From navigating the park to finding campsites, a camper van gives you the perfect combination of freedom, mobility, and convenience. We recommend traveling from Portland to Crater Later to minimize your driving time.

Crater Lake rim trail viewpoint

Benefits of Renting a Camper Van vs. an RV for a Crater Lake Camping Trip

There are countless perks of renting a camper van instead of a traditional RV for a trip to Crater Lake National Park. Here are just a few reasons a camper van is the ultimate adventure companion for an Oregon road trip. 

Added Mobility: Because of their smaller size, camper vans are much easier to maneuver than RVs. There are several winding, mountainous roads on the drive from Portland to Crater Lake, but you can navigate them confidently in one of our user-friendly camper vans.

Compact and Convenient: Driving around Crater Lake National Park, there are tons of opportunities to pull off the road and enjoy the park’s scenic overlooks. Since camper vans are so compact, you can make these spontaneous detours freely and park in parking spots that RVs can’t fit in.

Flexible Crater Lake Camping Options: There is very limited availability of campsites in Crater Lake National Park, but that’s no problem in a camper van! Since our camper vans are self-contained and don’t require electrical or sewer hookups, you’ll have access to tent sites and dispersed camping areas outside of the park. On the other hand, in an RV, you are limited to RV spots with electrical and sewer hookups.

Adventure-Ready: Our camper vans are designed with travelers in mind and stocked with amenities to help you have the ultimate road trip. With tons of optional accessories available to rent, you’ll have everything you need right within your cozy camper van!

Which Camper Van is Best for a Crater Lake Camping Trip

No matter your group size, destination, or travel needs, Escape Camper Vans has the perfect adventure vehicle for you! From the Portland Escape Camper Vans pickup location, you can choose between the Mavericks, Mesa, and Del Mar van models.

Each of these camper vans includes a queen-sized bed, a functional kitchenette, and solar panels. These models can all sleep up to five people with an optional rooftop sleeper. The Mavericks is our signature van and is ideal for couples and small groups. For larger groups and travelers hoping for extra space and comfort, the Mesa and Del Mar models are both excellent options.

Check out our selection of vans to find the perfect vehicle for your trip to Crater Lake National Park!

Preparing for a Crater Lake Camping Trip

To maximize your time in the park and ensure a smooth journey, a bit of planning is necessary. From park entrance passes to campsite reservations and everything in between, we’ve covered all the essential things you need to prepare to make sure your Crater Lake National Park road trip goes off without a hitch. 

Crater Lake National Park Entrance Passes

Although vehicle reservations are not needed, an entrance pass is required to visit Crater Lake National Park. While purchasing your pass before entering the park is encouraged to save time, you can also purchase a pass at any park entrance upon arrival.

There are a few different options for purchasing this pass, so here’s a quick guide to help you select the best one for your trip! 

Standard Entrance Pass: This pass is valid for seven days from the date of purchase and admits one private vehicle, such as a camper van. From November 1st to May 21st, this pass costs $20. From May 22nd to October 31st, this pass is $30.

Annual Pass: If you’re planning to visit Crater Lake National Park multiple times during one year, this pass is perfect for you. For $55, you get a year of access to Crater Lake National Park in a private vehicle. This pass also grants access to California’s Lava Beds National Monument, Lassen Volcanic National Park, and Whiskeytown National Recreation Area.

The standard entrance pass and annual pass can both be purchased online or at park entrances. If you plan to purchase a pass in person, please note that cash is not accepted. 

The America the Beautiful Pass: This pass is perfect for anyone planning to check out multiple national parks in a year. It allows pass holders to enter more than 2,000 federal recreation areas, including Crater Lake National Park. The annual pass costs $80 and can be purchased online or in person from authorized vendors.

Escape Camper Vans also offers the America the Beautiful National Park Pass. You can purchase this pass while picking up your van, and it’ll be valid for 12 months from the date of purchase.

Gear

Layers: Even in the summer, Crater Lake’s temperature remains mild during the daytime. At nighttime and during hikes, the temperature quickly cools off, though. Therefore, it’s a good idea to pack several layers.

Seasonal Gear: Crater Lake National Park experiences around 575 inches of snow each year, and temperatures drop below freezing at times. So, if you’re visiting the park outside of summer, be prepared for chilly weather conditions and bring a warm coat, gloves, a hat, and a scarf. 

Gas: The only place to purchase gasoline within Crater Lake National Park is at the Mazama Village Store. However, this store is only open in the summer. To avoid running out of gas, make sure to fill up your tank before entering the park. 

Snow Chains: Crater Lake National Park is considered a “Snow Zone,” which means that all vehicles are required to have chains or traction tires during the winter. If you visit the park in the winter, you’ll want to add Escape Camper Vans’ optional snow chains to your rental.

