The Cleetwood Cove trail, though it’s only two miles long, is one of the best hikes in Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park – not only for the beautiful views of the mountains surrounding the deep blue water, but also because it’s one of the only places where you can swim in Crater Lake!
This guide will tell you everything you need to hike this trail – the best time to swim, how to get there, what you need to bring, and more!
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Table of Contents
About the Cleetwood Cove Trail
Before we get into the details, here’s what you need to know about the Cleetwood Cove hike down to Crater Lake!
Cleetwood Cove Hike Stats
Length: 2.0 miles (3.22 km) out and back
Elevation Gain: 620 feet (189 meters)
Difficulty: Easy – moderate. Though the trail is short, it’s pretty steep. And, the uphill portion is on the way back!
Hike Time: I consider myself to be an average hiker, and this trail took me an hour and 9 minutes, including stopping to take photos and a dip in the lake. You can check out my hike on Strava!
The Best Time to Hike the Cleetwood Cove Trail
Though you can visit Crater Lake anytime, it’s definitely a much different experience in the winter than in the summer. The Rim Drive (the main road through the park and along the lake) closes due to snow, so the Cleetwood Cove trail isn’t be accessible for most of the year.
You can typically get there starting in May, and snow starts accumulating again in October, but this can vary by season! The best bet for a snow-free trail is July and August, but this is also the busiest time in Crater Lake National Park. This is also the best time to swim in Crater Lake, and the later in the summer you go, the warmer the water will be!
Leave No Trace on the Cleetwood Cove Trail
Anytime you’re outdoors, whether you’re a beginner hiker or an experienced adventurer, it’s essential that you practice Leave No Trace (LNT). LNT is a set of seven principles that help us understand our impact on the outdoors – because while we usually have good intentions, the environment is more fragile than we think, and one snap-second decision can cause damage to the landscape that will take the earth years, even decades to repair.
Leave No Trace means enjoying the outdoors without disrupting nature. Here are the 7 principles of LNT, and how they apply when you hike the Cleetwood Cove trail!
- Plan ahead and prepare – read this guide, and make sure you have everything you need.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces – stay on the trail. You can climb and explore boulders, but don’t trample plant life or walk off the established paths!
- Dispose of waste properly – don’t leave trash, or anything else, behind. There are no trash cans, so pack it out!
- Leave what you find – I know it can be tempting to take a cool rock or plant, but leave these things where they belong! Animals often use these, and if everyone takes one, the trail won’t be as pretty.
- Minimize campfire impacts – no campfires are allowed on the trail.
- Respect wildlife – keep your distance from all wildlife, and never feed wild animals.
- Be considerate of other visitors – yield to uphill hikers, and be respectful – no speakers or loud music.
Is Swimming Allowed in Crater Lake?
Swimming in clear blue water is the best thing about visiting a lake! Swimming is allowed in Crater Lake (and I recommend it), but there are only two places in the park where you can get down to the water.
The first is the Cleetwood Cove trail – you hike down to the water, and go for a swim. Here, you can even cliff jump!
The second way also requires you to hike the Cleetwood Cove trail, but from there you take a boat tour out to Wizard Island. The cone-shaped island sits in Crater Lake, standing out against the blue water. The boat tour is the only way to get there, and tours take off from the dock at the bottom of the Cleetwood Cove hike. Once you’re on Wizard Island, you can swim!
Getting to the Cleetwood Cove Trail
The best way to get to Cleetwood Cove, and to get around the park, is with a car.
I you need to hop on a flight first, the closest airport to this trail is the Rogue Valley International Medford Airport, located in Medford, Oregon. From there, it’s a 1.5 hour drive into the park.
Expedia is a good way to find flights and rental cars, I also super recommend signing up for Going – they send you amazing deals, so you can find cheap flights to Crater Lake, and to destinations all over the world. The free account is great and totally worth the few minutes it takes to sign up, and I do recommend the premium account too!
But, a great alternative to a rental car is a tiny home on wheels! With a camper van, you get a vehicle and a place to sleep, all in one! This is my favorite way to travel, and you can rent a fully decked out van with Escape Campervans. Another option for vans is to use Outdoorsy, which is more like Airbnb for campers – you can rent a van, RV, or trailer from a person in the area!
Cleetwood Cove Trailhead
Getting to the Cleetwood Cove trailhead is easy. You can come into Crater Lake National park through one of the three entrances – the west entrance is closest to the Medford Airport, but make sure that you check road conditions first, as sometimes parts of the Rim Drive, and certain entrances, are closed due to weather.
Once you’re in the park, you’ll take Rim Drive to the Cleetwood Cove trailhead. Across from the trailhead is a parking lot, with bathrooms if you need them.
Cleetwood Cove Trailhead Coordinates: 36.2205431,-116.726629
Because the Cleetwood Cove trail is located in Crater Lake National Park, you will need a pass to hike this trail. It costs $30 per car, but if you visit national parks often (or at least more than twice a year), I recommend getting an America the Beautiful Pass! It’s an annual pass that will get you into every national park in the country for an entire year, for just $80.
You can purchase either pass on your way into the park, or get an America the Beautiful pass online ahead of time!
What to Bring to Hike the Cleetwood Cove Trail
When you’re hiking, it’s important to be prepared! Here’s what you need when you hike the Cleetwood Cove Trail.
I usually prefer sandals over big hiking boots. My Chacos are my favorite hiking sandals, but I also love the Luna Barefoot Sandals, which offer a thinner sole – this is great for building foot strength!
Bonus Tip: A lot of these links are for my favorite place to buy outdoor gear – Backcountry. If you install the free Lolli extension on your browser, you can earn free Bitcoin when you shop online at certain retailers, including Backcountry. You can transfer it to a crypto wallet, or just cash out to your bank account.
To swim in Crater Lake, you’ll need a bathing suit! There’s nowhere to change, so I recommend wearing it under your hiking clothes.
When I’m bringing my camera gear, my favorite backpack is the Alex Strohl Mountain Light. It’s definitely the best camera bag out there for hiking with photo gear. If you don’t need storage for camera stuff, I recommend an Osprey Hikelite. If you aren’t bringing very much and just want a day bag, I love my Topo Designs Y-Pack for carrying everyday essentials!
Water is important no matter where you’re hiking, but single use water bottles are, of course, terrible for the environment, so avoid that and bring a reusable one!
For hiking, the CamelBak water reservoirs are convenient and easy – they can fit in your hiking backpack for water on the go. Nalgene water bottles are great for day to day, and if you want an insulated water bottle to keep your water cold and refreshing, Hydro Flasks are the best!
Hiking the Cleetwood Cove Trail & Swimming in Crater Lake
Once you’re ready to start hiking the Cleetwood Cove trail, you’ll leave the parking lot and cross the street. This is where the trail begins, and you’ll start descending on a forested trail.
This hike is really popular, so you’ll likely see a lot of other people around. The trail is easy to follow, taking you down through the trees, and soon, you’ll start to see views of Crater Lake below.
After just a mile, you’ll be at the bottom of the trail, next to the lake. You’ll see the boat dock where tours depart for Wizard Island, and plenty of space to sit on the rocks and enjoy the views. Head all the way to the end of the rocky portion, and you’ll see the cliff where people jump off into the water! It’s only about 10-15 feet, and you can jump into the gorgeous blue water.
Enjoy your swim in Crater Lake, have a snack, then head back up the way you came! This is the hard part, since you’ll be going uphill, but you’ve got this!
Where to Stay When You Hike Cleetwood Cove
When you hike this trail and explore the park, you’ll need a place to stay! Here are a few places to stay near the Cleetwood Cove trail.
Camping Near Cleetwood Cove
For camping near the park, I recommend using The Dyrt – it’s the best way to find campsites. You can use the free version to find campsites, but with The Dyrt Pro you’ll also be able to see the boundaries of national forest land all around the national park. On national forest land, you can camp anywhere for free! You can try The Dyrt before you commit, and click here for a free trial.
There are also plenty of options for free camping near the park – so check out this guide to learn how to find free campsites!
Hotels Near Crater Lake national park
For more places to stay near the park, check out this map! Be sure to zoom out and change the dates to see all of the options.Booking.com
Cabins, Glamping, & Yurts
You can even get $10 off your first booking here!
A Camper van
With a camper van, you get a vehicle and a place to sleep, all in one! This is my favorite way to travel, and you can rent a fully decked out van with Escape Campervans. Another option is to use Outdoorsy, which is more like Airbnb – you can rent vans, RVs, and trailers from people who live nearby!
More Hikes Near the Cleetwood Cove Trail
Have you hiked this trail, or explored any trails nearby? Let me know in the comments below!
Once you’re done with this one, if you’re ready for more of a challenge, the Garfield Peak trail is my favorite in the park – and make sure to check out this guide for more hikes in Crater Lake National Park!
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