Crater Lake is a sight to behold – and that’s what most visitors will do. They’ll stand on the edge of the rim, look down into the massive crater at the mesmerizing blue water, and behold it. But what if you want to get closer? What if you want to touch the water… and even drink it? And what if you want to go for a hike, right in the middle of it?
There’s just one option for anyone who wants to go into the crater, down to the water, and out to Wizard Island – the volcanic cone inside the crater. You’ll need to hike down to Cleetwood Cove, and catch a ferry across the water.
The Cleetwood Cove Trail is on the north side of Crater Lake. You can only access it when the north/east side of the rim loop road is open. In order to get to the ferry, you have to hike down a moderately steep trail, down to the water’s edge.
My visit took place in late August, 2015, when a large wildfire was burning just outside the northern entrance to Crater Lake National Park. Preparations for the fire forced the park to close that entrance, so I had to make a very long detour from Roseburg, Oregon to the south entrance, then up and around the lake. My 90-minute drive turned into a three-hour race to get to Cleetwood Cove in time. I made it, with just a few minutes to spare.
Even if you’re not taking the boat out to Wizard Island, I’d highly recommend hiking the trail down to Cleetwood Cove. The trail begins on the opposite side of the road from the large parking lot. If you want a spot on a boat, you should make reservations ahead of time. If you didn’t, you might get lucky. You’ll need to check in and pay at the Cleetwood Cove parking lot, at least an hour before your ferry leaves.
From the road, the view isn’t great, but as you head down the trail, it gets better and better.
It’s not long before the marina comes into view. Once you get down to the dock…
… you can find a spot along the water and chill out for a while. There’s plenty of room to find your own rock, and to admire the water. The hike down the hill will probably take you much less than an hour, so you’ll have time to relax here for a while, before the boat ride. You will be amazed at how crystal-clear and deep-blue the water is.
Aside from the check-in station at the marina (which sells a very limited selection of drinks, and that’s about it), there is also a peculiar outhouse perched on the rocks overlooking the lake. I’m guessing it’s designed this way to keep any pollutants from seeping into that pure lake water.
The boats aren’t big, and they aren’t luxurious.
Take a seat on the starboard (right) side of the boat for the best views of the crater’s walls.
Expect to get wet – just a little – as the pure water splashes over the side of the boat.
The view from the back of the boat is beautiful, too!
Since I was taking the shuttle boat (as opposed to the scenic tour of the lake), the boat headed directly for Wizard Island.
The dock on Wizard Island is out of view, until you round a corner.
Once you get to Wizard Island, you have your choice of a couple of hikes. I’ll cover those on a separate page. You could also choose to stay on the shore and fish, or swim.
By the way, the boat captain told us it was perfectly safe to take a drink of the water in Crater Lake. So go ahead and try it!
The shuttle gives you about three hours on Wizard Island, but you’ll need to be back at the dock shortly before your departure time. You really don’t want to miss the boat, and be stuck out here all night!
By the time I headed back, the sky was less hazy, and the views were even more beautiful!
Did I mention how incredibly blue the water is?
For the ride back, I enjoyed the view from the back of the boat.
Upon arrival at Cleetwood Cove, it was time to hike back up to the rim.
Halfway up the trail, I stopped for a few more photos of the lake. Numerous other viewpoints awaited up ahead, as I drove around the Rim Road (which you can watch in the Drivelapse video below).
The Bottom Line
If the Rim Road is open, and the boats are running, you should make it a priority to take a boat out to Wizard Island, or take a scenic cruise of the lake. Views from the rim are nice, but you’ll have an entirely different appreciation for Crater Lake if you can see it by boat. Even if the boats aren’t running, it’s well worth the effort to make the hike down to the water at Cleetwood Cove.
Here’s a time-lapse of the drive around Crater Lake, on the park’s Rim Road: