Crater Lake

Distance: 33-mile loop
Elevation gain: 3035 ft

This is one of the Oregon rides that is expertly covered in Jim Moore’s 75 Classic Rides Oregon (see the “Oregon” section in Rides by Region).

A Best of the Best ride

Obviously.  It’s a chestnut, and it’s in a National Park, so it’s heavily trafficked, but it’s a bucket-list ride if there ever was one.  It’s only 33 miles, but it’s a workout because it’s all up and down (RWGPS pegs the elevation total at just under 4000 ft)—I’ve never finished it and wished it were longer.  I’m short on photos, but you can google “Crater Lake photos” if you don’t have the iconic image burned into your retina already.  See Afterthoughts for a way to avoid the traffic.

Weather matters on this ride.  The Rim Road is closed by snow in the winter.   West Rim Drive gets plowed in the spring, and the rest of the Rim Road gets plowed later—exactly when depends on the size of the snowpack (West Rim opened very early, in late May, in 2021).  The same logic applies if you’re camping by the lake—in 2021 the main campground opened in mid-June, which was atypically early.


(To see an interactive version of the map/elevation profile, click on the ride name, upper left, wait for the new map to load, then click on the “full screen” icon, upper right.)

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/37826722

Simply start anywhere along the Rim Road and ride it until you complete the loop. I have no idea why I started the map where I did, and I don’t recommend it since it gives you a stiff climb off the bat.   Parking is easiest in the Crater Lake Lodge compound, and the road leading up to it is a very spunky ascent, so I like to start at the Lodge and do that climb last, when I’m warm.  Check out the lodge while you’re there—it’s a grand old pile.  You can ride in either direction, but you want to ride clockwise, because clockwise puts you in the lane closer to the water.

Shortening the route: the southeast half of the loop is hillier than the northwest, so you’ll save some work if you ride from the Lodge clockwise, go halfway, then turn around.  It’s a tamer ride on the NW half, but you’re closer to the rim so the views of the lake are more consistent. 

Crater Lake in june--schedule your ride carefully

Crater Lake in June—I’m told snow may linger till August

Adding miles: The nearest good riding is far away in Oakridge.  Centuries that include Crater Lake ride the entrance road from the north, the Crater Lake N Highway AKA the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway.  It’s pretty flat and pretty straight through very dry forest, not good enough to make this list, but it’s far from painful, and ideal if you want to work on your time trialing.  It’s closed during snow season.  The VLSB wraps around the west side of the lake and continues south until it intersects Hwy 62, which is VLSB to the L/east and Crater Lake Hwy to the R/west.  It’s all generic high forest on big, mostly straight roads all the way to Prospect—my notion of sensory deprivation, but you wouldn’t hate yourself for riding it.

Afterthoughts: Lodging at Crater Lake is Crater Lake Lodge, which is booked solid up to a year in advance.  There’s very nice camping in the Mazama Village campground.  It’s colder than you think at night, even in the middle of summer (average June low 33 degrees), so dress accordingly.

If you hate traffic, “I know a way out of hell,” as Gandhi says.  The National Park Service runs a free program called Ride the Rim, in which they close two-thirds of the loop to cars for two consecutive Saturdays a year—Sept. 10and 17 in 2022.   (They have to keep the West Rim road open for through traffic.)   As I’ve said about similar road closures, I’m not sure I prefer a thousand bikes on the road to a hundred cars.

If you crave standing on the lake shore and touching the water, you have one option: 4.6 miles past North Junction (the meeting of N. Entrance Road and West Rim Drive) there is a prominent trailhead, parking lot, and bathroom marking the beginning of the Cleetwood Trail, the only public trail from the rim road to the water.  It’s only 1.1 miles one way, but it’s very steep and the footing is treacherous.  Check out the National Park website’s description, which is full of dire warnings.

I’m told that cross-country skiing the road in winter is a bucket-list experience as well.

7 thoughts on “Crater Lake

  1. corvetti

    We absolutely loved this ride! Two votes from us for adding this to the “Best of the Best” list – though we were there mid-week in September, and traffic was minimal, so that might have something to do with it. Stunning views at every turn. Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Kesting

      I rode this loop on Labor Day Weekend a few years ago and traffic was not a problem at all! I started at 7am and was mostly by myself. Clockwise from Crater Lake Lodge lets you finish the busiest section of road early.

      Reply
      1. Jack Rawlins

        I think you demonstrated a valuable truth about cycling and traffic: if you get out there in the early morning, all the car tourists are still sleeping in, even on the busiest days.

        Reply
  2. Natasha

    We rode this last September on one of two annual traffic-free days. We started later than most cyclists, so had the lake pretty much to ourselves most of the way. Such a unique experience given how popular this place is on other days of the year.

    Reply
  3. Ken Cushman

    I rode this during one of the September 2019 car-free days. There were way more cyclists than I imagined—probably a couple thousand—but that just made it more convivial. Very well organized—guided parking, lots of (free!) water and snack stations. If you ride during a car-free day, I strongly recommend riding counter-clockwise. This way the 9-mile car-full section of the ride is almost all downhill.

    Reply
  4. Erik Schnautz

    Ride the Rim – an organization from nearby Klamath Falls – organizes an event on the “car free days” at Crater Lake. The East Rim Road is closed those days. That section of the road offers the best views. Sadly, their rides were cancelled in 2020, but here’s hoping the ride will be allowed to proceed this year. September 11 and September 18 are the proposed dates. The ride is “free,” but there’s a suggested donation of $10. There are lots of volunteers and aid stations. I’ve ridden it three times and loved every minute. Pro tip: if you start at the North side, ride counter-clockwise so the biggest steepest climbs come early in the ride. Oh, and the view from Cloud Cap is totally worth the extra climbing!

    Reply
  5. Larry Jansen

    I’ve done this ride 3 times. Always mid-week in September. Incredible views! Traffic is minimal–you might see 2 or 3 other cyclists. There is no water on the route, so take 3 bottles, and have more at your car.

    Reply

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