Crater Lake Hikes: 10 Best Trails in the National Park

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.

National Park Pass

The Watchman Peak Trail

Crater Lake Hikes | Watchman Peak

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. 

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.

Garfield Peak Crater Lake Trail

Crater Lake Phantom Ship
View of the Phantom Ship from Garfield Peak Trail
  • Distance: 3.4 miles, out & back
  • Elevation: 1,069 ft 
  • Difficulty Rating: Difficult
  • View the trail notes

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. 

Cleetwood Cove Trail

Crater Lake Hikes | Cleetwood Cove Trail
Cleetwood Cove Trail | Image by daveynin via Flickr

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.

Wizard Island Summit Trail

Wizard Island in Crater Lake
Wizard Island in the middle of Crater Lake

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. 

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.

Mount Scott Trail

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

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. 

Discovery Point Trail

Crater Lake Hikes | Discovery Point
The lookout at Discovery Point

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.

Castle Crest Wildflower Trail

Crater Lake Hikes | Castle Crest Wildflower Trail
Castle Crest Wildflower Trail | Image by Tim Vo
via Flickr

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

Sun Notch Trail

Crater Lake Hikes | Sun Notch Trail
Sun Notch Trail | Image by Ken Lund via Flickr

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.

Pinnacles Valley Trail

Crater Lake Hikes | Pinnacles Valley
Pinnacles Valley | Image by James St. John via Flickr

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. 

Plaikni Falls – Easy and accessible trail

Crater Lake Hikes | Plaikni Falls
Plaikni Falls | Image by James Wellington via Flickr

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.

What to pack for hiking in Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake Hikes | Discovery Point_
Hiking Packing List | Go Wander Wild

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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!

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