One of the best things to do in Crater Lake National Park is swim in the lake! This sapphire-blue alpine lake slash seemingly bottomless active volcano entices many to not only draw in the peak-framed lake views but also take a dive into its frigid waters.
In order to go swimming in Crater Lake, you’ll need to tackle the mighty Cleetwood Cove Trail. The trek from rim to water clocks in at just over a mile, but the rapid elevation gain/loss is what causes many to second-guess the strenuous hike.
To prepare you for the swim of a lifetime, I’m going to share with you everything you need to know about hiking the Cleetwood Cove Trail so that you can go swimming in Crater Lake – the deepest lake in America and the deepest volcanic lake in the world!
Cleetwood Cove Trail Guide – How to Swim in Crater Lake
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Hiking the Cleetwood Cove Trail
Since Cleetwood Cove is the only legal access to Crater Lake, anyone who wants to go swimming in Crater Lake or take a boat tour will have to hike the strenuous Cleetwood Cove Trail.
But whether or not you choose to go swimming in Crater Lake or take a boat tour, I highly recommend hiking the Cleetwood Cove Trail. You get some of the best views of the entire park from this trail. It’s one of the best ways to see Crater Lake.
Crater Lake looks entirely different from the water level than it does at the rim.
CLEETWOOD COVE TRAIL STATS
- Distance: 2.2 miles
- Type of Trail: Out & back
- Elevation Gain: 700 feet
- Difficulty: Strenuous
- Pet-Friendly: No
Best Time to hike the Cleetwood Cove Trail
Weather dictates its official grand opening and closure, but the Cleetwood Cove Trail is generally open from mid-June to late October.
There is no water access in the winter.
Crater Lake’s surface is cold, no matter which month you decide to go. At its warmest, the surface will rise to about 55 or 60 degrees F. Be prepared for a shock whether you dip your toes in the water or dive/jump in.
Note that since summer is the best season to hike in Crater Lake National Park, crowds are likely.
How to Get There
You’ll find the Cleetwood Cove trailhead off East Rim Drive, about 4 miles from North Junction. There are clear signs indicating the trail.
The trailhead parking lot is massive but can fill up quickly.
The hike on the way down is easier than the hike back up, but that’s not to say the hike down is simple. Your knees will likely take a toll as you rapidly lose elevation.
The trail is riddled with switchbacks, so the elevation loss isn’t as severe as it could be, but it is still quite steep. Use trekking poles to take the pressure off your knees!
The trek down to the lake is beautiful. Some of the best views in the park are found on this trail. You can track your trail progress by simply glancing out at the lake.
You’ll know you’ve reached the end of the trail when the boat dock comes into view and you’re at eye-level with the cobalt-blue water.
Note that the boat docks are for the Wizard Island Boat Tours. Hiking the Cleetwood Cove Trail is the only way to access the boats.
It’s at this point that you can start finding a spot to swim or hang out. Whether you choose to swim, cliff dive, dip your toes, sunbathe, read a book, or take photos, the view from this rocky beach is one of the best views in the entire National Park.
Now, for the trek back up…
I won’t lie to you and tell you that it’s doable for most ages and abilities. For this trail, you’ll need to be in great physical shape, or you’re going to struggle. In fact, if you have any injuries or health concerns, it’s not recommended to hike this trail.
You need to be able to hike at high altitudes and be in great shape/health. This includes making sure you have no issues with your knees, ankles, lungs, heart, etc.
Walking up the trail is comparable to climbing 65 flights of stairs. So if you can’t handle that, you won’t be able to handle hiking this steep of a trail at this level of altitude.
You will take the same switchbacks up as you did coming down, and many underestimate the severity. Though it is short, the trail is difficult. In fact, its short length with rapid elevation gain is what causes the trail to be so strenuous.
Take plenty of breaks, drink lots of water, and enjoy the views. The jaunt back up is a marathon, not a sprint.
Once you reach the top, you’ll feel sweet relief wash over you. You’ve finished one of the most epic hikes in Crater Lake!
→ READ NEXT: 8 Epic Things to Do at Crater Lake
Swimming in Crater Lake
Can you swim in Crater Lake? YES! But only in one spot, at the end of the Cleetwood Cove Trail.
After the hike down to Crater Lake via the Cleetwood Cove Trail, it’s time to go swimming!
Where Can You Swim?
You are allowed to go swimming within 100 yards of Cleetwood Cove and within 100 yards of Wizard Island. Also, you must remain at least 50 feet away from any boat, boat dock, or buoy.
Most visitors stick to the dock area where the trail spills out to the water. I’d encourage you to turn left and do a little scrambling through the boulders until you find some solitude.
Just make sure if you are going to go swimming that you don’t stray more than 100 yards from Cleetwood Cove!
If you need some extra excitement, head to the right and cliff jump from a rock 35 feet into the water.
To preserve the clarity of this lake, you’ll need to leave most of your water toys at home or in the car.
THESE ITEMS ARE NOT ALLOWED IN CRATER LAKE:
- scuba and snorkeling gear
- wet suits, masks, goggles, fins,
- inner tubes or any towable devices
- kayaks, canoes, and any motorized or non-motorized boats
- inflatable rafts, flotation devices
- personal life jackets or vests
Only bathing suits and “normal clothes” are allowed to be worn in the water. No wet suits.
The water is COLD. The surface only reaches about 55-60 degrees F in the summer. This makes the first dip shocking. I’d encourage you to dip your toes in first to get a feel for the temperature before jumping, diving, or even sliding in.
Then, if you’re feeling brave and adventurous, take a leap off one of the boulders into the icy water.
After all, not many people get to say that they swam in an active volcano!
Also, even though this area is popular, you can find solitude by venturing away from the boat docks. Everyone tends to cluster by the docks near the mouth of the trail, but swimmers are allowed to venture 100 yards away. Claim a rock and spend an afternoon in/by the water.
Know Before You Go
- Pets are not allowed on the Cleetwood Cove Trail or in Crater Lake.
- Do not bring any flotation devices, rafts, equipment, or other devices into the water.
- Always stay on the trail.
- Do not hike the Cleetwood Cove Trail if you are not prepared to hike back up.
- Fishing is allowed at the lake.
- This trail is a rock fall zone. Never kick rocks off the trail; there are hikers below!
What to Bring
Even if you just plan on hiking the trail and coming right back up, you’ll need a daypack with some essentials in it. The trail is short but mighty!
CLEETWOOD COVE TRAIL ESSENTIALS
- Sturdy shoes
- Trekking poles
- A change of clothes (if you plan on swimming)
- Sun protection – sunscreen & sun hat
- First aid kit
Cleetwood Cove Trail is one of the most epic alpine lake trails in the USA. Find out what six other alpine lakes made it on my list!
Hiking from the rim down to the water at Crater Lake is definitely bucket list-worthy. Whether you choose to go swimming, cliff diving, take a boat tour, or simply bask in the glorious water-level views, you won’t regret this incredible experience at Crater Lake National Park.
After all, how cool would it be to say you went swimming (or even dipped your toes) in an active volcano?
Discover Your Next Adventure
Where to next? I’ve got some suggestions!
- Olympic National Park
- Great Sand Dunes National Park
- Ohio Road Trip
- Canyonlands National Park
- Saguaro National Park
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