Crater Lake Hikes: 10 Best Trails in the National Park

There are some seriously incredible hikes in Crater Lake National Park. Our advice is to figure out which hikes you really want to do, and plan itinerary around them. We put together a detailed list the best Crater Lake hikes to help you plan your trip to this spectacular national park in Oregon.

Crater Lake National Park Oregon

You won’t be the first whose jaw drops to the floor at your first sight of the deep brilliant blue color of this natural crater lake. We’ve been there multiple times and on each visit we’ve had to pick our jaws up off the floor too. In fact, we think it’s one of the more underrated US National Parks.

The lake was formed from an explosion of the now collapsed volcano, Mount Mazama, nearly 8,000 years ago. The violent eruption triggered the collapse of the peak leaving a gaping crater in its place which filled with rainwater and snowmelt over centuries and formed what is today one of the most beautiful places on earth.

At 1,949 feet (594 m), Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and the 3rd deepest in the world (for average depth; 9th in the world for maximum depth).

Visiting Crater Lake will surely be a highlight of your time in Oregon.

We’ve put together a list of the best Crater Lake hikes, from quick and easy loops to longer, more challenging hikes with epic views. We hope this guide will help you plan out your hiking ahead of time and spend more time hitting the trails.

Best time to visit Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park

Keep in mind while planning your trip, hiking in Crater Lake National Park is best from July through October, when the park’s roads, trails and facilities are usually fully open. The park is susceptible to seasonal road closures during winter months and most of these trials are rendered inaccessible.

That said, winter can bring some incredible views as the snow-covered crater juts up to the piercing blue lake. And if you are willing to brave an evening here, you can get some pretty epic shots of the stars reflecting in the water’s calm surface.

While we’ve been very lucky during each of our visits (in June, July, September and November) and have been granted clear, blue skies, that’s not always the case. Thick fog and overcast weather can really change the views.

Insider Tip: If you’re concerned about having a clear day, we’d recommend you check this live web cam so you can see what it looks like in real-time.

America the Beautiful Annual Park Pass

National Park Pass

If you’re planning to visit more than one of the national parks on the west coast, we’d highly encourage you to look into getting an annual park pass. At $30 per vehicle for the entrance fee, visiting Crater Lake along with most other national parks in the U.S. can get expensive.

For just $80 per year, you can purchase the America the Beautiful park pass. This pass grants you free access to all of the national parks. Plus it also covers your entrance to over 2,000 natural, historical, and recreational sites across the United States.

If you still need convincing, check out our article: America the Beautiful Annual Park Pass: Is it Worthwhile?

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Best hikes at Crater Lake National Park

There are plenty of hikes to choose from in this unique national park, but here are some of the top trails to put on your itinerary for Crater Lake.

1. The Watchman Peak Trail

This heavily trafficked out and back trail leads to the fire lookout at Watchman’s Peak and our favorite viewpoint of Crater Lake. Views are best in the afternoon or evening, but we’ve heard the sunrise at the top is also worth a trip. It’s widely considered to be one of the best hikes in Oregon, and certain one of the most scenic!

Note that this trail is subject to seasonal closures due to weather and is typically only accessible in the summertime.

How to get there: You can find the trailhead along West Rim Dr., 3.7 miles north of Rim Village. Just north of the trailhead is Watchman Overlook, another great viewpoint which offers parking.

Tip: You can make this route longer and more scenic by combining it with a section of the Rim Trail, beginning your hike in Rim Village instead. Follow the Rim Trail as it hugs the rim of the crater heading north towards Watchman’s Overlook.

2. Garfield Peak Crater Lake Trail

One of the most popular and heavily-traversed Crater Lake hikes, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the entire lake including Wizard Island and Phantom Ship. Follow the trail east along the ridge of Crater Lake’s south shore and then ascend Garfield Peak’s northwest flank.

With an elevation gain of over 1,000 ft, the trail can be a bit strenuous at times, but the views from the summit are well worth the climb. The steep parts are short and this trail is deemed family-friendly.

How to get there: The trailhead can be found behind Crater Lake Lodge , just beyond the Rim Village Visitors Center.

