Best Crater Lake Hikes: 10 Top Trails to Try

Keen to explore the wealth of awesome hiking trails around America’s deepest lake? Don’t be tempted to stick to the scenic Rim Drive – get up close and personal to it by getting on your boots and taking on one of the hikes on our top-ten list.

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Written by: | Reviewed by: Kieran James Cunningham
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Crater Lake National Park is a site of historical significance and outstanding natural beauty. Although it has been around for millennia, its discovery in the early 1900s put Oregon on the map for the top spots to visit in the western United States.

If you have a trip planned to Oregon anytime soon, consider visiting this park an essential. Need help with trip planning? We have got it covered in a list of the ten best Crater Lake hikes for hikers of all levels of experience and fitness.

History of Crater Lake National Park

National Parks often give us a sense of timelessness. We have a difficult time imagining a period when the mountains weren’t standing, and the lakes were dry. However, this park in Oregon has a relatively recent history compared to the ancient mountains in Yosemite or Old Faithful in Yellowstone.

Crater Lake formed about 7,700 years ago as a result of an explosive volcanic eruption from Mount Mazama. This created a volcanic depression called a caldera, formed because of a partial collapse of the mountain, and changed the landscape around the entire volcano.

Over the millennia, the glaciers around the mountain melted into the caldera, steadily forming the brilliant blue body of water now known as Crater Lake until it became the deepest lake in the United States.

Preparing for Your Hike

Crater Lake National Park hiking requires a bit of preparation. There is very little cell reception throughout the entire park. To be prepared, download all the maps you might need or look for offline maps to ensure getting lost isn’t on the cards.

This is a smaller park than some of the others in the states. As such, the National Park Service doesn’t stock the Mazama Village Store thoroughly, and it only has gas in the peak season, which is during the summer. Throughout the remainder of the year, the closest gas station is 33 miles outside of the park in Prospect and Chiloquin.

Finally, Oregon is one of the rainier states in the Continental United States. So, make sure you are ready to take on one of the 146 days it rains on average each year. Pack waterproof gear from head to toe to ensure you still get the most out of your trip.

The 10 Best Crater Lake Hikes

Without further ado, we bring you the ten best Crater Lake hikes. We offer various ratings, lengths, and trail types to give multiple options for anyone visiting the park. Most of the Crater Lake National Park hikes are centered around the caldera itself, but we also offer options for forest explorers.

1. Cleetwood Cove Trail

Cleetwood Cove Trail
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • Distance: 2.2 miles
  • Difficulty: Strenuous

Cleetwood Cove trail is one of the best hikes around Crater Lake, even though it is also one of the most challenging. The total journey isn’t very long. Instead, it receives its rating due to the 700 feet of quick elevation gain up the 1.1 mile stretch to the top.

Most of the hikes in Crater Lake National Park give you stunning views over the top of the blue expanse from its rim. The reason this hike has gained such notoriety is that it lets you get down to the sparkling water itself, which makes it well worth the effort.

At the end of the hike, the trail leads you to a boat landing where you can get rides out to Wizard Island during the busy season. This location also happens to be one of the two places where you are legally allowed to fish. If that ain’t your thing, though, you can always just relax and go for a swim, experiencing the glacial depths for yourself.

2. Pinnacles Trail

Pinnacles Trail
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • Distance: 1 mile
  • Difficulty: Easy

The Pinnacles Trail is an easier option for visitors that are not so keen on steep inclines. It involves only 60 feet of elevation gain along the entire trail, and it only takes about 25 minutes to complete. The views along the six-mile Pinnacle Road to reach the trailhead also attract visitors to this part of the park, but rest assured the best of them arrive once you start walking.

Many of the park’s hikes are similar in that they center around the allure of the caldera. However, this hike’s uniqueness lies in it showing you the other side of the coin. We mentioned Mount Mazama in the history section above. Its eruption didn’t only create something beautiful but also caused massive destruction as one of the largest eruptions on earth in the last 12,000 years.

