Once upon a time – around 7,700 years ago to be more exact – an enormous mountain peak protruded from the earth among a forested wilderness. And with one explosive volcanic eruption, it disappeared and instead left behind a massive crater in its place. Over the years, rain and snow filled the giant hole, forming one of the most magical places in the United States, Crater Lake National Park.
It’s deep. It’s brilliantly blue. And it is a landscape that will forever be stamped on your memory. Explore this wonderland with the most scenic Crater Lake hikes in the area!
Be Prepared – Hiking Essentials & Tips
- It’s always a good idea to wear a sturdy pair of hiking shoes when out on the trails. These men’s waterproof hiking shoes are waterproof and have a protective sole and these women’s breathable hiking shoes have a breathable mesh line with a contoured footbed. Or you can always go a high ankle boot, check out these cute boots for women or these slick ones for men.
- Bring a good day pack to carry snacks and water.
- Since there’s usually no reception, download Crater Lake NP by Chimani which works offline for maps and hiking trail information.
- Pack snacks and/or a lunch depending on how long you’ll be hiking.
- To stay hydrated, always bring more water than you think you need. Bring reusable water bottles to eliminate waste.
- Wear a hat and/or sunglasses and apply sunscreen beforehand.
- When visiting Crater Lake please remember, leave no trace. Stay on the trails and always pack it in and pack it out.
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Hiking Crater Lake Map
If you are planning to road trip through the state as well as visit the national park, make sure to read our full OREGON ROAD TRIP article.
If you’re looking for what to do at Crater Lake, we’ve got you covered!
1. The Watchman Peak Trail
Elevation Gain: 415 Feet
Distance: 1.6 miles roundtrip
Time: 1 hour
The Watchman Lookout trail along with the overlook offers one of the best vantage points of Wizard Island, the only volcanic cone of several that is tall enough to peek out of Crater Lake.
The hike begins with a few switchbacks in a steady uphill climb on a rocky surface to the west side of the rim. Once you reach the summit at 8,013 feet, you’ll be rewarded with expansive views overlooking the entire lake.
You’ll also discover the Watchman Observation Station. Constructed in 1932, the historic lookout tower was once used to watch for wildfires and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
2. Castle Crest Wildflower Trail
Elevation Gain: 120 Feet
Distance: .4 miles roundtrip
Time: 30 minutes
Castle Crest Wildflower trail is one of the easiest and shortest Crater Lake hikes on our list, but we highly recommend it.
If you are visiting in the summer, the melted snow gives way to thousands of colorful wildflowers and small springs on its interpretive loop.
With Castle Crest Ridge to the north and east and glacial moraines to the south and west, you’ll wander through a beautiful bowl-shaped meadow filled with pink, yellow, and purple blossoms with the trickling sound of the spring water spilling over stones.
3. Plaikni Falls
Elevation Gain: 200 Feet
Distance: 2 miles roundtrip
Time: 1 hour
Located on the eastern rim at the base of Mount Scott, Plaikni Falls is a relatively new trail. And since many of the hikes are focused on Crater Lake, it’s a nice change of beautiful scenery.
It’s an easy walk surrounded by an old-growth forest which leads to a tumbling waterfall complemented with lush moss and wildflowers.
4. Garfield Peak Crater Lake Trail
Elevation Gain: 1,100 Feet
Distance: 3.4 miles round-trip
Time: 2 – 3 hours
The Garfield Peak trailhead is located behind Crater Lake Lodge, plan to stop for lunch or a drink afterward to enjoy the outdoor patio. It is a popular hike without much shade so I highly recommend starting early for some solitude and cool temps.
With an elevation gain of over a thousand feet, the hike is strenuous but those usually provide the best views – Garfield Peak included.
The wide-open plateau atop the ridge offers panoramic views of the entire lake and beyond. It is one of the highest peaks in Crater Lake National Park and is spectacular.
READ NEXT: THE BEST HIKING TRAIL IN MT RAINER NP
5. Cleetwood Cove Trail
Elevation Gain: 700 Feet
Distance: 2.2 miles round-trip
Time: 1 – 2 hours
It’s not all about exploring Crater Lake from above, it’s time to hike down to the water. We highly recommend timing the Cleetwood Cove Trail with a boat ride since this is where you’ll find the boat landing.
The trail itself isn’t anything special, a few tight switchbacks at the top then a few long downhill sections but it’s the access to the water that makes this one so special. You can set up on the rocks and swim in the clear waters of Crater Lake. Be prepared though, it’s pretty cold.
The hike up will take extra time with the steep climb, the sign said it is equivalent to walking up 65 flights of stairs and should not be attempted by anyone with heart, breathing or walking problems.
TIP FOR THE BOAT RIDE: Take a raincoat (the wind and water sprays can be cold even on a hot day), wear sturdy shoes not flip flops for the hike up and down, and use the restroom at the top (the restroom at the bottom had long lines that took forever).
6. Pinnacles Trailhead
Elevation Gain: 60 Feet
Distance: 1 mile round-trip
Time: 20 minutes
Take the six-mile Pinnacles Road to discover another side of the aftermath of Mount Mazama’s blast. Remnants of the explosion include tall jagged spires formed from ash and pumice along the Pinnacles Trail, one of the most unique trails in Crater Lake National Park.
7. Vidae Falls
Elevation Gain: 0
Distance: 0 miles roundtrip
Time: 5 minutes
Vidae Falls is not really a hike since it’s right off East Rim Drive, but it is popular so I figured I should add it to the list so you don’t miss it.
You could technically see the 100-foot waterfall from the car, but it’s a pretty location and worth the stop.
RELATED HIKES: BACKPACKING CRATER LAKE
8. Discovery Point Trail Crater Lake
Elevation Gain: 100 Feet
Distance: 2.2 miles roundtrip
Time: 1 hour
The Discovery Point Overlook is where the gold prospector John Wesley Hillman first laid eyes on Crater Lake in 1853, naming it, “Deep Blue Lake.” To be honest, I can’t believe that name didn’t stick.
The trail follows the rim of Crater Lake near Wizard Island. Because it’s an easy stroll with rewarding views, it’s usually recommended for families. Just make sure to watch your little ones because there are steep drop-offs along the way.
Flanked by mountain hemlock and pine trees on one side and the breathtaking lake on the other, it’s one of the must-do Crater Lake hikes.
9. Sun Notch
Elevation Gain: 130 Feet
Distance: .5 miles roundtrip
Time: 30 minutes
Situated between Applegate Peak and Dutton Cliff, Sun Notch trail is a short but scenic loop hike. It begins with a quick uphill walk on a wide trail through a forest then opens up to grassland where you’ll find an overlook of the basin.
You’ll see the Chaski Slide and Wizard Island from a distance, but the highlight of the hike is the Phantom Ship lookout. As the rocky spires come into view you’ll see where the island gets its name from.
10. Mount Scott
Elevation Gain: 1,325 Feet
Distance: 5 miles roundtrip
Time: 3 hours
I saved the Mount Scott Trail for last because, unfortunately, we did not get to it. Since we ran out of time, it is on my list for the next trip back to Oregon.
On the eastern section between two bluffs, the out and back hike will guide you up to the highest point in Crater Lake National Park. With the height and location of Mount Scott, you’ll be able to view Crater Lake in its stunning entirety.
If you like national parks, check out our other itineraries:
- Yellowstone National Park Itinerary
- Glacier National Park Itinerary
- Arches National Park Itinerary
- Grand Teton National Park Itinerary
Have you been? What do you think are the best Crater Lake hikes? Tell us in the comments below.
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