Food & Water: Restaurant options within Crater Lake National Park are limited, so it’s best to stock up on food and water before entering the park. This way, you can make the most out of your camper van’s well-equipped kitchen and enjoy convenient meals on the go. 

Campsites

There is only one camper-van-friendly campground located within Crater Lake National Park, and it’s only open in the summer. It books up very quickly, so it’s important to make campsite reservations months in advance if you’re hoping to stay in the park.

There are also several campgrounds located just outside of the park. They also book up quickly in the summer, so it’s best to make reservations at these campgrounds ahead of time too. 

Fortunately, in a camper van, you can also enjoy dispersed camping, which means you can camp for free on federal and BLM land. With Umpqua National Forest surrounding Crater Lake National Park, there are plenty of options for dispersed camping nearby. To find more dispersed Crater Lake camping spots, download these apps.

Navigation

Phones & Chargers: To navigate Crater Lake National Park, you’ll want a fully charged phone. While your camper van is running, you can use a car charger. When your van is turned off, you’ll want to use a portable charger. On top of packing these chargers, we also recommend that you bring an aux cord to enjoy your favorite road trip tunes along the way. 

Maps: Cell phone reception can be unreliable in some parts of Crater Lake National Park, so it’s important to bring a printed park map as a backup. In addition, you can view the Google Maps route offline by downloading it before your trip.

Sights and Activities in Crater Lake National Park

Known for its striking blue water, Crater Lake is rightfully the main attraction at this park. There are a variety of ways to experience the lake, and there are plenty of other sights and activities around the park as well. Here are the best things to do at Crater Lake National Park!

Person in an Escape Camper Van in front of the Welcome to Oregon sign

Complete the Rim Drive Loop

If you only have one day at Crater Lake National Park, this is the best way to see the park. This 33-mile road circles the lake and provides access to 30 scenic overlooks. Including sightseeing stops, this drive takes at least two hours. Rim Drive also provides access to several picnic areas and trailheads, so you could easily spend all day exploring the picturesque areas along this road. 

Please note that sections of this road close during the winter. Rim Drive fully reopens in June or July. To check current park conditions and closures, visit this website

Visit the Sinnott Memorial Overlook

One of the most popular viewpoints in Crater Lake National Park, the Sinnott Memorial Overlook is perched above Crater Lake and provides stunning views of the lake. This historic building is nestled into a hillside and was constructed with a rustic stone mosaic exterior. The memorial also features informative exhibits about the history of the park. 

To access this overlook, first go to the Rim Village Visitor Center. Behind the visitor center, you can find stairs to the Sinnott Memorial. Please note that the Sinnott Memorial is only open from late June to mid-October.

Hike to the Watchman Observation Station

Another can’t-miss stop along the Rim Drive Loop is the Watchman Observation Station. Originally built as a fire lookout, this tower now serves as one of the park’s most infamous viewpoints. It provides unobstructed views of Wizard Island, and it’s also a great place to watch the sunrise or sunset.

To visit this spot, you’ll have to hike to the summit of Watchman Peak following the Watchman Peak Trail. The trail is less than a mile each way, but it is moderately steep.

Take a Boat Tour and Visit Wizard Island

In the summer, there are a variety of ranger-led boat tours that allow visitors to explore Crater Lake from a new perspective. Some tours even stop at the infamous Wizard Island, the volcanic cinder cone on the west side of Crater Lake. If you have a chance to visit Wizard Island, be sure to hike to the summit for awe-inspiring panoramic views of the lake. 

It’s important to note that all boat tours depart from the Cleetwood Cove Boat Dock. Therefore, guests must be capable of descending and ascending the steep Cleetwood Cove Trail to participate in this tour. 

Hike the Cleetwood Cove Trail

To experience the lake more closely, follow the Cleetwood Cove Trail to Crater Lake’s shoreline. Once you descend the trail’s steep 700-foot drop to the shore, you can fish, swim, or wade in Crater Lake. As we mentioned before, this is also where boat tours depart from.

This trail is the only legal access point to the shore of Crater Lake, and it’s usually open from mid-June to late October. This hike is 1.1 miles each way, but the trail is steep and strenuous. Therefore, it’s recommended that only people in good physical  condition complete this hike.

To discover more activities around Crater Lake National Park, check out this article!

Crater Lake Camping Guide

Campsites within Crater Lake National Park are extremely limited, and they often become fully booked months in advance. However, there are plenty of campground options outside of the park. Keep reading to find out where to stay near Crater Lake National Park!