Tip: Plan to stop for lunch or a celebratory drink at the Crater Lake Lodge after your hike and enjoy their fantastic outdoor terrace.

3. Cleetwood Cove Trail

As the only Crater Lake hike that provides access to the water, you can imagine this trail is popular with all sorts of national park visitors. The descent is short and doesn’t require too much effort, but the return climb is steep and will take more time on the way back out.

Don’t forget your bathing suit because you can take a dip in the waters, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. Crater Lake is entirely made up of rainwater and snowmelt so it will be cold! You can post up on the rocks and practice your cannonballs.

How to get there: You will find the trailhead along the East Rim Drive on the north rim of the lake. You can find the exact place on Google Maps. There is a parking lot, but visitors tend to park along the road if it’s full.

Tip: It is highly recommended to time your Cleetwood Cove hike with a boat trip to Wizard Island (see next) where you can get a different perspective of the national park and the swimming is even better.

4. Wizard Island Summit Trail

You’ll need to catch a boat to get to this trailhead, but the climb to the top of the cinder cone that formed Wizard Island will give you an entirely different perspective of Crater Lake. From the Wizard Island boat dock, follow the trail over volcanic rock, through a forest and up the switchbacks that climb to the summit.

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When you reach the top, you’ll circle the crater called the Witches Cauldron (which you can climb down into using one of the steeper marked trails) and descend back down the way you came.

How to get there: To begin the hike, you’ll first need to traverse the Cleetwood Cove Trail (see notes above) down to the Cleetwood boat landing. Boat rides across to Wizard Island can be reserved online ahead of time and are seasonal and dependent on weather conditions.

*Important Note: The boat shuttle service to Wizard Island is permanently closed for the 2021 season making the Wizard Island Summit Hike unreachable. Check the Crater Lake Hospitality website for 2022 information.

5. Mount Scott Trail

  • Distance: 4.2 miles, out & back
  • Elevation: 1,259 ft
  • Difficulty Rating: Difficult

As the highest point in Crater Lake National Park, the summit of Mount Scott affords you views of Crater Lake in its entirety and the surrounding landscape.

Follow the trail up Mount Scott as the gradual ascent gets steeper with elevation gain. A series of switchbacks will have you traversing between two ridgelines before leveling out and slowly ascending to the fire lookout at the summit.

How to get there: Located just off East Rim Drive near the turnoff for Cloudcap Overlook, you’ll find the trailhead marked by a small parking lot.

6. Discovery Point Trail

Recommended for families for its ease and accessibility, the Discovery Point Trail is an easy walk along the rim of Crater Lake nearest Wizard Island. This is a must-do hike in Crater Lake National Park as you’ll enjoy several spectacular vantage points along the way.

The trail gets its namesake as the point where John Wesley Hillman, a gold prospector and explorer, first spotted the crater lake in 1853. He named it “Deep Blue Lake,” which is fitting, but has since been changed to Crater Lake.

How to get there: The trailhead can be accessed from Rim Village. Head to the west end and look for the point where the paved walkway becomes a dirt path as there is no designated trailhead.

7. Castle Crest Wildflower Trail

This may be one of the easiest and most accessible Crater Lake hikes, but the short loop trail has some of the best summer wildflower viewing you could ask for. The main attraction is a spring-fed meadow filled with wildflowers in bloom during the summer months.

Enthusiasts will want to bring their wildflower identification book, or you can snag a trail guide for a mere $0.75 at the trailhead.

How to get there: The trailhead is located along a southern section of East Rim Drive that is closed during the winter. You can find the exact location on Google Maps.

8. Sun Notch Trail

This highly-trafficked loop between Applegate Peak and Dutton Cliff offers spectacular views of Crater Lake and Phantom Ship island. Make your way through a forest that opens up into a wildflower meadow before you reach the overlook on this well-maintained, low elevation trail.

How to get there: The trailhead and parking area can be found along the North side of East Rim Road where it winds near the crater rim between Applegate Peak and Duffton Cliff.

