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Crater Lake’s most popular trail may close for repairs

Photo by Lee Juillerat The trail to Cleetwood Cove is the only trail that leads to the shore of Crater Lake. The trail may be closed for up to two years for repairs and upgrades.

CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK — The temporary closure of the Cleetwood Cove Trail, the most-used trail at Crater Lake National Park and the only route that allows access to the lakeshore, is being proposed by park managers to make trail repairs.

The closure, which has been discussed in recent years, is wanted to allow crews to rehabilitate the 1.1-mile trail with work lasting up to two years. The timeframe is complicated by a short construction season. Because of typically heavy snowfall, the trail is normally open only from mid-June to late October. The planned work also includes rehabilitating the lakeside marina facilities.

Cleetwood Cove is the location for ranger-guided, concession lake boat tours. Tours, however, have not been offered the past two years because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Whether tours will be offered this summer is unknown.

Because the Cleetwood trail provides the only access to the lake, it is heavily used. Based on trail counters used since 2014, even during the short season the trail is open upward of 700 people use the trail daily, or up to 63,500 each summer.

Under current plans, rehabilitation work would begin in 2024. Kirsten Hardin, the park’s facilities manager, said the trail closure would probably last two years “during construction due to limited access and rockfall hazards. … Every year thousands of park visitors hike this trail to swim, fish, sunbathe, take a concessioner-led boat tour, or otherwise enjoy the deep-blue waters of the lake.”

With a maximum depth of 1,949-feet, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and seventh-deepest in the world.

In a press release, Hardin said, “The purpose of the project is to address critical safety issues with the Cleetwood Cove Trail and marina while ensuring continued protection of the lake and surrounding environment. The focus is on four areas: rockfall scaling and mitigation; rehabilitation of the trail; removal and replacement of the failed bulkhead/dock with a structurally stable marina; and replacing the outdated and undersized composting toilets.”

Sean Denniston, the acting park superintendent, said public comment is being sought in advance of the planned closure so that visitors can plan to make the lake hike before access is closed. “We want to start early and let people know so they can make plans.”

Trail improvements will likely include stabilizing the existing trail tread, which is mostly pumice soil, with other materials for better stability and longevity.

In addition, Denniston said, plans include replacing the existing lakefront compost toilets, which have a fixed capacity, because of increased visitation and use. The current marina, which is relatively new, will be replaced with a to-be-determined facility that can better accommodate changing lake levels. He said the park’s lake research team will continue their work during the closure by coordinating plans with construction crews.

No price tag has been set for the work, but Denniston said it will likely be “pricey.” He said it’s expected National Park Service funding sources for deferred and cyclic maintenance will cover the costs.

“It’s a big project so it’s taken a number of years to define a good proposal,” Denniston said, noting park managers also studied building a new trail at a different location. “None of them were great,” he said of alternate routes. “There are a lot of positives to where the trail is currently located.”

Public comments are being accepted until Feb. 15 at the website, https://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectID=94386. To comment, click on the “open for comment” link. Written comments will also be accepted by mail and must be postmarked by Feb. 15, 2022, to: Superintendent Attn: Rehabilitate Cleetwood Cove Trail and Marina, P.O. Box 7, Crater Lake, OR 97604.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.