Encircling much of the caldera rim is a scenic, two-lane road extending a little more than 29 miles from the main visitor use area at Rim Village to Park Headquarters in Munson Valley.
Linking the two developed nodes is an approach road (Route 4) that extends for about 3 miles so motorists can drive a full circuit during much of the summer season. The entire loop is below timberline, but remains above 6,500′ in elevation. Past volcanic activity made for predominately poor soils whose productivity is also limited by drought conditions in summer. Stands of subalpine conifers (mountain hemlock, Shasta red fir, and whitebark pine) appear in varying density and can be interspersed with largely barren pumice fields.
Commencing at the junction with the North Entrance Road is the “East Rim Drive,” which extends for 23.18 miles before it terminates at Park Headquarters.
Motorists begin by climbing to traverse the back of Llao Rock, going more than 2 miles beyond the road junction for their next glimpse of Crater Lake. Viewpoints along this northern section are not generally crowded, though traffic congestion is often acute in the vicinity of Cleetwood Cove. This is where motorists leave their vehicles, and pedestrians try to cross the roadway so they can access a trail leading to the lakeshore.
A series of seven “parking overlooks” begin roughly midway between North Junction and Cloudcap. These retain almost all of their stone masonry and a good deal of the planting done in the 1930s to “naturalize” what in essence serves as a foreground to the visual spectacle of Crater Lake.
The first overlook is located above Grotto Cove, about halfway around the lake from Rim Village. It, like the other overlooks, features masonry guardrail, stone curbs, and planting islands used as a traffic separation device. The next parking overlook is less than a half mile from Grotto Cove, at Skell Head, and is followed by five more (Cloudcap, Cottage Rocks, Sentinel Point, Reflection Point, and Kerr Notch) over the next 7 miles. Each provides distinctly different views of Crater Lake, while the intervening roadway also allows for impressive vistas that include Mount Scott and the Klamath Marsh.
Visitors catch their last look at the lake from Rim Drive at Kerr Notch, located some 21 miles from where they began their circuit at Rim Village. The remaining stretch of road, however, cuts across the precipitous face of Dutton Ridge before it offers an expansive view of the Klamath Basin from near the road summit. Rim Drive then descends toward Sun Notch, where a short trail goes to another viewpoint where the lake can be seen, before following along the outer edge of Sun Meadow to a parking area in front of Vidae Falls. The falls are a cascade about 100′ high, but motorists pause at a parking area built as part of a large fill that covers the lower part of the cascade. A few visitors take the short access road below the falls to a picnic area, which also contains a trailhead to a cinder cone called Crater Peak.
The remaining 2.5 miles of Rim Drive from Vidae Falls do not allow for motorists to pull over and examine an impressive subalpine forest of large trees, but some stop at the parking area for the Castle Crest Wildflower Garden. There is a profuse display of flowering native plants in this wetland during July and August, made by a short path. Rim Drive terminates less than a half mile from the parking area, at its junction with the Munson Valley Road near Park Headquarters.
Merriam Point (6.1). Park in the lot located near the junction with the North Entrance Road and East Rim Drive. Take a short walk from the lot and bear left for a wonderful view. This observation station is located uphill from the parking lot at North Junction. If coming from the north entrance, it is recommended as the first place to see Crater Lake.
(mile 6.5). The cut for the road reveals the glassy surface of Llao Rock.
(mile 7.0). A grasslike cover of woodrushes grows under the hemlocks.
(mile 8.2). The crest of Grouse Hill appears to the left on a higher level than the road.
(mile 8.8). Grouse Hill Picnic Area.
Steel Bay Parking Areas (miles 8.8 – 9.0). Two pullouts with masonry guardrails provided filtered views of Llao Rock’s rugged east face as well as the lake and Mount Scott in the distance.
Pumice Point (mile 9.5). This observation station appears as a long, narrow parking area defined by masonry guardrail. Here is another view of Llao Rock, but the lake and Wizard Island can be seen through the trees.
Pumice Point (mile 9.85).
Cleetwood Picnic Area (mile 10.0).
Cleetwood Trail to boat landing (mile 10.95).
Cleetwood interpretive marker (mile 11.2).
Mazama Rock pullout (mile 11.7).