The Pinnacles Trail displays this trail of destruction in the form of jagged spires of ash and pumice from which the trail takes its name.  

3. Garfield Peak Trail

Garfield Peak Trail
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • Distance: 3.4 miles
  • Difficulty: Strenuous

The Garfield Peak Trail is accessible from the Rim Village, with the trailhead for the route situated right behind Crater Lake Lodge. Before starting on the trail itself, we highly recommend checking out this beautiful Lodge. It opened in 1915 and has since become a valued historical staple for visitors to the park.

The trail takes you to the summit of Garfield Peak, which overlooks the lake itself and much of the surrounding terrain. This makes it one of the best hikes in Crater Lake National Park for peeps who like a scenic end-point to reward their efforts. 

Along the way, you are rewarded with a variety of views and sightings of unique natural features. Expect to put some work in as the elevation changes by more than 1,000 feet, and reaching the top will take about 1 to 1.5 hours. 

At the summit, you will come to a plateau. The wide-open expanse gives you the panoramic views that this trail is famous for, looking down on the whole of the caldera and the surrounding mountains.

If you decide to do this hike, it’s best to start early in the day because there is very little shade on the path.

4. Mount Scott Trail

Mount Scott Trail
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • Distance: 5 miles
  • Difficulty: Strenuous

If you are interested in reaching the tallest peaks in a National Park or love the feeling of reaching a summit, then the Mount Scott Trail is the one for you. The path takes you to the highest point in the park at 8,929 feet above sea level. 

The trailhead is located on the East Rim off of the famous Rim Drive. Even though you start relatively high on the mountain from the trailhead, you still have plenty of ascending to do before the end. The elevation gain of 1,250 feet makes this one of the most strenuous hikes in the park. 

The best aspect of this hike is the superb views you’ll enjoy of the entire region from start to finish. This high starting point and the trail’s progression along a long, clear ridgeline means there are few obstacles to obstruct the amazing panoramas.

5. Discovery Point Trail

Discovery Point Trail
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy

The Discovery Point trail is one of the easiest and prettiest hikes around Crater Lake. It is also a recognized historic feature in the park. It received its title of “discovery” because John Wesley Hillman spotted the sparkling blue basin for the first time in recorded history in 1953. At the time, he came up with the original name of “Deep Blue Lake” for what we now know as “Crater Lake.”

The path isn’t only popular because of its historical importance, however. It takes you through a beautiful forest of pine and mountain hemlock along the rim, and all along the way you’ll get great vantage points down on the deep blue lake. 

It only takes about an hour to complete, and the elevation gain is almost negligible at 100 feet above the starting point on the west side of the Rim Village near the Visitor Center. 

6. Watchman Peak Trail

Watchman Peak Trail
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • Distance: 1.6 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Watchman Peak Trail is arguably the best Crater Lake hike for both its views and history. It is rated as moderately difficult, making it suitable for visitors of most ages and fitness levels. 

What makes it so popular? The WPT brings you up to the top of Watchman Peak and into the Watchman Cultural Landscape. Here you’ll find a hut where the watchmen would keep a lookout for wildfires, a building currently listed on the National Register for Historic Places. The vantage point offers incredible views of the entire basin, with Wizard Island at its heart. 

Although the summit stands at 8,013 feet above sea level, the trailhead along the Rim Drive road starts quite high, meaning you’ll only have to put in 415 feet of ascent to get to the top.

7. Wizard Island Summit Trail

Wizard Island Summit Trail
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • Distance: 2.2 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Wizard Island is the leafy little cinder cone situated slap bang in the center of the caldera. You can only access it by getting a boat ride out to the island from Cleetwood Cove. There are boat tours that can take you around the island or drop you off at its shores and these typically run between July and September from 9:45 am to 6 pm.

Once you arrive at the island, you can hike up the cinder cone to the top. Here, you get a reversal of the view that any of the rim hikes give you, looking out over the caldera towards the shores and the rim of Crater Lake. The feeling of being watched by the people viewing from all the other trails is also unique.