9. Pinnacles Valley Trail

Experience a different area of Crater Lake National Park on the short and easy Pinnacles Valley Trail. The pinnacles for which the trail was named, are large fossil fumaroles created in the aftermath of Mount Mazama’s eruption.

Along the main trail there are several short off-shoots that lead to the edge of the ravine and offer great opportunities to view the pinnacles. You’ll come up on a large stone structure near the end of the trail. This is a good point to turn around as there isn’t much to see from the short trail beyond the structure.

How to get there: There is a well-marked and maintained trailhead at the end of Pinnacles Road, southeast of Crater Lake.

10. Plaikni Falls – Easy and accessible trail

With so many Crater Lake hikes focusing on the crater views, this trail is a fun change of scenery. Plaikni Falls is an easy relatively flat hike through an old growth forest which culminates at the base of a picturesque cascading waterfall.

How to get there: The trailhead can be found on the east side of Pinnacles Road with a small parking area. You can find the exact place on Google Maps.

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We want to hear from you!

Have you done any of the Crater Lake hikes on this list? What was your experience like? Are you planning a trip to Crater Lake National Park and want more advice? Comment below and let us know!

The 17 Best Hikes in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

castle crest trail

Why you should go: Nab some spectacular views of the infamous Phantom Ship.

The Sun Notch Trail is a popular pullover spot on the East Rim Drive. This handicap-accessible trail is a well-groomed route over a field of wildflowers and under towering hemlocks, but this hike is all about the wonderful views at the rim.

An expansive vista opens up before you upon exiting the last copse of hemlocks. Towering rim walls rise high above the deep blue lake where the Phantom Ship resides. The small island is an eye-catcher, as is the imposing presence of Mount Thielsen lording over the far side of the lake.

Additional Information: Hiking Project

The Pinnacles

pinnacles trail crater lake

Why you should go: Step away from the lake to see some of the park’s other volcanic attractions.

The Pinnacles trail is a short jaunt to the edge of a ravine that is home to large fumarole fossils. Rising above Wheeler Creek and Sand Creek are a number of interesting stone towers that formed as vents for hot steam and gas that vaporized when the waterways were covered in cooling volcanic material.

The trail leads from the road directly to the edge of the ravine, and there are spur trails that follow the rim and provide outstanding views from various perspectives.

Additional Information: Hiking Project

Godfrey Glen Loop

Godfrey Glen Crater Lake

Why you should go: Walk on the upper rim of two canyons that are lined with columnar ash pinnacles.

A fascinating and easy walk under hemlock and red cedar, the Godfrey Glen Loop offers a different perspective of Crater Lake National Park. The trail exists several thousand feet below the attraction-laden rim of Crater Lake.

This ADA-accessible path hugs the rims of Munson Creek Canyon and Annie Creek Canyon, providing overlooking views of the coursing waters that formed the ravines and the columnar ash formations that were created during Mount Mazama’s explosive lava flows.

Additional Information: Inspired Imperfection

Plaikni Falls Trail

Plaikni Falls

Why you should go: Make a quick side trip to see this stunning spring-derived waterfall.

“This family-friendly hike is a great option if you want to escape the crowds,” said Jennifer at Inspired Imperfection.

Originating as snowmelt that has been filtered through layers of volcanic soil, Plaikni Falls’ crystal clear waters shimmer with prismatic brilliance. Plaikni is an indigenous Klamath word that means ‘from the high country’, referencing this beautiful stream’s genesis.

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Wheelchairs and strollers will have no issue traversing the hard-packed trail to the falls. In addition to the waterfall, there are wildflowers, moss, and towering fir trees to see along this enhancing route.

Additional Information: National Parks Blog

Discovery Point Trail

discovery point trail crater lake

Why you should go: See the sights you came for, and get a history lesson too.

Discovery Point is where gold prospectors first set their sights on the majesty of Crater Lake in 1853. The trail leaves from the park’s primary gathering grounds at Rim Village and follows Crater Lake’s rim adjacent to West Rim Drive.

This is where some of Crater Lake’s best sights await to beheld. Several wide open viewpoints can be found along this short route with open vistas of the entire lake, including Wizard Island. This is a popular path where cute and hungry critters like gold-mantled ground squirrels and Clark’s nutcrackers will beg for snacks.

