What to Do When You Have One Day at Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park is worth a visit, even if it’s a short visit.  Every time I’ve been (I’ve been three times), I’ve spent either a half-day or full-day in the park.  No doubt, you could spend more time, but I personally feel like one day at Crater Lake is sufficient.

The water is absolutely mesmerizing on a sunny day and should be on your bucket list of National Parks to visit.  If you have one day at Crater Lake, we can help you make the most of it!


Crater Lake, although it’s at a relatively low elevation of 6,178’ (at least when it comes to volcanic peaks), is one of the snowiest places in the United States.  It averages over 40’ of snow per year. Forty feet!

Because the water is a breath-taking blue, when the sun is shining, July or August are great months to visit.  During the summer, you’ll be able to do more and see Crater Lake looking its best.  Yes, there will be more crowds, but I’ve never seen it crazy busy like Yosemite in the summer.  

Cleetwood Cove, Crater Lake National Park

Hike Cleetwood Cove Trail

Our kids enjoyed this relatively short hike.  The trail winds from the rim of the crater down to the water’s edge.  On our last trip, we made it to the bottom in 15 minutes.  Going down you feel like a million bucks.  But here’s the catch.  You have to hike back up.  And it’s steep. Very steep.

It’s a 2.2 round trip hike, so it makes sense to use the restroom before you leave the trailhead parking lot (there are no restrooms at the bottom of the trail, at least not at the time I wrote this), and pack plenty of water and a small snack.

Claire and I almost didn’t hike since we knew hiking back up would prove to be impossible with her muscle disease.  She really wanted to go.  I really wanted to go.  And Allan really wanted to go.  We decided to just make it happen.  We took turns carrying her back up the hill, which was a workout but worth it.

It’s fun to see Crater Lake from a different angle, and it’s the only place where you can hike down to the water’s edge.

There are other hikes you can explore, but Cleetwood Cove should be at the top if you have only one day at Crater Lake.

Empty trail in the morning

Cute critters make hikes better

It really is that blue 

Swim in the Cold Water of an Ancient Volcano

Once you arrive at Cleetwood Cove, you’ll certainly want to feel the water.  You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised at the temperature and think, “That’s not too bad!” 

It’s not too bad.  When we were there in August, it was a refreshing 66°F.  But don’t fall for it.  It’s a trick.  While it may be SLIGHTLY brisk on the surface, if you go down six feet, you’ll find the water temperature to be ULTRA brisk at 38°F.  

Swimming is permitted in the cove if you’re willing to experience brain freeze, toe freeze, tush freeze, and all-the-other-parts freeze.  Let’s just say, a dip in Crater Lake hasn’t been added to my “must-do!” list, yet.  I’m a little bit of a chicken when it comes to cold water.

The icy blue waters of Cleetwood Cove.  Jump in, if you dare.

Fish for Trout and Salmon at Crater Lake–for FREE!

That’s right, you don’t need a fishing license to fish at Crater Lake.  The fish aren’t native (obviously—it was a volcano that blew up and filled up with water and fish don’t fall out of the sky), so the park allows visitors to fish to their heart’s content.  You can also catch as many as you like since there is no limit!  The only requirement is that you use artificial bait.

The only place with access to the water is Cleetwood Cove, so don’t forget, if you do catch anything, you’ll have to hike it back up the hill.

Take a Boat Ride

Of course, due to COVID-19, boat tours weren’t happening, but I really loved taking the boat tour on a previous trip.  It’s a little spendy, but it’s a two-hour ride that explores some features of the lake that you can’t see (at least, you can’t see very well) from Cleetwood Cove or the Rim.  The ranger did a fabulous job sharing about the lake’s history and geology, including all the details you probably won’t discover by driving your car around the rim of the lake. 

The boat departs from Cleetwood Cove, so you will have to be up to experiencing both the tour and the hike back!  Boat tours are only available during the summer (Cleetwood Trail doesn’t usually open until mid-June) and should be reserved in advance.

Drive Around the Crater Rim

The road that takes you around the perimeter of Crater Lake is 33 miles long.  Along the way are small parking lots where you can get out, stretch, and take a glimpse of the lake from a different viewpoint.  By the time you pull into your fourth vista point, the kids will probably be asking, “Why are we stopping again?”  But, if you have all day…   

Freezing cold on an August morning at Merriam Point along the Crater Rim Drive

Eat a Picnic Lunch by the Visitor Center

There’s just something about munching on a sandwich while overlooking the deepest, bluest lake in the United States.  If you park near the Visitor Center, you can take one of the paved paths that meander along the lake and just choose a spot on the rock wall to relax and soak in the beauty around you.

Food tastes better after hiking

Can you see Phantom Ship Island?

Perfect wall for sitting and picnicing

Become a junior ranger

Youth ages 6-12 can participate in Crater Lake National Park’s Junior Ranger Program.  All national parks offer this FREE program, giving young adventurers the opportunity to earn a park badge.  Simply pick up an activity booklet from the visitor center and complete seven pages (last time they had Claire do eight pages–different rangers, different rules).  A ranger will give kids a low-key quiz on what they learned, have them recite the junior ranger pledge, and present them with a small wooden badge.  You can also print the Junior Ranger booklet at home if you prefer! 

Look for All the Things at the Gift Shop

Anyone who knows me, knows this is not one of the things I want to do on my trip.  I have a natural aversion to shopping.  Shoe shopping, clothes shopping, grocery shopping, and souvenir shopping…it doesn’t matter.  It’s not my thing.  But for some reason, it’s my kids FAVORITE thing.  They agonize over choosing just the right item, trying to find something that fits their budget (they always have a predetermined budget for souvenirs that’s quite minimal).

We typically find ourselves circling the shop until I give the 2-minute warning.  Predictably, Brandon ends up with a key chain and a water bottle decal and the girls choose a small stuffed animal that reminds them of a creature they saw in the park.  

Water bottle decals–inexpensive souveniors that remind you of your experience every day


While Crater Lake National Park isn’t one of the more popular national parks, it’s definitely a must-do for every nature lover and adventurer.  It’s raw beauty is stunning and a perfect one-day stop on your next summer family vacation!