Crater Lake Family Vacation
Crater Lake in Oregon has been on my bucket list for a long time. I was so excited about this National Park that we made it one of our first stops. The park is beautiful and there is plenty to do for families and kids. My favorite activity – swimming in a volcano.
Crater Lake is the main feature of Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. The lake is over 2000 feet deep and formed in the Caldura of a volcano that went dormant over 7000 years ago. Crater Lake National Park is known for its fabulous views and crystal clear water.
During the winter Rim Drive can be closed due to snow so summer is the best time to visit.
The week we happened to plan our park trip there were also several nearby fires. So it was smokey, very smokey. We didn’t get to take in many of the famous views but we did see enough to know we wanted to come back. Since we weren’t able to get the full experience I asked a few other people who also loved crater lake to help me fill in the details.
So now that you’ve added Crater Lake to your Bucket List – What do you do when you get there? Well, since you asked 🙂 Here are my:
Top 10 Things to do with the Family at Crater Lake
#1 – Take a Scenic Drive
Crater Lake is a beauty and Rim Drive is the best place to start when you’re getting a lay of the land. This trip around the rim is 33 miles and is full of beautiful vistas. The road joined the list of the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. There are plenty of places to stop, hike, and get some fabulous photos.
#2 – Go for a Hike
Crater Lake National Park has several very nice hikes ranging from easy family hikes to more strenuous. Each hike rewards you with some amazing views.
If you want to be inspired to take your hiking game up to the next level you’ll see plenty of Pacific Coast Trail hikers making a stop.
The best-known and most-often hiked trail at Crater Lake is the Cleetwood Cove trail down to the water, where you can swim, fish, or board a boat tour. It’s a steep 1.8 mile down-and-back hike and is the only way to access the water. The downhill hike is easy and we spent a good amount of time at the lake’s edge. There’s a broad dock and a vault toilet available. On our trip, the boat tours were not available, but we enjoyed the unique viewpoint from the dock. The hike back to the top is much more strenuous, but the trail is wide and well-maintained with switchbacks and benches for resting. It’s not for the feint of heart, and if you’re like me (ahem, a bit out of shape) you’ll want to plan extra time for the hike back to the top.
An easier and family-friendly hike is Sun Notch Trail, which is a flat 0.8 mile loop trek. You’ll cross wildflower-laden meadows studded with hobbitesque rocks mounding out of the thin soils. The highlight of the trail is an overlook over Phantom Ship Island. This is the closest view you’ll find for this unique island, and while there you can almost imagine pirates running amok on the shore of this grand old “ship”.
#3 – Camp
The Crater Lake campground is a typical national park campground. It has basic facilities and some nice spots. There is a decent camp store nearby and restaurant facilities. I wish we could have stayed the full 3 days that we planned but I wasn’t impressed having black boogers from all the wildfire smoke so it was just one day for us.
I’m sure it’s a great when the air is clear (which is likely most of the time).
#4 – Ride a Boat in the Caldura
We did not have time to fit this in our schedule but it looks like a fabulous trip. You get on the boat from the bottom of Cleetwood Cove trail (this trail is tough, not for anyone out of shape). The boat goes to Wizard island – which is kind of a volcano within a volcano. I recommend booking ahead.
#5 – Take the Trolley Tour
All the fabulous view, none of the stress from driving. Book ahead for this great option.
Besides the lake itself, the highlight of visiting Crater Lake is Rim Drive, a 33-mile drive around the lake. While the road is well-maintained and paved, it’s also narrow and curvy, requiring the driver to concentrate on the road and miss the view. With this in mind, on our last visit to Crater Lake, we tried something new. We booked a 2-hour trolley tour to carry our family of 5 around the lake. Riding high in a trolley, with huge windows, and taking in every view of the impossibly blue lake became an instant favorite family memory. Our kids, ages 6 and 1, both enjoyed the novelty of riding a trolley, while the adults in our group were fascinated by the on-board National Park guide who regaled us with stories of the history, lore, and geology of Crater Lake. We disembarked at each of the major viewpoints for photo opportunities and to let the kids stretch their legs.
The Crater Lake Trolley recommends booking in advance, although we had no trouble getting tickets on the day of our trip. The trolley begins and ends near the gift shop, which has food and drinks as well as bathrooms. The trolleys are ADA-compliant; dogs and other pets are not allowed. The trolley runs from late June through August once the entire Rim Drive has been plowed.
#6 – Get a National Park Passport
We love our National Park Passports. We all have one and we make sure we take time to get our stamps at each new stop. There are several visitors centers where you can find other souvenirs and learn more about the area.
#7 Learn Something new at the Visitors Centers
There are 2 visitors centers at the park, an overlook exhibit and the Crater Lake Lodge. We always try to explore the visitors centers at national parks. The kids (and us) learn a lot and it’s really enjoyable.
#8- Pet Friendly Options
Dog Friendly Crater Lake Options
Crater Lake in Oregon is so gorgeous you won’t want to leave your dog behind, but since this is a national park, know that furry friends are only allowed on paved roads and trails. That means you won’t be able to explore many of Crater Lake’s hikes, though your pup can tag along on nearby adventures. (Look into Mt. Thielsen and Paulina Lake just a short drive from Crater Lake.)
That said, you can see quite a bit of Crater Lake with dogs: The Rim Village is a quarter-mile walk that gives amazing views of the deep-blue lake, though you’ll be walking it with all the other visitors. There are four hiking trails where dogs are allowed: Grayback Drive, Lady of the Woods, Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and Godfrey Glen.
If you’re visiting toward the beginning of the season, part of the road that encircles the former volcano may be closed. (When we went in late June, much of the road was still closed because it hadn’t yet been fully cleared of snow.) We took advantage of the solitude and used the road, which was closed to vehicle traffic, as a hiking trail! That way, our dog could join us—it was still paved, after all!—and we had the “trail” completely to ourselves.
When you travel with dogs, you may face some restrictions about where you can go, but don’t let that stop you from seeing gorgeous Crater Lake. This unforgettable park will stay with you for years.
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#9 – get that Perfect Photo
If you can’t get a spectacular photo here then you might just need to rethink your photography dreams. Crater lake is probably one of the most photogenic places on Earth. Even with all the smoke we still got a couple of good pics. I can’t wait to go back and take pictures when the visibility is better.
# 10 – and my favorite … Swim in a Volcano
If swimming in a volcano is not on your bucket list, you should add it. It was a great experience. The hike down Cleetwood Cove trail is steep and not short. Make sure you take water and snacks and kids need to take their time. At the bottom you’ll find restrooms, areas that you can gently ease in to the cold water and some small cliffs perfect for jumping.
Even though it’s a volcano (or was, it’s now dormit), the water is cold, very, very, cold. So I have to admit I put my feet in but I did not get in all the way. Someone had to watch the 3 year old by the shore, right? Cold water is my kryptonite but I loved the atmosphere and the view.
The kids and the hubby got on in. The water gets deep fast – very deep and it’s clear. My 6 year old screeched in joy when he looked down through the clear water. It must have been a surprising sight.
If you have good swimmers that can handle the cold there are a couple of areas where you can jump in. There were several people that were trying to get in some short laps. We stayed near shore and tried not to shiver.
Swimming in Crater Lake
One of the best experiences at Crater Lake National Park is swimming in the lake! Access to the lake is only available by one legal trail called through the Cleetwood Cove Trail. Please note, the trail is only open during the summer months. Parking is available close to the start of the trail, but the parking lot can get filled pretty quickly. The hike is 1.1 miles round trip and is considered strenuous. The trip down to the lake is relatively easy however the hike back up is the tough section of the trial.
Swimming in the lake is a great experience, but since the water is glacial water, the water is a bit chilly. Even though the water is cold, it does not deter many visitors from enjoying the once in a lifetime experience. On a sunny summer day, swimming in the crater lake can be a fun and relaxing time. The bright royal blue, colors of the lake make for perfect pictures. And, the intoxicating vibes of all the people surrounding, make the experience even better.
Thanks to The Wandering Queen |
Although we didn’t exactly have our dream experience at Crater Lake we know we want to go back. It is definitely a must do stop when you’re touring the Pacific Northwest.
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More about Us:
We’re a family of 5 (Physician Assistant mom, IT Project Manager Dad, and kids age 3, 6, and 10) taking a gap year from normal life to travel. For blog posts, locations, and more information on how we did it and how you can too click here.
For More on the Day to Day of our Oregon Trip check out these short blog posts: