The Best Free Camping Near Crater Lake National Park

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The Best Free Camping Near Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park is one of the most breathtaking sights in the National Park system and a true natural wonder.

The good news for RVers looking to visit is that there’s plenty of free camping near Crater Lake National Park. Join us as we take a look at the options.

Let’s dive in!

What to Know About Free Camping

Free camping is an excellent choice for some RVers, but it’s not for everyone. Instead of the amenities (and costs) of a typical RV park, you’ll be boondocking. In other words, relying on your own power, water, and waste storage systems for the duration of your stay.

Some free camping locations may offer limited toilet services or potable water. However, you should generally plan on bringing in and taking out everything you need and produce. 

But in exchange for these limited services, free camping spots typically offer peaceful, scenic beauty. This can be hard to come by at many RV parks or campgrounds. The other main draw is, of course, the price. It’s hard to beat a no-cost campground!

Pro Tip: At the very least, we recommend bringing a cell booster with you. This will help you stay connected when you’re far off-grid.

Things to See in Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States. It’s also one of the stillest, which contributes to its remarkable deep blue hue. You may have heard people talk about the striking nature of the lake’s color, but you’ll be amazed to see it with your own eyes. 

You can see Crater Lake National Park by car, on foot, and by water. Most visitors complete the 33-mile Rim Drive around the lake’s entirety, with multiple overlooks and viewpoints to stop at.

Hiking is also a popular Crater Lake activity. You can scale various peaks surrounding the lake, including the relatively modest Watchman Peak (1.6 miles round trip) or visitor-favorite Garfield Peak (3.6 miles round trip). In addition, Mount Scott, the park’s tallest peak, offers a 4.4 miles round-trip hike.

A trip to Wizard Island in the middle of Crater Lake is a must-do. Boat tours leave from Cleetwood Cove and offer visitors a few hours to explore the island before returning to the rim.

If you make it to Crater Lake in the winter, you’re also in for a treat. Winter activities like snowshoeing, skiing, and sledding are popular at the park. Believe it or not, some parts of which receive more than 40 feet of snow per year!

And, don’t miss the Crater Lake Lodge, one of the National Park System’s historic lodges. Explore this beautiful building, grab a bite to eat, and soak in the panoramic views.

Free camping near Crater Lakes offers peaceful, scenic beauty.
Free camping near Crater Lakes offers peaceful, scenic beauty.

The Best Free Campsites Near Crater Lake National Park

While you have various options for where to stay, some of the best for adventurous RVers is great free camping near Crater Lake. 

#1 – Thousand Springs Sno-Park (Southwest Crater Lake)

GPS: 42.9131, -122.3245

About the Campsite: This is one of the closest places to Crater Lake National Park for free camping. Thousand Springs is located near the park’s southwest corner. This site is a Sno-Park – a type of parking lot and campsite you’ll find in parts of the northwest designed to encourage winter recreation. You can camp for free in the summer.

But you’ll need to obtain a permit if you camp between November 1st and April 30th. The cost is $4 for a daily permit, $9 for a 3-day permit, and $25 for a season-long pass.

As for the campsite itself, it’s a large parking lot with vault toilets available. There are no electric, water, or sewer hookups. Campers love how easy it is to get to the park from Crater Lake and the wooded area’s relative solitude with few fellow campers. The site is close to the road, providing easy access.

Reported Cell Service: Coverage maps show potential areas with no service for all major carriers to the west of Crater Lake, where this site is located. 

Crater Lake National Park Boondocking Vibes: 7/10 – An easy to access, not too crowded, and free or nearly free site close to a National Park. 

Know Before You Go: Sno-Park permits aren’t sold at the Sno-Parks, so purchase them ahead of time. Check the list of local vendors or buy them online at the Oregon DMV.

#2 – Annie Creek Sno-Park (South Crater Lake)

GPS: 42.7612, -122.0588

About the Campsite: Another Sno-Park, this one is located to the south of Crater Lake. Once again, you’ll have access to vault toilets but no other amenities. Some campers note that a covered hut/shelter is available at the site that has electrical outlets. 

You’ll be able to camp in the easy-to-access parking lot area or venture down a dirt road at the site if you’re interested in more of an adventure. Most visitors say they enjoyed the Sno-Park, while others noted many late-arriving campers or otherwise noisy neighbors. 

Reported Cell Service: Campers report this site offers 4G/LTE services for Verizon (2 bars), AT&T (3 bars), and T-Mobile (1 bar).

Crater Lake National Park Boondocking Vibes: 8/10 – All of the perks and drawbacks of a typical Sno-Park, with the added bonus of a bit of cell service and the potential for some electric.

#3 – Forest Road 610 Dispersed Camping (West Crater Lake)

GPS: 42.9258, -122.3924

About the Campsite: This campsite is located the furthest west of our choices, and is also the most primitive. The area is located along a small road just off Crater Lake Highway/OR 62.

These sites are essentially just clearings on the side of the road, though some have fire rings. You’re really roughing it here, but you’ll be rewarded with incredible solitude and wilderness.

Reported Cell Service: Coverage maps show potential areas with no service for all major carriers to the west of Crater Lake, where this site is located. 

Crater Lake National Park Boondocking Vibes: 6/10 – A great choice if you prize remoteness and solitude, but you’ll do without even some of the limited amenities of other nearby options. 

Tips for Free Camping at Crater Lake

As with all camping on public or semi-public lands, your goal while free camping at Crater Lake should be to leave no trace. Ensure you have enough space in your storage tanks and a plan for your trash.

Think ahead when it comes to gas, too. You may be able to fill up inside the park depending on the time of year. If not, the closest options are more than 30 miles away. With limited cell phone service in many parts of the area, you don’t want to be stuck with an empty tank! 

The Crater Lake area can get enormous amounts of snow in the winter, so be aware of the weather and how that may affect your camping experience and access to campsites. 

Pro Tip: Some roads, services, and even general areas of Crater Lake are closed in the winter. Check the Forest Service website when planning your trip!

Free camping is one of the best ways to take in all of the beauty and tranquility that Crater Lake National Park has to offer.

Excellent Free Camping at Crater Lake

Free camping near Crater Lake National Park is an excellent choice for those who want to check out this one-of-a-kind natural wonder while on a budget.

The area’s Sno-Parks provide some of the best options, and dispersed camping is available for visitors looking for extra solitude. For those willing to boondock, you’ll be able to enjoy this beautiful scenery without spending a dime. 

More things to do in Oregon: Check out our picks of the 5 must-see ghost towns in Oregon.

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).

You should give it a try!

As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers that love to score the best site! 

We’ll send you the 50 Best Free Campsites in the USA (one per state). Access the list by submitting your email below:

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