Yes, You Can Swim in Crater Lake. Here’s How.
Crater Lake National Park is located in southern Oregon, and it is one of the most interesting geological locations in the country. Crater Lake is the ninth-deepest lake in the world and is the deepest lake in the U.S., at almost 2,000 feet at its deepest point. The lake boasts incredibly blue water and amazing views from around the park’s Rim Drive, which circles the lake at the top of the crater.
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Most people who visit the park only experience the Rim Drive and the shorter trails toward the top of the crater, but there’s a lot more you can do at Crater Lake, including taking a swim. This past summer, I posted a video of me polar plunging in Crater Lake, which was followed by tons of comments and DMs saying: “You can’t swim in Crater Lake!” Except, you can.
With only about 500,000 visitors per year, Crater Lake is a bit of a hidden gem, and it’s no surprise that some people think swimming in the lake isn’t possible or allowed. I think the real reason you don’t see people doing it is because most people don’t realize you can.
If you want to experience this lake in a whole new way, keep reading for my tips.
What Makes Crater Lake So Special?
Crater Lake is Oregon’s only national park. It’s located just a couple hours south of Bend, Oregon, and it is part of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, which spans from Lassen Volcanic National Park to Crater Lake National Park. With a relatively small number of visitors per year, this is a park that you can visit to get away from the massive crowds at some of the other nearby national parks. The best time of year to visit is summer. Crater Lake is one of the snowiest places in Oregon, with snowpack lasting until early summer. This means that Rim Road is closed to vehicles most of the year, with access reducing to backcountry snow sports in the winter.
That huge amount of snowpack, though, means this lake is continually fed by snowmelt every spring. The water in the lake appears a bright blue color, which I’ve heard visitors say is “the bluest blue they’ve ever seen.”
Crater Lake was formed by the eruption of Mount Mazama approximately 7,700 years ago. Mount Mazama was about 12,000 feet tall and, if it was still standing, it would be the tallest mountain in Oregon. Instead, its eruption has led to the creation of the country’s deepest lake. Evidence of this volcanic activity can be seen in Wizard Island, which is an island in Crater Lake. This island is a volcanic cinder cone, and it formed as the lake filled up with the snowmelt we know and love today. It’s the site of the last known eruption here, which occurred approximately 4,800 years ago.
I Can Swim Here?
So, with all this volcanic activity, and apparently cold water, can you swim in Crater Lake? Yes, you can swim in the country’s deepest lake.
Swimming in Crater Lake is not as easy as parking your car and simply walking over to the lake’s edge, though. There is only one way to access the lake itself, and that is via the Cleetwood Cove Trail. This trail is a steep 2 miles round trip, with about 1,400 feet of elevation change. You will hike downhill about 700 feet to the lake, before hiking back up that steep 700 feet.
At the bottom, you’ll find plenty of water access for swimming. Swimming here can be cold, so make sure you’re prepared for the weather. The trail generally opens in late June when the snow melts, so hopefully you’ll experience sunny skies. Be careful leaving belongings on the shore while you enjoy the water, though. There are chipmunks who would love that sandwich you packed for lunch, and it’s essential to make sure you’re not feeding wildlife (even if it’s unintentional).
Please do not bring your kayak, paddleboard, canoe, or similar watercraft down to the water. The park works hard to protect the fragile environment of the lake, and bringing personal watercraft can impact the presence of invasive species.
What If I Want to Go Further Onto the Lake?
You can’t bring your own watercraft, but Crater Lake Hospitality runs boat tours so that you can experience more of the beauty of Crater Lake. These tours require that same hike down the Cleetwood Cove Trail. This is the only safe and legal way to access the lake. From there, you will meet up with your boat tour, which will take you around the lake, so you can experience the beauty of this Oregon destination beyond the shore.