Crater Lake Visitor Center: Sights, Sounds, and Good Eats

Aug 27, 2018

The Different Crater Lake Visitor Centers

One thing many people don’t realize is that Crater Lake has two visitor centers. Let’s briefly cover the difference between them.

Steel Visitor Center is located at Park Headquarters and is open 364 days a year, the one day exception being December 25th. For the majority of the year, mid-April to early November, hours of operation are 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The remaining months of the year, it is open 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

The location of Steel Visitor Center is a perfect first stop if entering from the south gate. The center is four miles north of Highway 62, and three miles south of Rim Village (home of Rim Visitor Center) on Munson Valley Road. While stopping at the Steel Visitor Center, you will find plenty of nature guides and maps. Also, be sure to ask for a Junior Ranger workbook for the younger tourists.

As for the second center: the Rim Crater Lake Visitor Center is located at Rim Village, and is open from late May through late September. While it is primarily open to accommodate tourist season, its hours of operation are 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sometimes the Crater Lake visitor center will expand their hours 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

While at Rim Village Crater Lake Visitor Center, you can discover much about the natural history of the lake. The history behind Rim Village dates back to the 1920s and 1930s when it was established as a concentrated spot for visitor services. There is also a complete list of ranger led activities you will find here.

Activities of the Crater Lake Visitor Center

In June 2013, the park debuted a new film at Steel Visitor Center. The film, which is narrated by Peter Coyote, also contains some commentary from park staff and rangers. This 22-minute video is shown every half hour daily from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The film, “Crater Lake: Into the Deep,” covers how the volcano formed and collapsed, while also covering what makes Crater Lake such a compelling place to visit.

Rim Village features the Sinnott Memorial Overlook built in 1931. The overlook is an interpretive center and observation point for park visitors to stop at. It is also a memorial for former Oregon congressman, Nicholas J. Sinnott. The overlook compromises an indoor exhibit room along with the parapet that overlooks the lake. While at the overlook you will find a relief model and exhibits on the park’s research of the lake and geology. You can also take advantage of the Ranger talks that take place daily from June through September. The overlook is open daily – weather permitting – late June through October. In July and August, the overlook has extended hours from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. In June and September, you can visit between 9:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. October sees reduced hours of 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. It is advised that those with mobility issues refrain from using the overlook as it features a steep, historic walkway with a series of stairs.

Also, be sure to take advantage of the webcam that is featured at the overlook. It is updated every 10 minutes.

Both of the Crater Lake Visitor Centers feature book stores and gift shops. As with the operation of the visitor centers, the Steel Visitor Center bookstore is open year-round, and the Rim Village Visitor Center is open in the summer months. These gift shops help to keep the operation of the Crater Lake visitor centers going. You can purchase a variety of tourist items including badges, books, sweatshirts, water bottles, and various other items. The shops are operated by the Crater Lake Natural History Association. The Association’s primary focus is to support the education and need for visitor service activities.

There are also plenty of activities for kids. Kids ages 6-12 may become a Junior Ranger while taking part in the Junior Ranger Program. This program is offered from early July through Labor Day. While at Rim Village, Junior Rangers can earn badges by taking part in one of the daily ranger talks, paying attention to exhibits and park destinations, going on a ranger led hike through the park, or participating in the evening program put on at Mazama Village Amphitheater.

While at the Crater Lake visitor centers, be sure to stop and check for a complete list of offerings to take part of. Many offerings are weather permitting. You will also find a list of times and offerings for all daily events.

Eat Well at the Crater Lake Visitor Center

The Rim Village Visitor Center has another wonderful amenity: excellent food. While in Rim Village, you can stop and grab a bite at the Rim Village Café. This is also where the gift shop resides. This restaurant is open year round. Hours depend on the time of year. There are reduced hours during the winter months, and extended during the summer season. The only exception being that the Rim Village Café is closed on Thanksgiving Day (United States) and Christmas Day. A complete list of hours of operation are as follows:

  • January 1 through March 5: 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • March 5 through May 18: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  • May 18 through June 8: 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
  • June 8 through September 4: 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
  • September 4 through October 1: 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
  • October 1 through November 4: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  • November 4 through December 31: 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Be sure to mark this in your calendar, so you don’t miss out!

The food you can have while here consists of a lighter variety. You can find sandwiches, salads, and snacks. In the winter, they offer soup as well. The Café is 1,500 square feet with a capacity of 36 inside, and additional capacity on the patio of 48.

If you visit it the winter, you can also take advantage of the snow tunnel. It goes through the basement of the building coming back out in the parking lot. This passage makes for a quick and fun way to avoid the snow.

Other Surrounding Helpful Amenities

Crater Lake visitor center has some other services that they provide to help park guests. Namely the constant update of park goings on.

The Crater Lake visitor center keeps constant updates of what roads or entrances are either closed or open. They can offer you alternative routes to whichever destination you are going to if road closures may block your ideal route. You can call the Crater Lake visitor center at any point to check on road status, especially since Crater Lake weather can change drastically in the winter months.

There is also a highly detailed topographical map that can show you how much elevation change there is in the surrounding area of the lake. This can be a very helpful visual for those who are planning to bike or hike around the lake.

The Crater Lake visitor center is also where you can sign up for activities like snowshoe hikes with a ranger in the winter. With over 500,000 visitors stopping year round, the Crater Lake visitor center works smoothly to help ensure you can get the information you need. With multiple Rangers in the building, they can help you plan routes, bike rides, and tell you which places are the best views of the lake. With this service in place, you can easily find help with any of your park needs.

Another Type of Crater Lake Visitor Center

After you make a stop by the Steel Visitor Center and the Rim Village Visitor Center, be sure to stop by Crater Lake Lodge. The lodge can offer other information as well as being a place to lay your head down.

The Crater Lake Lodge is open seasonally mid-May until mid-October. There are 71 guest rooms up to rent during your trip. The lodge also keeps maps for you to peruse.

The lodge is steeped in local history dating back to the early 20th century. Crater Lake Lodge also offers a dining experience. The dining is considered to be fine dining, but in a more relaxed environment. All meals are made with local ingredients. While reservations are recommended for dinner, breakfast and lunch do not require them.

Visit the Crater Lake Centers

Whether you’re going for a day trip or to make a weekend of it at Crater Lake, the visitor centers should be your first stop. With plenty of constantly updated information on the lake, the visitor center will help set you up for a perfect trip to Crater Lake.

Take advantage of the free maps and advice offered by the Park Rangers, and enjoy all the wonderful activities they offer.