Additional Information: Crater Lake Institute

Watchman Peak

Watchman Peak Crater Lake

Why you should go: All-encompassing views from a fire lookout high above Crater Lake.

Watchman Peak offers arguably the best views and photo opportunities in Crater Lake National Park. The trail begins at a paved parking lot at a viewpoint called Watchman Overlook, and from there the path ascends sharply up a series of switchbacks to the fire lookout.

This is a popular trail, so expect to move slowly. The fire lookout at the summit serves as a mini-museum as an additional reward to those who reach the top of the climb. Night hikes to the peak can be scheduled with a ranger for an evening of unforgettable stargazing.

Additional Information: Hiking Project

Cleetwood Cove

Cleetwood Cove

Why you should go: This is the only path down to the water of Crater Lake.

If you can only bear a single challenging trek during your time at Crater Lake, make it this series of switchbacks that descends down to the shore of Crater Lake at Cleetwood Cove. It is the only path to the water’s surface, and it is where swimming, fishing, and boat tours can be found.

Even if you do not want to take a boat ride, the experience of seeing the deep blue of Crater Lake from the shoreline perspective is alone worth the trek. The next two trails on our list are only accessible if you first take this trail down to the boat landing and hop aboard a skiff to Wizard Island.

Additional Information: Crater Lake Institute

Fumarole Bay

Why you should go: You’ve taken the boat ride to Wizard Island and want to explore the shoreline.

Though far from an arduous trek, the journey to Fumarole Bay is over a rocky trail that can be tricky for those lacking fleetness in their feet. The hike will take visitors over to the southwest end of Wizard Island directly across from Watchman Peak.

A number of short spurs branch off from the main trail down to the shore, allowing for visitors to find momentary solitude at the center of the popular national park.

Additional Information: Crater Lake Institute

Wizard Summit

Why you should go: See a unique, panoramic view from up high in the center of the lake.

“We were surprised by the variety of colors of volcanic rock at the summit and the diversity of wildflowers!” said Amy Brahan at Just Go Travel Studios.

After an initial scurry over large chunks of volcanic rock, the trail to Wizard Summit is a well-defined route that climbs up the cinder cone through a thin forest that shortly gives way to soft and arid volcanic soil.

Once at the top, you will be standing on the edge of the Witches Cauldron, a volcanic crater that is 300 feet wide and 100 feet deep. The outstanding 360-degree views from this summit are seen by few who visit the park. There are footpaths that lead into the crater, but beware that the soil here is exceptionally loose.

Additional Information: Hiking Project

Annie Creek Canyon Trail

Annie Creek Canyon

Why you should go: If you’re camping at Mazama Village this trail is right in your backyard.

Offering a magical journey across gorgeous landscapes along a burbling stream, Annie Creek Canyon Trail is a wondrous backcountry escape from the crowds that gather elsewhere in the park. This route lies behind Mazama Village, originating at Annie Spring.

The trail descends below forested slopes and towering ash formations, the likes of which can be seen from up high on the aforementioned Godfrey Glen Loop. You’ll walk past volcanic formations that have been carved by the creek over thousands of years.

Additional Information: American Southwest

Garfield Peak

Garfield Peak Crater Lake

Why you should go: It’s an accessible mountain hike offering amazing views.

The Garfield Peak hike begins at Crater Lake’s visitor hub of Rim Village. Though the moderate climb can be quite challenging for some, its proximity to the amenities at Rim Village make this a great option for those who want a challenge, but don’t want to head far from the comforts of civilization.

Hiking this trail early in the day or in the offseason may provide you with the opportunity to catch grazing deer, whistling marmots, and squeaking pika. This peak is covered in snow for most of the year, but snowshoes can be rented from Rim Village if you want to make it all the way to the top outside of summer.

Additional Information: Oregon Hikers

Mount Scott Trail

Mount Scott Summit

Why you should go: Scale the tallest peak in Crater Lake National Park.