The entire Wizard Island hike isn’t very long, at just over 1 mile one way. However, you do have to put in 700 feet in elevation gain to reach the top. 

8. Plaikni Falls Trail

Plaikni Falls Trail
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy

Most people come to the National Park intending to hike around the rim to get stunning views of the deep blue gem in the park’s crown. Plaikni Falls helps visitors mix it up a bit and add more variety to their trip. Instead of hiking around the crater, this one takes you to a beautiful waterfall.

This trail in Crater Lake NP does not get as much hype as many others on the list because it is relatively new. It is located at the base of Mount Scott on the eastern rim of the lake. Interestingly, the falls are not fed by the caldera’s waters but by the snow that melts along the mountain’s ridgeline.

Overall, the hike is relatively easy and short. The very last part of it is a bit steeper, but overall the hike is fairly level with only 200 feet of elevation gain in total. Many wildflowers grow all around the waterfall, including Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) and Arrowleaf Groundsel (Senecio triangularis), beautifying each step of the way to the water-feature highlight.

9. Annie Creek Trail

Annie Creek Trail
  • Type: Lollipop
  • Distance: 2.1 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Annie Creek is another one that takes you away from the rim and waters of Crater Lake to experience the beauty found in the rest of the park, this time in a delightful old-growth forest. The trailhead starts from inside Mazama Campground, convenient for those already camping on the grounds.

This track is best from July to September because snowfall can make it unpassable during the winter and flooded or muddy in spring. The hike takes you down towards Annie Creek, and you will walk along the babbling brook for the bulk of the path until circling back out of the creek bed.

This lollipop loop is only lightly trafficked because it is relatively unknown and veers away from the busier area around the rim. As such, it allows you to find a bit more peace away from the crowds.

10. Sun Notch Trail

Sun Notch Trail
  • Type: Lollipop
  • Distance: 0.5 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy

The short and easy Sun Notch Trail is an excellent choice for a warm-up walk or visitors with younger kids. It is also accessible year-round, even when many of the other paths are snowed under. 

The trailhead lies about 4 miles east of the Visitor Center and the entire hike only takes about 30 minutes to complete. The trail takes you between Dutton Cliff and Applegate Peak, which lies towards the rim of the crater. From that lookout point, you can see the Phantom Ship, a conglomeration of rocky spires jutting out from the waters that look like an old pirate ship.

Come See the Crater!

Visiting this National park not only allows you to commune with nature, but you also get to see the aftermath of one of the most significant eruptions in Earth’s history. Although it is beautiful now, you can easily imagine what it would be like to have stood miles away witnessing the caldera’s formation and the destruction of the volcano itself.

We hope our post convinced you to come and see it all first-hand!

What did you think of our list of trails to hike around Crater Lake National Park?

If you have enjoyed our list of the best hikes at Crater Lake National Park or know of any hikes near Crater Lake you think we should add, let us know in the comments below. 

Last update on 2024-05-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Amanda Avatar

Amanda Williams is a hiker, climber, writer, and forager. No matter where she is, she never stops longing for the Colorado Rockies, feeling the Muir-esque call of the mountains. 

Amanda lives to explore and has done incredible hikes and adventures in Asia, Central America, the European continent, and all across America. She believes that there is nothing better for the soul than spending nights out in the wilderness. In between adventuring, Amanda found time to obtain a Bachelor's degree in horticulture with a focus on sustainability. She has used this education to learn how to forage safely on her backpacking adventures and the ways that outdoor enthusiasts can protect our planet.

Amanda uses her writing and outdoor skills to help teach those with whom she adventures and a larger online audience. Currently living in the UK has given her the opportunity to learn a new plant-scape and discover magical new trails and mountains. She now works with a local university to teach others how to grow and thrive in the outdoors in between writing while continuing her never-ending quest of learning.


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