Four Scenic Hikes at Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake was formed when Mount Mazama (12,000 ft.) exploded about 7,700 years ago, leaving a caldera that eventually filled in and formed the lake. These hikes feature the best of the park’s unique scenery.

Crater Lake - Mount Scott hike

view of Crater Lake from Mount Scott

This post is an excerpt from my I Heart Oregon’s Seven Wonders guide book.

Hiking at Crater Lake National Park

Established in 1902, Crater Lake National Park protects what is considered the cleanest large body of water in the world. Known for its brilliant blue color, the lake is is 4-1/2 to 6 miles wide,  and is the deepest in the U.S. with a depth of 1,943 feet.

There are 90 miles of trails for hiking, ranging from easy walks along the rim, to ascents up rocky peaks with panoramic views. For a truly unique experience, take the boat ride to Wizard Island, the iconic cinder cone located in the lake, and hike up to the top of a volcano inside a volcano. Trails are usually snow-free by mid-June, but higher elevations may see snow until mid-July.

Winter is a long season at Crater Lake, with an average of 44 feet of snow each year, usually beginning in October. In the winter, park rangers lead interpretive snowshoe hikes near the rim. It’s also the only time of year that camping within a view of the lake is allowed. To do so, pick up a free backcountry permit at the park’s headquarters, grab your backpack and hike in on snowshoes or skis.

Featured hikes at Crater Lake

Crater Lake hikes

Mount Scott

Crater Lake - Mount Scott hike

Located on the east side of Crater Lake, Mount Scott is the highest point in the park (8,929 ft.), with a working fire lookout at the summit.

Distance: 5 miles
Elevation gain: 1,250 ft.
Difficulty: moderate
Hike type: out and back

Usually covered in snow from October to July, check with the park’s ranger station for current conditions before heading out on this hike. As with other trails at Crater Lake National Park, dogs are not allowed on this trail. To reach the trailhead, take the East Rim Road for 14 miles from the Steel Visitor Center to a roadside pullout for parking. The first section of trail is relatively flat and located beside an open pumice field with views of Mount Scott and its summit ridge. After about a quarter mile, the trail begins a gradual ascent along the southwestern side of Mount Scott through a forest of mountain hemlock, with whitebark pines and Shasta red firs. Climbing more steeply, the trail switchbacks up with views of Crater Lake to the west and the Klamath Basin to the south. Winding around to the summit ridge, the trail follows the ridge to the north to the fire lookout. From the ridge, a full panoramic view of Crater Lake fills the horizon. In mid- to late July, alpine wildflowers bloom along the slopes.

View the Mount Scott trip report for more photos

 

Garfield Peak

Crater Lake National Park - Garfield Peak hike

One of the Crater Lake National Park’s highest points, Garfield Peak offers outstanding panoramic views of Crater Lake, the Klamath Basin, and the Cascades.

Distance:  3.4 miles (roundtrip)
Elevation gain: 1,010 ft.
Difficulty: moderate
Hike type: out and back

Located directly east of Crater Lake Lodge along the caldera rim, Garfield Peak towers above Rim Village. Named in honor of James R. Garfield, former U.S. Secretary of the Interior, during his visit to the park in 1907. Usually covered in snow from October to July, check with the park’s ranger station for current conditions. As with other trails at Crater Lake National Park, dogs are not allowed on this trail. To reach the trailhead, follow the paved path past the lodge. The rocky trail climbs along the side of Garfield Peak, with hemlocks and Shasta red fir trees along the lower portions of the trail. Along the way up, openings in the trees provide views of the Klamath Basin to the south. Pikas (small mammals with rounded ears that are related to rabbits) and yellow-bellied marmots live in the rocky slopes along the trail. Heading back towards the lake, the trail follows the steep walls of the rim before turning and beginning the final ascent near the 8,054’ summit. Whitebark pines and subalpine fir trees dominate the upper portions of the peak. Panoramic views include Crater Lake and Phantom Ship (a small island in the southeast part of the lake), Mount Thielsen with its pointy spire to the north, and Mount Scott to the east. In July, alpine wildflowers bloom along the upper portions of the trail.

View the Garfield Peak trip report for more photos

 

Wizard Island

Crater Lake - Wizard Island hike

The trail to the top of Wizard Island offers the unique experience of hiking on a volcano inside a volcano. Wizard Island was formed about 7,300 years ago, emerging from Crater Lake in a shower of fiery cinders that piled into a symmetrical cone, with lava flowing around the island and forming its shores.

Distance:  2.2 miles (roundtrip)
Elevation Gain: 760 ft.
Difficulty: moderate
Hike type:  out and back

Note: Boat tours are not operating in the 2020 season. The only way to get to Wizard Island is via a ranger-narrated boat tour, departing multiple times each day (weather permitting) from Cleetwood Cove. Purchase a ticket in advance online, or during a visit from automated kiosks inside Crater Lake Lodge and the Annie Creek Gift Shop. Arrive at least 45 minutes before the boat departure time for the 1.1 mile hike down to the boat dock. Arrive at the boat dock at Governors Bay and take the Summit trail to the right. The trail crosses through an area thick with lava rock before winding its way around the slopes of the island and up to the summit. At the top, the trail continues all the way around the rim, with ancient whitebark pines along the sides of the crater. Side trails from the top lead into the center of the caldera, known as the Witches Cauldron. Be on time for the return boat ride, or face a hefty fine from the national park.

View the Wizard Island trip report for more photos

 

The Watchman

Crater Lake - The Watchman hike

Ranger-led treks at sunset to the top of Watchman Peak offer panoramic views from the decks of a fire lookout.

Distance: 1.6 miles (roundtrip)
Elevation Gain: 420 ft.
Difficulty: easy
Hike type: out and back

A prominent point on the west side of Crater Lake’s rim, Watchman Peak offers spectacular views from the decks of a fire lookout, including Wizard Island directly below, and of the Cascades to the west. Built in 1932, the fire lookout is still used by rangers. Sunset tours led by park rangers are usually available in the summer. Park at the Watchman Overlook viewpoint (on the north side of Watchman Peak), 4 miles north of Rim Village.

View The Watchman trip report for more photos

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