Where to Camp Near Crater Lake National Park

Mazama Campground: Mazama Campground is the only campground located within Crater Lake National Park. It features 214 campsites, most of which are tent spots that camper vans can park at. Each campsite includes a picnic table, a fire ring, and a bear-resistant food locker.

Mazama Campground is only open from June to late September. Some campsites are first-come, first-served in June. However, reservations are required for all stays during July, August, and September. Reservations can be made online or by calling 866-292-6720.

Farewell Bend Campground: 18 miles west of Crater Lake, Farewell Bend Campground is peacefully nestled into an old-growth forest. Its 60 non-electric campsites are conveniently located near the Rogue River, which is a great place for fishing and swimming. The campground provides drinking water, toilets, picnic tables, and campfire rings. 

Farewell Bend Campground is open from mid-May to mid-October. Some first-come, first-served spots are usually available, but reservations can also be made up to six months in advance online. 

Union Creek Campground: Also located along the Rogue River, Union Creek Campground is another peaceful place to stay near Crater Lake National Park. It consists of 73 campsites that include a picnic table, a fire ring, and access to water and toilets. 

Union Creek Campground is open from mid-May to mid-October. There are usually some first-come, first-served spots available, but most campsites require reservations. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance online. 

Broken Arrow Campground: Located within the Umpqua National Forest, Broken Arrow Campground is just north of Crater Lake National Park. This campground sits on the south end of Diamond Lake and provides incredible views of the nearby Mount Bailey and Mount Thielsen. It offers 120 campsites that accommodate camper vans. 

Broken Arrow Campground is open from late June to early September. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance online, but some spots may be available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Diamond Lake Campground: Also situated in Umpqua National Forest, Diamond Lake Campground is home to 235 campsites. It is located on the east side of Diamond Lake and is closest to the North Entrance of Crater Lake National Park. This scenic campground offers a variety of amenities, including showers. 

Diamond Lake Campground is open from mid-June to early September. All sites are available by reservation only, and reservations can be made online up to six months in advance.  

Pro tip: Discover additional camping options outside of Crater Lake National Park by checking out the National Park Service’s full list of nearby accommodations

Leave No Trace Principles

Make sure to follow the Leave No Trace Principles while visiting Crater Lake National Park. This means you should respect wildlife, properly dispose of waste, and leave places as you found them. Following these principles will minimize your environmental impact and help protect Crater Lake National Park!

Wildlife Awareness

Crater Lake National Park is home to a variety of wildlife species. The most commonly spotted animals in the park include squirrels, elk, deer, birds, butterflies, and bees. In the winter, snowshoe hares and American martens are common as well. 

There are also 41 known black bears in the park. During late spring and fall, there are occasional black bear sightings. Therefore, it’s important to store your food properly in bear-resistant lockers. If you do encounter a black bear, stay calm, back away slowly, and don’t run. For more bear safety tips, check out this article from the National Park Service

When is the Best Time to Travel From Portland to Crater Lake National Park?

Crater Lake National Park is open year round, and each season at the park offers unique experiences. However, many of Crater Lake’s roads and trails are closed during the extended winter season. To experience the park’s full offerings, we recommend visiting between late spring and early fall. 

Before booking your trip to Crater Lake National Park, here are a few more seasonal differences to consider. 

Spring: Several park roads and facilities remain closed during early spring due to snowy conditions. However, the snow starts to melt and the park reopens in late spring. At this time, the park is quiet and less busy than in the summer months.

Summer: Summer is the most popular time to visit Crater Lake as all of its roads, facilities, and trails are open then. Crater Lake’s summer weather is mild and ranges from 60°F to 70°F, so visitors can comfortably explore the park in the summer. However, as it’s the peak tourism season here, there are often large crowds around the park and at campgrounds. 

Fall: Temperatures start to drop in fall, but many park facilities remain open until early October. During fall, the leaves begin to change color, which makes Crater Lake a beautiful autumn destination. Additionally, crowds are much smaller in the fall. 

Winter: Crater Lake National Park transforms into a winter wonderland each November with heavy snow covering the whole park. There are plenty of opportunities to enjoy winter activities, such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding. But, since there are many park closures at this time and weather conditions can be harsh, a winter trip to from Portland to Crater Lake is a bit more challenging than a visit during the other seasons.

Reserve with Escape Camper Vans for Your Trip From Portland to Crater Lake National Park

Picture yourself plunging into Crater Lake’s crystal clear waters, cruising along the scenic Rim Drive, and hiking the park’s most beautiful trails. A road trip to Crater Lake National Park is an adventure waiting to unfold, and there’s no better way to experience this journey than in a camper van! Crater Lake National Park awaits, so reserve your camper van today!

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