As you stand on the edge of the rim overlooking Crater Lake, it’s hard to not take off down the slope, finding your way to the shore of the lake. However, this would be extremely dangerous and illegal. But fortunately, Crater Lake National Park has built a trail that allows visitors to access the lake so you don’t just have to admire it from afar. The Cleetwood Cove Trail is the only legal and safe access point to the lakeshore and the lake itself.
Finding the trailhead
The Cleetwood Cove Trail starts at the Rim Drive. You can find the trailhead on East Rim Drive, 4.6 miles east of North Junction where the North Entrance Road meets the Rim Drive. The Cleetwood Cove Trail is almost directly across the lake from the Rim Village at Crater Lake National Park.
The parking lot for the trailhead is on one side of the Rim Drive and the trail leaves from the other side. The trailhead is large and has vault toilets. Vault toilets are also available on the lakeshore, however when I was there they were closed due to COVID.
Cleetwood Cove Trail
The Cleetwood Cove Trail runs 1.1 miles from the trailhead to the lake. It’s an out-and-back hike so, in total, it’s 2.2 miles. Don’t worry, even though the highest point on the rim from the lake is near, 2,000 feet, the Cleetwood Cove Trail only descends and ascends 700 feet. However, climbing 700 feet in 1.1 miles is still very steep.
The trail begins with a series of tight switchbacks to ease the steepness. It then has a long straight, but steep, section followed by another section, not quite as long. Another tight series of switchbacks leads you down almost to the shoreline. The Cleetwood Cove Trail ends by following the lakeshore for a short way before taking you up on a rock outcropping over the lake.
The trail surface is crushed pumice and can be slippery when dry, so you might want to bring your trekking poles. Even though the trail does not have steps, its steepness can still bother your knees, which is another reason to bring you trekking poles.
Once at the bottom, you can explore along the lakeshore, take in how amazingly crystal clear the water is, and even get in the lake.
After you are finished exploring the lake, you retrace your step back to the top of the rim. And unlike most mountains, where you get the hard part over first, the Cleetwood Cove Trail saves it for the second half.
Remember, it takes longer to hike uphill than downhill, so you’ll want to budget more time on the return trip. There are benches placed along the trail for taking breaks.
Swimming, wading, and fishing
Swimming, wading, and fishing are permitted in Crater Lake. If you swim, you must stay within 100 yards of Cleetwood Cove. The water in Crater Lake is cold. In the summer, the average surface temperature of the lake is only 57 degrees Fahrenheit.
Wet suits, scuba and snorkeling gear, any kind of flotation device, waders, etc. are not permitted. Only swim suites and basic clothing may be worn.
No fishing license is needed to fishing within Crater Lake National Park boundaries. To prevent the spread of non-native organisms, only artificial, non-organic lures may be used. Although there is no evidence Crater Lake originally had native fish, the lake was stocked with fish from 1888 and 1941. Only two species thrive in the lake today, Kokanee salmon and rainbow trout.
In the summer months, Crater Lake Hospitality offers eight daily boat tours and two shuttles to Wizard Island. These tours leave from the end of the Cleetwood Cove Trail. When I was there, the concessionaire was not offering these tours due to COVID. Crater Lake Hospitality, offers about half the boat tour tickets for advanced reservations online.
Hiking Cleetwood Cove Trail
If you are up to a steep hike, the Cleetwood Cove Trail has big payoffs. It’s one thing to look down on the lake. But it’s another thing to get up close and personal with it. Hiking the Cleetwood Cove Trail, allows you to walk along the shoreline, see how amazingly clear the water is, and feel how cold it is. It is also amazing to see the lake from the surface level with the rim towering above you.