A well-graded trail that starts off relatively flat and gradually steepens throughout the ascent, the Mount Scott Trail is a fair challenge that is exceptionally rewarding. There are numerous shaded respites along the trail that make for great break spots.

Once you surpass the switchbacks near the end of the trail, you’ll walk along a ridge to the fire lookout at the mountain’s peak. On a clear day, the panoramic views seem endless. You’ll have a full view of Crater Lake below, as well as the string of Cascades to the north and south and the desert to the east.

The 17 Best Hikes in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

castle crest trail

Why you should go: Nab some spectacular views of the infamous Phantom Ship.

The Sun Notch Trail is a popular pullover spot on the East Rim Drive. This handicap-accessible trail is a well-groomed route over a field of wildflowers and under towering hemlocks, but this hike is all about the wonderful views at the rim.

An expansive vista opens up before you upon exiting the last copse of hemlocks. Towering rim walls rise high above the deep blue lake where the Phantom Ship resides. The small island is an eye-catcher, as is the imposing presence of Mount Thielsen lording over the far side of the lake.

Additional Information: Hiking Project

The Pinnacles

pinnacles trail crater lake

Why you should go: Step away from the lake to see some of the park’s other volcanic attractions.

The Pinnacles trail is a short jaunt to the edge of a ravine that is home to large fumarole fossils. Rising above Wheeler Creek and Sand Creek are a number of interesting stone towers that formed as vents for hot steam and gas that vaporized when the waterways were covered in cooling volcanic material.

The trail leads from the road directly to the edge of the ravine, and there are spur trails that follow the rim and provide outstanding views from various perspectives.

Read Post  Chautauqua Hikes

Additional Information: Hiking Project

Godfrey Glen Loop

Godfrey Glen Crater Lake

Why you should go: Walk on the upper rim of two canyons that are lined with columnar ash pinnacles.

A fascinating and easy walk under hemlock and red cedar, the Godfrey Glen Loop offers a different perspective of Crater Lake National Park. The trail exists several thousand feet below the attraction-laden rim of Crater Lake.

This ADA-accessible path hugs the rims of Munson Creek Canyon and Annie Creek Canyon, providing overlooking views of the coursing waters that formed the ravines and the columnar ash formations that were created during Mount Mazama’s explosive lava flows.

Additional Information: Inspired Imperfection

Plaikni Falls Trail

Plaikni Falls

Why you should go: Make a quick side trip to see this stunning spring-derived waterfall.

“This family-friendly hike is a great option if you want to escape the crowds,” said Jennifer at Inspired Imperfection.

Originating as snowmelt that has been filtered through layers of volcanic soil, Plaikni Falls’ crystal clear waters shimmer with prismatic brilliance. Plaikni is an indigenous Klamath word that means ‘from the high country’, referencing this beautiful stream’s genesis.

Wheelchairs and strollers will have no issue traversing the hard-packed trail to the falls. In addition to the waterfall, there are wildflowers, moss, and towering fir trees to see along this enhancing route.

Additional Information: National Parks Blog

Discovery Point Trail

discovery point trail crater lake

Why you should go: See the sights you came for, and get a history lesson too.

Discovery Point is where gold prospectors first set their sights on the majesty of Crater Lake in 1853. The trail leaves from the park’s primary gathering grounds at Rim Village and follows Crater Lake’s rim adjacent to West Rim Drive.

This is where some of Crater Lake’s best sights await to beheld. Several wide open viewpoints can be found along this short route with open vistas of the entire lake, including Wizard Island. This is a popular path where cute and hungry critters like gold-mantled ground squirrels and Clark’s nutcrackers will beg for snacks.

Additional Information: Crater Lake Institute

Watchman Peak

Watchman Peak Crater Lake

Why you should go: All-encompassing views from a fire lookout high above Crater Lake.

Watchman Peak offers arguably the best views and photo opportunities in Crater Lake National Park. The trail begins at a paved parking lot at a viewpoint called Watchman Overlook, and from there the path ascends sharply up a series of switchbacks to the fire lookout.

