Crater Lake National Park – Winter Season Guide by Month

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Winter moon over Crater Lake snowscape Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.
Source: dreamstime

Unlike some national parks in the United States that have four distinct seasons, Crater Lake experiences just two. 

Noticeably colder weather begins in October and persists into May, but the park stays open year-round.

Most visitors come to Crater Lake between June and September, while the winter season remains crowd-free and stunning.

Crater Lake National Park Visits by Month Diagram
Visits by Month Table

Related: Crater Lake – Warm Season Guide

Pros of Visiting Crater Lake National Park in Winter:

  • Crowds and traffic are non-existent
  • Winter-weather fans enjoy outdoor recreation in a secluded environment

Cons of Visiting Crater Lake National Park in Winter:

  • Most roads and facilities are closed
  • Crater Lake’s visibility is limited
  • Food and potable water may not be available
  • Cold, unpredictable weather is common, often making travel difficult

Showshoeing in Crater Lake National Park
Source: unsplash

Things to Do in Crater Lake National Park in Winter:

  • Bird and nature watching
  • Playing in the snow, snowshoeing, sledding, and cross-country skiing
  • Experiencing a remote, rugged area during a cold yet beautiful period

Within the winter season, a period between early October and late May, weather conditions and visitor usage patterns do vary month-by-month. Some of these trends and additional information are included below. 

Crater Lake in October

Visiting Oregon Woman Tourist Looking at Phantom Ship Rock Island Crater Lake National Park
Source: dreamstime
  • Average Daily High: 52°F
  • Average Daily Low: 31°F
  • Average Snowfall: 21 inches
  • Average Snow Depth: 2 inches
  • Average Lake Surface Temperature: 50°F

Activity within the park substantially slows down by late September. Rim Drive and North Entrance will close to vehicular traffic by November 1. 

In many years, automobile access comes to an end much earlier, sometimes during the first week of the month. 

While most major highways in southern Oregon that lead to communities near the park remain open and without significant obstructions, visitors should plan on confirming their road status on the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Tripcheck system. 

From early October until sometime in May, no fuel is available within the park. 

Snow and icy conditions can occur even during pleasant fall days. The transition between fall and winter may be measured in a matter of a week rather than months. 

While average temperature lows usually remain slightly above freezing in September, with the park getting three inches of snow, expect chilly nights and much more snow as October progresses. 

If Rim Drive remains open, this is a perfect time to take the last drive; if closed to vehicles on a clear day, walking, hiking, and biking are permitted. 

Drivers should pay attention to the possibility of icy road segments that could be awaiting them around a curve or during late-night and early-morning excursions.

Crater Lake Lodge and its dining facilities close early in the month. Access to the Sinnott Memorial Overlook at Rim Village ends by mid-October. Other services decrease by the end of the month. 

The Rim Village Café and Gift Shop is officially open year-round, though storms or significant snow and ice may lead to the unexpected closure of the zig-zagging road between the Steel Visitor Center and Rim Village.

Related: Crater Lake – Warm Season Guide

Crater Lake in November

Clear blue water of Crater Lake National Park in Oregon during early spring with some snow left from winter. Wizard Island in the distance
Source: dreamstime
  • Average Daily High: 40°F
  • Average Daily Low: 24°F
  • Average Snowfall: 62 inches
  • Average Snow Depth: 17 inches
  • Average Lake Surface Temperature: 45°F

Visiting Crater Lake beginning in November and continuing into May requires much greater planning. 

With the north entrance near Diamond Lake closed, visitors coming from Medford and other areas accessible by Interstate 5 should purchase fuel and supplies before reaching the park. 

The Prospect Service Station, located along Oregon Highway 62, 29 miles to the southwest, is the last place to get fuel from that direction. 

Those coming from Bend, Klamath Falls, and other locations that take US Highway 97 east of the park should stock up at Chiloquin, the location of the Crater Lake Junction Travel Center, 30 miles from the entrance to the park. 

Oregon’s chain law remains in effect during the winter months, with enforcement possible on all state highways for vehicles without four-wheel drive, traction tires, or studded tires. 

Those who drive rental vehicles are subject to chain laws, even if the rental companies prohibit the use of chains as part of their agreement. 

Snow significantly increases within the park, as well as along roads that offer access to the Annie Springs Entrance Station. 

Those who enjoy camping in the snow may want to consider a November adventure. Snow depth in most areas remains manageable. Backcountry camping rules differ during the winter from what campers must do between June and October. 

After securing a permit, campers may secure a spot as long as it is one mile or more from a plowed road and at least 100 feet from the edge of the caldera. 

Winter Road Closures at Crater Lake Map
Source: nps.gov

With Rim Drive closed, cross-country skiers and snowshoers may use this paved route as a trail. Fat-tire bikes are not permitted in the park. 

During this time, overnight parking is no longer permitted at Rim Village; those camping remotely must park in spaces near the Steel Visitor Center. 

Crater Lake in December

Crater Lake is a unique lake with amazingly blue water . It is located in the South of Oregon
Source: dreamstime
  • Average Daily High: 35°F
  • Average Daily Low: 19°F
  • Average Snowfall: 93 inches
  • Average Snow Depth: 47 inches
  • Average Lake Surface Temperature: 41°F

As the weather gets colder, fewer visitors come to the park. By December, bears are hibernating, and some animals – such as elk and deer – even leave the park so they can find enough food to survive. 

With cellular service spotty or non-existent, those who venture far from plowed areas or locations near Rim Village, the Steel Visitor Center, and Park Headquarters should carry a map and compass. Batteries in GPS devices may fail. 

Prior to entering the wilderness, campers and long-distance hikers, snowshoers, and cross-country skiers should have a backup plan in place in case they encounter a blizzard or other unexpected weather. 

With no in-park lodging available until May, those planning to visit for more than a day need to secure and confirm reservations at hotels, campsites, or other locations before journeying to Crater Lake. 

Lodging at Medford, Grants Pass, Ashland, and Klamath Falls may book quickly later in December. 

Along with gifts and light snacks, the Rim Café & Gift Shop offers snowshoe rentals when conditions permit access to Rim Village. Approximately 60%-70% of the winter, this area remains accessible for vehicles.

Crater Lake in January

Landscape photograph taken at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. Photo of Wizard Island in winter with a blue sky
Source: dreamstime
  • Average Daily High: 34°F
  • Average Daily Low: 18°F
  • Average Snowfall: 101 inches
  • Average Snow Depth: 79 inches
  • Average Lake Surface Temperature: 39°F

Winter precipitation significantly increases. Known as the cloudy, rainy season west of the Cascade Range, the area around Crater Lake usually experiences more than 100 inches of snow in January. 

Crews start working at 4:00 am to clear and sand roads, including Highway 62. White-out conditions may occur some evenings, making travel along even straight sections of roadway difficult. 

Vehicles within the park should only park in plowed areas, away from the roadway, in these conditions. 

Visitors must exercise great care when traveling through accessible areas at the park’s south end. They should bring water since potable water from a sink or faucet may not be available within the park if the road to Rim Village is closed. 

In addition to backcountry camping, guests also enjoy sledding, skiing, and other snow play in January. 

Visitors should refrain from getting too close to the caldera. Ledges of snow known as cornices may give the appearance of stable land, but one wrong step could be fatal. 

Roof avalanches make it dangerous to stand alongside snow-covered buildings.

Visitors with snowmobiles may take them along groomed sections of North Entrance Road between December and March. This route runs along the road between North Junction by Merriam Point and continues toward the park’s northern entrance station. 

This relatively flat section of road passes through the Pumice Desert. Snowmobiles are not permitted to travel along Rim Drive.

Crater Lake in February

Crater Lake NP in Oregon is a popular tourism destination in all seasons. In winter all the buildings like information center are covered with snow
Source: dreamstime
  • Average Daily High: 35°F
  • Average Daily Low: 18°F
  • Average Snowfall: 82 inches
  • Average Snow Depth: 101 inches
  • Average Lake Surface Temperature: 38°F 

Conditions in February mirror those in January. Snow continues to fall and cover the landscape, offering “warmth” and cover for smaller mammals, such as pikas, voles, and shrews. 

