From Crater Lake’s vast, deep blue water to the panoramic summit views, one of the best ways to explore Oregon’s best national park is on a hike.

But with 90 miles of incredible hikes, how do you decide what trails to explore in Crater Lake National Park with your limited time? This post is here to help!

Here you’ll find all the details on the ten best hikes in Crater Lake National Park, including everything from strolls to viewpoints to challenging summit trails.

I’m sharing tips about hiking in Crater Lake, including what to pack and the best time to visit to avoid crowds.

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Crater Lake At-A-Glance

Before diving in, here are a few highlights to help you plan your trip:

  • Best Time to Visit: Summer is a great time to visit thanks to warm weather and all park amenities being open. Rim Drive typically opens in mid-July. I recommend visiting in July, August, or September.
  • Where to Stay: Crater Lake has 2 lodges inside the park, the Crater Lake Lodge and The Cabins at Mazama Village. Outside the park, consider staying at Crater Lake Resort or Union Creek Resort nearby.
  • How to Get There: The closest airport is Crater Lake – Klamath Regional Airport (LMT) located 1 hour south of the park. Other nearby airports include Medford, Redmond, Eugene, and Portland. Use Expedia to browse flights and find the best price.
  • How to Get Around: The easiest way to get around Crater Lake is by car. Use Expedia to browse deals on rental cars or rent an RV or campervan with Outdoorsy.
  • Don’t Forget: Be sure to get an America the Beautiful National Park Pass ahead of time. This $80 pass is valid for 12 months and gets you into all 400+ national park sites (including Crater Lake!).

Best Time to Hike Crater Lake

While parts of Crater Lake National Park are open year-round, the best time to visit is from July to September. Crater Lake experiences cold weather and heavy snow from late fall to early Summer. 

In addition, Rim Drive, the main route through the park, is only open in its entirety from mid-July to mid-October. You can read more about historical opening and closing dates here.

To avoid crowds, the best time to visit is in September after Labor Day. However, if July or August is your only option, plan to arrive at popular trailheads early to avoid congestion and find parking.

Crater Lake National Park snow covered in the spring
Snowy Crater Lake in Spring

Here’s a quick overview of what to expect during each season in Crater Lake:

  • Spring: Temperatures are cold, with daytime highs in the 40s and overnight temperatures below freezing. However, crowds are low in the spring, with less than 1,500 visitors per day. In addition, most trails are still snow-covered through May, making spring a less than desirable time for hiking in Crater Lake.
  • Summer: Temperatures reach the upper 60s during the day but drop to the 40s overnight. Trails are snow-free by July, perfect for hiking. Crater Lake’s Rim Drive opens entirely in mid-July, allowing you access to many of the best trailheads in the park. Visitor centers and restaurants are open by July. However, summer is also peak season, with an average of 7,000 visitors per day.
  • Fall: By September, temperatures begin to decline, with highs in the 50s and lows dropping below freezing. After Labor Day, crowds are fewer, with less than 2,000 visitors per day. If you don’t mind colder temperatures and want to avoid crowds, September can be a great time to visit. By mid-October, Rim Drive closes for the season. By November, most of the park’s trails are snowcovered.
  • Winter: Crater Lake gets more than 100 inches of snow per month, with an average snow depth in February at nearly 10 feet in some areas. Temperatures are barely above freezing, even at midday. However, if you can brave the snow and cold, you’re rewarded with solitude and excellent opportunities for snow sports, like snowshoeing.

Are you planning a national park trip but don’t know where to start? Get my free 28-page national park ebook where I break down everything you need to know to visit all 63 USA national parks.

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Tips for Hiking at Crater Lake

Before diving into the details of the best hikes in Crater Lake, I wanted to share a few essential tips and reminders for your trip.