This is a popular trail, so expect to move slowly. The fire lookout at the summit serves as a mini-museum as an additional reward to those who reach the top of the climb. Night hikes to the peak can be scheduled with a ranger for an evening of unforgettable stargazing.

Additional Information: Hiking Project

Cleetwood Cove

Cleetwood Cove

Why you should go: This is the only path down to the water of Crater Lake.

If you can only bear a single challenging trek during your time at Crater Lake, make it this series of switchbacks that descends down to the shore of Crater Lake at Cleetwood Cove. It is the only path to the water’s surface, and it is where swimming, fishing, and boat tours can be found.

Even if you do not want to take a boat ride, the experience of seeing the deep blue of Crater Lake from the shoreline perspective is alone worth the trek. The next two trails on our list are only accessible if you first take this trail down to the boat landing and hop aboard a skiff to Wizard Island.

Additional Information: Crater Lake Institute

Fumarole Bay

Why you should go: You’ve taken the boat ride to Wizard Island and want to explore the shoreline.

Though far from an arduous trek, the journey to Fumarole Bay is over a rocky trail that can be tricky for those lacking fleetness in their feet. The hike will take visitors over to the southwest end of Wizard Island directly across from Watchman Peak.

A number of short spurs branch off from the main trail down to the shore, allowing for visitors to find momentary solitude at the center of the popular national park.

Additional Information: Crater Lake Institute

Wizard Summit

Why you should go: See a unique, panoramic view from up high in the center of the lake.

“We were surprised by the variety of colors of volcanic rock at the summit and the diversity of wildflowers!” said Amy Brahan at Just Go Travel Studios.

After an initial scurry over large chunks of volcanic rock, the trail to Wizard Summit is a well-defined route that climbs up the cinder cone through a thin forest that shortly gives way to soft and arid volcanic soil.

Once at the top, you will be standing on the edge of the Witches Cauldron, a volcanic crater that is 300 feet wide and 100 feet deep. The outstanding 360-degree views from this summit are seen by few who visit the park. There are footpaths that lead into the crater, but beware that the soil here is exceptionally loose.

Additional Information: Hiking Project

Annie Creek Canyon Trail

Annie Creek Canyon

Why you should go: If you’re camping at Mazama Village this trail is right in your backyard.

Offering a magical journey across gorgeous landscapes along a burbling stream, Annie Creek Canyon Trail is a wondrous backcountry escape from the crowds that gather elsewhere in the park. This route lies behind Mazama Village, originating at Annie Spring.

The trail descends below forested slopes and towering ash formations, the likes of which can be seen from up high on the aforementioned Godfrey Glen Loop. You’ll walk past volcanic formations that have been carved by the creek over thousands of years.

Additional Information: American Southwest

Garfield Peak

Garfield Peak Crater Lake

Why you should go: It’s an accessible mountain hike offering amazing views.

The Garfield Peak hike begins at Crater Lake’s visitor hub of Rim Village. Though the moderate climb can be quite challenging for some, its proximity to the amenities at Rim Village make this a great option for those who want a challenge, but don’t want to head far from the comforts of civilization.

Hiking this trail early in the day or in the offseason may provide you with the opportunity to catch grazing deer, whistling marmots, and squeaking pika. This peak is covered in snow for most of the year, but snowshoes can be rented from Rim Village if you want to make it all the way to the top outside of summer.

Additional Information: Oregon Hikers

Mount Scott Trail

Mount Scott Summit

Why you should go: Scale the tallest peak in Crater Lake National Park.

A well-graded trail that starts off relatively flat and gradually steepens throughout the ascent, the Mount Scott Trail is a fair challenge that is exceptionally rewarding. There are numerous shaded respites along the trail that make for great break spots.

Once you surpass the switchbacks near the end of the trail, you’ll walk along a ridge to the fire lookout at the mountain’s peak. On a clear day, the panoramic views seem endless. You’ll have a full view of Crater Lake below, as well as the string of Cascades to the north and south and the desert to the east.

Source https://gowanderwild.com/crater-lake-hikes/

Source https://www.territorysupply.com/crater-lake-national-park-hikes

Source https://www.territorysupply.com/crater-lake-national-park-hikes

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