Experienced hikers camp remotely, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are popular, and snowmobiles trek along the North Entrance Road. 

Although the park generally receives a consistent amount of precipitation, a growing amount of this total is in the form of rain rather than snow. 

In the 1930s, the park’s headquarters averaged 614 inches of snowfall per year. Since the 1970s, the amount of snowfall usually received annually has dropped below 500 inches. 

Crater Lake in March

Crater Lake, Oregon, USA - March - Snow shoeing hilkers get ready to head out for camping, pulling their gear behind in sleds, at Crater Lake National Forest
Source: dreamstime
  • Average Daily High: 37°F
  • Average Daily Low: 19°F
  • Average Snowfall: 84 inches
  • Average Snow Depth: 116 inches
  • Average Lake Surface Temperature: 38°F

Temperatures warm slightly in March as the amount of precipitation begins to decline. Average snowfall depth usually reaches its maximum level early in the month. 

Backcountry adventures become difficult due to the profound amount of snow that has accumulated, especially in low-lying areas and places that get little or no direct sunlight. 

Hikers should stay on firm surfaces, such as Rim Road, if they plan to camp in the backcountry or go into unfamiliar areas.

Snow levels lead to other concerns. Throughout the winter, visitors should never travel to remote areas alone. 

Those journeying into the forests must avoid tree wells, unstable depressions, or holes that sometimes form around the base of a tree. Falling into one may lead to difficulty climbing out. 

Unlike quicksand, in which it is impossible to sink entirely below the surface if stuck, it is possible to suffocate if a person falls into a deep tree well. 

Terrain traps are areas where avalanche debris may accumulate, creating a situation in which a person may be buried. Avoid gullies, creek beds, and similar areas of unknown depth below high snow piles.

Crater Lake in April

Crater Lake National Park Cliff
Source: dreamstime
  • Average Daily High: 42°F
  • Average Daily Low: 23°F
  • Average Snowfall: 46 inches
  • Average Snow Depth: 111 inches
  • Average Lake Surface Temperature: 38°F

As springtime returns to lower elevations in southern Oregon, snow continues to cover much of the terrain. Travel between the southern park entrance and other locations improves. 

Travelers unfamiliar with Oregon winters should still consult Tripcheck because elevation change in the Cascades can take a driver from early spring flowers and green landscapes to snow-packed and impassable roads in very little time.

Activity in the park increases. Larger wildlife that left as snow began have started to return, and the last migratory flights of birds heading northward reach their colorful climax in the sky. 

Skiers and snowshoers still have snow-covered areas of Rim Drive to themselves on days when it is safe to explore. 

The area between Discovery Point and North Junction is a popular place to visit and camp near West Rim Drive, though locations close to Watchman Peak pose avalanche dangers.

Crews that spent the winter keeping the road from Annie Creek to Rim Village open turn their attention to digging accumulated snow and ice from the nine-mile North Entrance Road and approximately 30 miles along Rim Drive. 

Pinnacles Road, on the park’s east side near the Phantom Ship Overlook, remains closed, with clearance of this section usually occurring after Rim Drive is finished. 

Work on clearing the roads begins in mid-April, starting with the western side of the rim. It may take an entire day to clear a quarter-mile of the roadway.

Crater Lake in May

Crater Lake, Oregon in May - Tourist taking pictures and posing for photos with the lake and fog in the background
Source: dreamstime
  • Average Daily High: 50°F
  • Average Daily Low: 28°F
  • Average Snowfall: 20 inches
  • Average Snow Depth: 76 inches
  • Average Lake Surface Temperature: 40°F

Traffic at the Annie Spring Entrance Station increases in May. During this transition between winter and warmer months, guests must maintain realistic expectations. 

Hiking trails remain covered in snow, services are limited, and many facilities remain closed. Rim Village Café and Gift Shop is open, with the Crater Lake Lodge reopening in the middle of the month. 

Annie Creek Restaurant, the Cabins at Mazama Village, and other facilities open later in the month. 

As the snow begins to melt, visitors explore more of the park. Rim Village is usually accessible without excessive snow or ice on the roadway during daylight hours. Crowds fill accommodations long before Memorial Day. 

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