We took this trip on our Americas big trip when our kids were 5 and 7 years old. If you do not have kids, we still think this itinerary gives you a great deal of highlights with a nice level of exercise to do so. Another very rewarding way is to bike the Rim Drive or take some of the more strenuous longer hikes to the rim’s peaks.
15:00 – Arrive at Rim Village
Pick up your activity booklets from the visitor center and get that first impressive look out onto the lake to get everybody excited! If you are later, don’t worry, the activity booklets can also be picked up from dispensers outside opening hours. Just move the below itinerary backwards a little bit where needed.
16:00 – Check into the Mazama Village NP Campground
High season will most certainly require (online) reservations, and don’t forget to go by the office to claim that 50% discount your America The Beautiful annual pass grants you! Find your spot, get your rig level / tent set up, and get to exploring the surroundings with the kids!
16:30 – 17:30 – Take the Annie’s Creek hike
Right next to the campground there is a fun hike that takes you down to the creek. Before you head off, make sure you get onto the trail at one of the two starting points (Loop C or between D&E) as there are little booklets provided with explanation of all the numbered points you hit when you walk the trail. Do it counterclockwise and you get a great explanation of the area and its natural surroundings, AND the kids get rid of that extra energy before dinner & bed.
17:30 + Dinner, Activity Booklet, Bed
Get the kids in the mood by letting them get a head start with the activity booklet of the NP. Helps the parents as well to get some much needed education on the area, while cooking dinner or getting things ready for bed. The more is tackled now, the less needs to be done while driving the Rim Drive. Some activities need some more time, so good to do or prep them the day before (like the bingo).
09:30 Next day – Head on out to the Rim Drive
If you got in late the other day, start the day with the Annie’s Creek hike as stated above. If not, make sure you pack a picknick lunch, head out to the East Rim Drive turnoff, and just shortly after park the car for a first stretch of the legs: Castle Crest Wildflower Trail. It is a tiny walk, but again guided by a booklet you can pull from a dispenser at the start. The kids will love the climb up with little waterfalls, checking out the flowers they identify and pass the bridges back down.
10:30 – Sun Notch
Another short but more strenuous hike up to the crater rim. This is the first time the rim is reached today, so the views will again astound. More importantly, right in front of you is the phantom ship the kids needed to find for their activity booklet bingo! It is a loop, so none of that ‘we have seen this already’-debate 😊.
Alternative / optional: Pinnacles
If you have older kids that are fast walkers and happy to drive out a bit more, then take the side trip down to the Pinnacles for another mile-long hike to see them. They are well worth it, but may be too much for smaller kids if you still want to go for the hike down to the lake with them later in the day.
Drive on: Cloudcap viewpoint – An easy drive up with any vehicle, and well worth the VERY high vantage point from which you can see the entire lake.
12:00 – 13:00 Picknick lunch & activity booklet
Time to enjoy that packed lunch and get cracking on the pages that are still left to do! There is a picknick spot right after the Cloudcap viewpoint that serves the purpose of just that, but any pullout will do if you want to wing it / have your own table & chairs / are happy to sit on a rock. You often need to finish a number of pages to get the badge (7 out of 11 it is at Crater Lake NP), so make sure you hit that number!
13:00 – Cleetwood Cove Trail & swim in the lake!
A steep descend, and a tough climb back up, but it is the ONLY way to actually get down to the water of the lake and have a dip. Count on 1,5 hours to do it, and take it slow coming back up. The water is very refreshing to say the least, but the kids will love taking a dive, pushing the parents in and seeing the cheeky ground squirrels that keep making their way down to the rocks. We were there on a hot day, so let them walk back up in their swim shorts, dry by the time we were back at the RV.
14:30-15:00 Drive back to Rim Village
Make your way back to the Rim Village to hand in your activity booklet, take the ranger oath and get that much coveted Junior Ranger Badge! It is a memento you will want your kids to earn, as they have put in all this work and really know their Ranger stuff by now. Did you shift this itinerary backward and found the visitor center closed (again?)? NO problem! There is a mailbox you can put the booklets in with your name and address on them, and the badges will be mailed to you, what great service!
So there you have it, the highlights of the Crater Lake NP, all done with kids and in 24 hours… Let us know what you think, and keep enjoying those amazing NPs out there!
Check out our other blogs about travel with children and traveling through the Americas.