  • Crater Lake National Park charges an entry fee. However, you can use an annual national park pass to save time. Get your annual national park pass here for $80.
  • Avoid crowds by starting hikes in the early morning. Parking at trailheads often fills up in the peak summer season. Avoid crowds by starting your hike shortly after sunrise or visiting on weekdays, particularly at busy trailheads.
  • Cell service is limited in some areas of the park. Before arriving at the park, download the trail details or bring a physical trail map. I recommend AllTrails Pro to download your hike details and navigate without cell service.
  • Always check the national park website and weather forecast. Before you step on the trail, check the latest conditions on the Crater Lake website for trail closures and weather alerts.
  • Avoid altitude sickness by acclimating to the elevation. Rim Drive in Crater Lake sits at 6,500 feet above sea level, with some areas reaching nearly 8,000 feet. Many hikes on this list add significant elevation too. Avoid altitude sickness by taking a day to acclimate, mainly if you are coming from sea level. The best way to do this is to put shorter, easier trails at the beginning of your trip and save more strenuous hikes for your second day in the park. 
  • Pets are not allowed on hiking trails. Due to wildlife activity and sensitive ecosystems, you cannot have any pets on hiking trails. Read more about pets in Crater Lake National Park.
  • Pack a hiking backpack and the ten essentials. It’s crucial to carry safety gear every time you hike. So be sure to pack the ten hiking essentials and bring a hiking backpack with plenty of room for water, extra equipment, and additional layers. You should carry at least 0.5 L of water for every hour you plan to hike.
  • Dress in layers. Temperatures fluctuate dramatically from day to night. Wear moisture-wicking hiking shirts and warm fleece layers to keep you comfortable all day.
  • Wear hiking boots with good traction. For the best grip on the trails, wear hiking boots or trail shoes with a solid grip. Never wear flip-flops on the trail.

Looking for more tips on what to pack for your trip? Check out my guides on the best hiking gear, what to pack for a road trip, and essential camping gear for all my favorite gear picks and tips to make packing for your trip a breeze!

Best Crater Lake Hikes

This post covers the ten best hikes in Crater Lake, with hikes of all difficulty levels and in all areas of the park. 

These hikes are ranked in my order of preference, starting with the best hikes. 

If you’re short on time, start by picking a few of these top-rated hiking trails. Then, if you have more time to spend in Crater Lake, continue to work your way down this list of hikes!

Garfield Peak Trail

  • Distance: 3.4 miles
  • Elevation: 1,069 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Trailhead: Crater Lake Lodge

The Garfield Peak Trail is one of the most challenging hikes in Crater Lake but rewards hikers with incredible 360-degree views from the summit. Don’t miss this trail if you’re looking for expansive views of the lake and surrounding mountains.

You’ll start at the trailhead behind Crater Lake Lodge, just off Rim Drive, before climbing through hemlock and pine forests. Along the way, you’re rewarded with breathtaking views of Crater Lake below.

Then, as you make your final ascent to Garfield Peak, the views open up, greeting you with a genuinely panoramic vista.

The strenuous incline deters many visitors. However, the views of the Crater Lake caldera, Wizard Island, and the surrounding Cascades are worth it. Just start your hike early as much of the trail is unshaded.

Cleetwood Cove Trail

  • Distance: 2.0 miles
  • Elevation: 620 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time: 1.5 hours
  • Trailhead: Cleetwood Cove Parking Lot along Rim Drive
Cleetwood Cove Trail in Crater Lake National Park
Cleetwood Cove Trail as seen from Rim Drive

The Cleetwood Cove Trail is the most popular hike in Crater Lake National Park. Its popularity is because it is the only trail in the park with access to the lake and is the starting point for boat tours of Crater Lake.

You’ll start along Rim Drive, navigating steep switchbacks over 600 feet. These switchbacks are steep and challenging to navigate for inexperienced hikers. However, the access to this deep, blue lake is unparalleled.

I highly recommend adding a boat tour of Crater Lake to your hike. Boat tours run in the summer only and can be booked through Crater Lake Hospitality.

These tours can be a great way to learn more about the park’s history and landscape from a park ranger. You can also take a shuttle to Wizard Island and hike to that summit in the middle of the lake!

