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Crater Lake National Park
Traveling with kids to Crater Lake is a volcano adventure. Over a hundred thousand years ago, Crater Lake wasn't a lake at all, it was Mt. Mazama. When volcanic Mt. Mazama erupted, the top of the mountain collapsed inward, forming an open caldera, five miles wide and 4,000 ft deep. Over time, the caldera filled up with rain and melted snow, forming Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the United States.
Kids may ask why Crater Lake is so blue. It's because the water in the lake is very pure – no streams flow into the lake, and there isn't sediment or other things to cloud the water.
|Steel Visitor Center – Arriving at the south entrance to Crater Lake, stop into the visitor center theater to watch a short movie about Native Americans who lived around the lake, or second movie about Crater Lake and the national park.
|Rim Village – At the Rim Village is the Crater Lake Lodge, Rim Village Cafe (with light meals, snacks, and drinks), visitor information, and a paved walk along the caldera rim, providing panoramic lake views.
|Rim Village Visitor Center – Pick up Junior Ranger booklets, and see the posted schedule of Junior Ranger activities (20 min., for kids 6 - 12).
|Sinnott Memorial Overlook – From the visitor center, walk down the short path to the Overlook, which has a model of Crater Lake, a short animated movie that shows how the lake was created, and exhibits about the geologic history and water research at Crater Lake.
|Rim Drive – The Rim Drive is divided into West Rim Drive and East Rim Drive, and makes a loop around the lake. On the Rim Drive are many different overlooks (don't overdo it, kids will be happier stopping at fewer overlooks, rather than leaping in and out of the car all the time). Here's a few of our favorites:
Pumice Castle Overlook – Amidst rock layers of the caldera, a bright orange rock formation stands out, like a medieval castle guarding the lake. This overlook is 2.4 miles east of the Phantom Ship Overlook, 1.1 miles west of the Cloudcap Overlook.
|Phantom Ship Overlook – The Phantom Ship rock formation is the oldest at Crater Lake, all that's left from an eruption 400,000 years ago. From the view at this overlook, the Phantom Ship looked to us like a ship chugging away from the shore into the center of the lake.
|Sun Notch Trail – It's just a short walk through the meadows to the rim, and from here look directly down over the Phantom Ship formation. Bring your binoculars to view trees and birds (bald eagles, swallows) on the island.
|Tip: Along the Rim Drive, there are many overlooks, and the scenery is spectacular for family photos. However, stone guard rails are there for a good reason. Do not step over the stone walls to take photos, you'll stand on cliffs that drop straight down to the lake!
Crater Lake boat tours – A two hour boat ride around Crater Lake is a must-do with kids (not infants). Cruising on the lake, surrounded by the volcanic caldera is unforgettable, and kids will also learn about the different rock formations and geologic history (park ranger is on board). Tip: For a magical experience, take the boat tour to Wizard Island.
|Boat rides are available from late June to mid September. The boat is open, so slather on sunscreen, wear hats, and bring a jacket (it's cooler out on the water).
|To get to the boat tours dock, you'll hike down a steep 1.1 mile trail to the dock at Cleetwood Cove. And also hike back up to the Rim Drive, after the boat ride. Cold drinks and restrooms are available at the boat dock.
|As there is limited space on the boats tours, both the standard and Wizard Island tours, and this is a very popular activity, reservations are essential. Click here or call 1.888.774.2728.
|Wizard Island – On the Wizard Island boat tour, cruise around the lake for 45 min., then the boat drops you off at Wizard Island, returns in 3 hours, and continues back around the lake.
Wizard Island is a volcanic cone sticking up, with black lava beds spilling out in all directions. It's a magical experience to explore an island, in the middle of a huge lake, surrounded by volcanic walls. Standing atop the Wizard Island summit is a "volcano" experience like no other.
|There are two trails on the island: Summit and Fumarole Bay:
|- Summit trail – Hike to the top of the cone, it's about a mile with a well-maintained trail. From the cone top are panoramic views of the caldera in all directions. Also hike to the bottom of the crater (kids can stand in a crater inside a caldera).
|- Fumarole Bay trail – The other largely-level trail leads through big blocky black lava beds to Fumarole Bay, which has fishing and is good place for kids to wade.
|At the boat dock, jump off and go swimming (water is cold). Tip: Do swimming first, not just before the boat pick up. Being wet can be a bit chilly in the open boat on the way back.
|What to bring – Wear closed toed shoes (lava is hard on the feet), bring a picnic and lots of water. Restrooms are available next to the dock.
|Cleetwood Cove – If boat tours are sold out, just walk down to Cleetwood Cove. From the lake shoreline, kids will see awesome views of amazing rock formations, something quite different from views along the rim. Here
|The cove has only access to Crater Lake, kids can wade or swim; feels good on a hot day but the water is cold. Also the lake shore is rocky, so you might want to bring water shoes.
|Go fishing – Crater Lake has plenty of rainbow trout and ... salmon. No fishing license is required, catch as many fish as you like, there's no limit; however, use only artificial lures (no organic bait). Fish from the shore at Cleetwood Cove or on Wizard Island.
|Winter activities – Crater Lake is a snowy wonderland in winter, and totally different than a visit in summer. During the winter months, the road is open to Rim Village (the Rim Drive around the lake is closed).
Go snowshoeing – One February, on President's Day weekend, we headed up to Crater Lake for a morning of snowshoeing. It had just snowed, the day was sunny, and the scenery spectacular – the caldera rim and evergreen trees covered with snow, a brilliant blue lake below. Trails are marked – we took the West Rim ski route.
Also, for kids 8 and up, there are 2 hour ranger-led snowshoeing walks, November to April. More info: Winter Activities
Editor's note: We rented snowshoes and even for the non-experienced, it was super. Snowshoeing is just like walking, but be sure to dress for snow (the usual warm clothing, boots, gloves etc.)
|Sledding – Bring your own sleds and go sledding in the gentle slopes around Rim Village, or other open areas.
|The Rim Village Cafe is open, stop in for hot chocolate.