The lake is the world's clearest natural body of water.

Guide to Crater Lake
Credit: Getty Images

The result of a massive volcanic eruption in 4,600 B.C., Oregon's Crater Lake is known far and wide for its inimitable cornflower blue hue—particularly striking when ringed by winter snow. And it's getting more popular by the year. According to park superintendent Craig Ackerman, nearly one million visitors flocked to the national park in 2016.

Here are some of Ackerman's best tips on how to enjoy what is perhaps the most pristine water in the world.

Go for a Swim

When you drive up to the rim of the lake, which is set on top of a long-dormant volcano, and gaze down at it sparkling below, it might not occur to you to jump in it. But oh, you could: “It contains 5 trillion gallons of pure water that has very low to no turbidity,” says Ackerman, which translates as: It’s extraordinarily clear to a remarkable depth—almost like scuba-diving without equipment. Recently, he says, the lake was deemed “the most clear natural body of water in the world.”

Cast a Line

Seafood fans and fishermen and women will appreciate the superabundance of rainbow trout and kokanee salmon in these waters. “They’re quite large and 100 percent native,” says Ackerman. The lake was last stocked in 1941, and now contains a million salmon and 30,000 to 40,000 trout. Apparently those who stocked it weren’t sure it would take off, laughs Ackerman, “but like Jurassic Park, they found a way!”

Cycle Around the Rim

The 33-mile loop around the rim of Crater Lake is enormously popular among cyclists, who come here in droves in spring, summer, and fall. “Oregon is a very bike-friendly culture,” says Ackerman, so the National Parks Service responded by closing 25 miles of that loop to car drivers on two September Saturdays. Cyclists, runners, rollerbladers, unicyclists, and people on tandems come out in small and large groups to enjoy these days. Begun as a 200-person experiment, the great ride morphed into 6,000 attendees this past September. The park sets up rest stops with energy bars and fruit to accommodate the athletes and encourage the “very festival-like atmosphere.” It’s not an easy ride, warns Ackerman, but he’s seen “even little kids on one-speeds” going the distance and doing the full loop.

Go to Wizard Island

There are two little islands in the middle of the lake, one of which—named by a gent who thought it resembled a wizard’s hat—is available to the public on a two-hour paid boat tour. It’s 700 feet in elevation, says Ackerman, which means that even in mid-August, you might find snow at the top of a peak on the island. (He laughs that he and his son have slid down that snowy peak in the middle of the summer.) Bring a picnic lunch, explore the square mile of terrain, and enjoy the views.

Take a Guided Hike

There are plenty of easy hikes you could handle on your own here, such as the Plaikni Falls trail, which is easy, wheelchair-accessible, and leads to a lush waterfall—and the climb up Mount Scott (incidentally the highest point in Oregon you can reach with a motor vehicle). For the best views, ascend to the lookout tower on Watchman Peak. But there are lots of fabulous ranger-led tours, too. Tag along with researchers as they inventory species in the park in the summer time, or snowshoe for free with them in the winter. There’s plenty to do without spending a dime.

Take it All in Over a Drink

If you love nature but think it’d look even better if you were simultaneously eating a New York strip steak drizzled with herb butter sauce, the dining room at Crater Lake Lodge has you covered. The dining room here has “a view you can’t get anywhere else in the world,” says Ackerman. Whether you tuck into a drink by the fireplace and gaze out at the lake or sit in chairs on the deck in the summertime, it’s the most elegant of the three dining options available from the Parks Service. A little spendy? Sure. Worth it? Yes.