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7 Best Hikes at Crater Lake National Park

7 Best Hikes at Crater Lake National Park
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Crater Lake National Park is one of the most famous places to visit in Oregon. After all, it’s one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the state! While there are quite a few things to do in Crater Lake National Park, hiking is by far the most popular activity. The best hikes at Crater Lake National Park take hikers to cascading waterfalls, through towering trees, and of course towards the iconic Crater Lake. Simply put, the best hikes in Crater Lake National Park have something for everyone.

*Pro Tip: Like all national parks in the United States, you’ll need to pay an entrance fee to visit Crater Lake National Park. If you plan on visiting a few different national parks during your trip, you may want to consider buying the America the Beautiful Annual National Park Pass instead.

Garfield Peak Trail

The Garfield Peak Trail is definitely one of the best hikes at Crater Lake National Park. To have the most ideal experience on this hike, you’ll want to get an early start. You’ll get to avoid the crowds and the heat (the latter of which can be a real struggle, since there isn’t much shade on this trail).

At the end of this steep, 2.7-kilometre (one-way) trail, you’ll gape in awe at the incredible views. Although the large elevation gain makes for a strenuous hike up, it also means that you’ll be able to see quite far from Garfield Peak. Not only will you get to admire Crater Lake and Wizard Island, you may also be able to see past the rim!

Elevation gain: 335 m (1,100 ft)

One-way distance: 2.7 km (1.7 mi)

Roundtrip distance: 5.5 km (3.4 mi)

Estimated time: 2 hours and 30 minutes

Getting there:

Make your way to the “Garfield Peak Trailhead,” which is just behind the Crater Lake Lodge.

Watchman Peak Trail

The Watchman Peak Trail is known as one of the most picturesque hikes at Crater Lake National Park. After hiking 0.8 kilometres, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of Crater Lake, the surrounding rim and Wizard Island.

As if that weren’t enough, the end of the Watchman Peak Trail is one of the few places in Crater Lake National Park that is high enough to see outside of the caldera. Simply put, the views from this hike are hard to beat.

On top of all that, the Watchman Peak Trail also has a little bit of history. When you reach the end of the trail, you’ll find the Watchman Observation Station. For a long time, this building was used as a wildfire lookout point. Today, it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Elevation gain: 126 m (415 ft)

One-way distance: 1.3 km (0.8 mi)

Roundtrip distance: 2.6 km (1.6 mi)

Estimated time: 1 hour

Getting there:

Simply navigate yourself to the “Watchman Peak Trail.”

Cleetwood Cove Trail

Cleetwood Cove Trail is a special path. It’s the only hike in the entire park that allows visitors to access Crater Lake. But before we get into what you can do at the end of the Cleetwood Cove Trail, let’s talk about the hike itself.

First, the Cleetwood Cove Trail is not for the faint of heart. Although the trail is only about 1.8 kilometres one-way, it’s still a very difficult hike. There’s even a sign at the trailhead stating that hiking the Cleetwood Cove Trail is the equivalent of climbing 65 flights of stairs!

Since hikers walk downhill on the way to the lake and uphill on the way back, many people overestimate their physical capabilities and struggle on the way up. Simply put, make sure you’re physically ready for this difficult trail before you set out.

If you do make it to the end of the Cleetwood Cove Trail, there’s so much you can do. First, you can take a dip in the gorgeous Crater Lake! That said, it’ll be quite a chilly swim because even in the summer, it only reaches about 19 degrees Celsius. 

As can be expected, most people prefer to stay dry and warm while exploring Crater Lake National Park. Luckily, there is another way to explore the beauty of Crater Lake: boat tours. There are two Crater Lake boat tours, the Wizard Island boat tour and the standard lake tour, both of which only depart from the Cleetwood Cove Trail. These fabulous boat tours are some of the best things to do at Crater Lake National Park.

Elevation gain: 213 m (700 ft)

One-way distance: 1.8 km (1.1 mi)

Roundtrip distance: 3.5 km (2.2 mi)

Estimated time: 1 hour and 30 minutes

Getting there:

Simply put “Cleetwood Cove Trail” into your GPS of choice.