(mile 12.0). The paved pullout for Mazama Rock is located on the north side of Rim Drive. Mazama Rock is a large block of andesitic volcanic rock.
viewpoint (mile 12.45).
Palisade Point interpretive marker (mile 12.8).
(mile 13.0). Only part of the elongated parking area at Palisade Point is defined by masonry guardrail. There are expansive views from here, especially, the Chaski Slide across the lake.
The Wineglass (mile 13.9).
(mile 14.5). This is a first in a series of parking overlooks developed from 1936 to 1938, these pullouts above Grotto Cove have defined planting beds intended to separate parking from traffic on Rim Drive. Dwarf monkey flowers often carpet the open slopes in July.
Skell Head Picnic Area (mile 15.1).
Skell Head (mile 15.3). This large parking area resulted when crews had to restore an area previously made barren to obtain fill material during road construction. Orientated to the southwest, this is often the windiest place on Rim Drive. Clear days allow for views of Mount Thielsen and Mount Bailey in the distance, as well as fresh perspectives of Mount Mazama’s most prominent features.
Scott Bluffs Parking Area (mile 16.7). Two paved pullouts form substation 6-A on the eastern side of Rim Drive. It allows those who stop here to enjoy the vista created by the Bear Creek drainage.
Whitebark Pine picnic area (mile 17.6).
Mount Scott trailhead parking (mile 17.7).
(mile 18.1). Paved pullout on the spur road to Cloudcap. The glacial cirque on Mount Scott is especially conspicuous from this viewpoint.
Cloudcap (mile 18.9). At the end of the spur road, this overlook is the only place on Rim Drive where the whitebark pine, an increasingly rare native species, dominates the forest.
(mile 21.0). Also known as the Pumice Castle Overlook. Nowhere on the horizon can a road be seen, so that photos taken from here were often used to show that Rim Drive did not intrude on the “primitive picture” of Crater Lake.
Victor View (mile 21.2). Named in 1945 to honor Oregon’s first historian, Frances Fuller Victor, an unmaintained trail starts from here and proceeds through a grove of trees, then a short distance to Sentinel Rock. Views of Wizard Island and Phantom Ship are stunning, but the precipitous trail is not for the faint hearted.
Reflection Point (mile 21.5). Named by the way light affects the water, cliff, and Phantom Ship at certain times of day.
Phantom Ship Overlook or Kerr Notch (mile 23.4). The notch is the second lowest spot on the rim at some 600 feet above the water. Phantom Ship can be seen through the trees.
Sand Creek Valley Vista (mile 24.5). Located away from falling rock and across Rim Drive from small waterfalls. It provides enchanting views of surrounding peaks and the caldera holding Crater Lake.
Dutton Ridge Road Summit (mile 24.9). This pullout is lined by boulders and has an expansive view of the Klamath Basin. To the east is the Klamath Marsh.
Sun Notch (mile 27.1). A parking area delineated by boulders placed as traffic barriers serves as the trailhead for a short hike to the rim. Hike to the rim from the paved lot located along Rim Drive.
Vidae Falls Parking Area (mile 28.6). Rim Drive crosses the lower part of the Vidae Falls cascade at substation 9-A. It is situated on a massive fill planted with native vegetation in 1939. The prominent waterfall is spring-fed and about 100 feet high.
Castle Crest Wildflower Trail (mile 31.0). The parking area serves as a starting point for the short trail loop. Wildflowers usually bloom profusely in late July and early August.
Terminus of Rim Drive at intersection (mile 31.4). Go north one tenth of a mile for visitor information.
Park Headquarters (mile 31.5). Operations center for the NPS, much of it designed and built from 1926 to 1941. Many of the structures are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and can be seen from a half-mile loop trail.
Park Headquarters (mile 31.5). Visitor information is available in the building with a flagpole in front of it. Adjacent is the impressive Administration Building (1936). The main road goes north and rises 600 feet in elevation over its three mile route to Rim Village.
Munson Spring (mile 32.4). No parking is provided at substation 10-A because sight distance and curvature of the road are restricted. An expansive view of the Klamath Basin can be enjoyed at a pullout located one tenth of a mile north.
Rim Village (mile 34.4). The Sinnott Memorial is two tenths of a mile from the intersection with West Rim Drive. Much of the design at Rim Village dates from the same period as Rim Drive and Park Headquarters, this being from 1926 to 1941.