Wizard Island Summit Trail

After hiking the Cleetwood Cove Trail and hopping aboard a boat to Wizard Island, you’ll have the opportunity to hike the fantastic Wizard Island Summit Trail.

The hike to the top of Wizard Island is short and steep. Although you only have to hike 1.6 kilometres to reach the peak, you’ll still have to tackle 213 metres of elevation gain.

That said, when you reach the top of the island, you’ll be rewarded with views that you can’t get anywhere else in the park. You’ll get 360-degree views of the bright blue Crater Lake and the surrounding rim. If you keep your eyes wide open, you may be able to see a few of the other hikers on the mainland.

*Note: Keep in mind that after your trip to Wizard Island, you’ll still have to hike the steep Cleetwood Cove Trail. Be sure that you have the energy to tackle both hikes before making your way to the top of Wizard Island.

Elevation gain: 213 m (700 ft)

One-way distance: 1.8 km (1.1 mi)

Roundtrip distance: 3.5 km (2.2 mi)

Estimated time: 1 hour and 30 minutes

Getting there:

Getting to the Wizard Island Summit Trail is one of the most complicated things to do in Crater National Park. You’ll need to route yourself to the “Cleetwood Cove Trail,” hike to the Wizard Island Boat Tour Dock, and then find the start of the Wizard Summit Trail.

Plaikni Falls Trail

So far on this list of the best hikes at Crater Lake National Park, all of the trails have revolved around Crater Lake. But that’s not the case for the Plaikni Falls Trail.

The Plaikni Falls Trail is one of the newer paths in the park – and it also happens to be one of the easiest. This 3.2-kilometre out-and-back hike has minimal elevation gain, so it’s great for people who don’t hike all that much.

At the end of your short and sweet hiking adventure, you’ll be greeted by the 6.1-metre Plaikni Falls. With the rock cliffs and thriving greenery around it, it looks absolutely picture-perfect.

Elevation gain: 61 m (200 ft)

One-way distance: 1.6 km (1 mi)

Roundtrip distance: 3.2 km (2 mi)

Estimated time: 1 hour

Getting there:

Make your way to the “Plaikni Falls Trailhead.”

Discovery Point Trail

Discovery Point Trail actually has a little bit of history behind it. In 1853, a young gold prospector named John Wesley Hillman became the first European person to see Crater Lake. (Native Americans obviously knew about this wonderful area way before that.) But when Hillman found Crater Lake, he used the Discovery Point Trail to get there. So that’s how the Discovery Point Trail got its appropriate name.

Many of the best hikes at Crater Lake National Park are for moderate or experienced hikers. But the Discovery Point Trail is great for hiking beginners. At just 3.5 kilometres long (roundtrip) and 30 metres of elevation gain, the Discovery Point Trail isn’t very strenuous.

Despite the minimal effort required to tackle the Discovery Point Trail, you’ll still get a fantastic reward. Along the way, you’ll get to walk through a beautiful pine and hemlock forest. And at the end, you’ll get to see the picture-perfect Crater Lake and Wizard Island.

Elevation gain: 30 m (100 ft)

One-way distance: 1.7 km (1.1 mi)

Roundtrip distance: 3.5 km (2.2 mi)

Estimated time: 1 hour and 15 minutes

Getting there:

Just put “Discovery Point Trail” into your navigation app of choice.

Mount Scott Trail

Mount Scott holds the special title of being the highest point in the park at 2,722 metres above sea level. And the only way to reach this point – and see the fabulous views that come along with it – is by hiking the Mount Scott Trail.

As expected, the Mount Scott Trail hike isn’t easy. With 404 metres of elevation gain over 4 kilometres (one-way), you’ll get quite a workout in. But at the end, you’ll be rewarded with awe-inspiring views of the gorgeous Crater Lake National Park.

Elevation gain: 404 m (1,325 ft)

One-way distance: 4 km (2.5 mi)

Roundtrip distance: 8 km (5 mi)

Estimated time: 3 hours

Getting there:

Route yourself to the “Mount Scott Trailhead.”

And that’s a wrap on the best hikes at Crater Lake National Park! If you have any questions for us, leave them in the comments below!

Looking for other things to do in Crater Lake or other parks to visit nearby? Check out our guides!

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