After spending time along the shores of Crater Lake, you’ll need to return up the steep switchbacks. This trail is steep, roughly the equivalent of climbing 65 stories. Therefore, the Cleetwood Cove Trail should only be attempted by those in good shape with proper hiking footwear.

Discovery Point Trail

  • Distance: 2.4 miles
  • Elevation: 337 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Time: 1.5 hours
  • Trailhead: Rim Village Cafe & Gift Shop
Discovery Point Trail in winter in Crater Lake National Park
Discovery Point Trail in winter, perfect for snowshoeing!

Don’t miss the Discovery Point Trail if you’re looking for a more leisurely hike in Crater Lake! This 2.4-mile hike provides excellent views, particularly of Wizard Island, located in the middle of the lake.

Discovery Point is aptly named as it was the point where the trail was “discovered” by John Wesley Hillman in 1853. However, Mount Mazama and Crater Lake were important places to the indigenous people in southern Oregon long before he arrived.

The trail is surrounded by hemlock and pine trees on one side and lake views on the other side. This is an excellent family-friendly hike for those with limited time in Crater Lake.

The Discovery Point Trail is also open for snowshoeing in the winter!

Watchman Peak Trail

  • Distance: 1.7 miles
  • Elevation: 400 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Trailhead: Watchman Overlook on Rim Drive
Watchman Peak Overlook in Crater Lake National Park

The Watchman Peak Trail is another popular hike in Crater Lake. While views are somewhat similar, you’ll find many more hikers here than on the Garfield Peak Trail, as the hike is shorter with less elevation.

You’ll start at Watchman Overlook along Rim Drive on the west side of Crater Lake. The trail climbs up to a lookout at the top of Watchman Peak, with several switchbacks.

From the summit lookout (which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places), you’re rewarded with expansive views of the lake, Wizard Island, and the Cascades.

If you only have one day in Crater Lake, hiking the Watchman Peak Trail is a great option, providing excellent views with relatively little time commitment. The views from Watchman Peak are also amazing at sunrise, looking out over Crater Lake.

Plaikni Falls Trail

  • Distance: 2.0 miles
  • Elevation: 137 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Trailhead: Pinnacles Road
Plaikni Falls Trail in Crater Lake National Park

This short out-and-back hike leads to the most accessible and scenic waterfalls in Crater Lake National Park. The Plaikni Falls Trail is a peaceful stroll through a wooded area with plenty of benches to stop and enjoy the scenery.

You’ll start along Pinnacles Drive, only a short drive off East Rim Drive at the base of Mount Scott. The trail passes through an old-growth forest before ending at Plaikni Falls. Keep your eyes peeled for wildflowers and wildlife along the way.

While the waterfall flows year-round, it’s best seen in the spring or early summer when fueled by snowmelt.

Mount Scott Trail

  • Distance: 4.2 miles
  • Elevation: 1,259 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time: 2.5 hours
  • Trailhead: Mount Scott Trailhead along Rim Drive

The Mount Scott Trail is one of the hardest and steepest hikes in Crater Lake National Park. The hike takes you to the highest point in Crater Lake. Mount Scott tops out at 8,929 feet. You have incredible views overlooking Crater Lake in the distance and the surrounding area from the summit.

You’ll start along East Rim Drive and hike along the ridgeline up to Mount Scott. The clear path provides plenty of excellent panoramic views along the surrounding Cascade Range and the Oregon desert to the east.

You may even see north to Bend and south to Mount Shasta on a clear day!

Due to its elevation, it’s common to see snow on the Mount Scott Trail year-round, so be sure to pack the ten essentials and only attempt this trail if you are an experienced hiker.

Annie Creek Canyon Trail

  • Distance: 2.1 miles
  • Elevation: 305 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Trailhead: Mazama Campground
Annie Creek Canyon Trail in Crater Lake National Park

Consider the Annie Creek Canyon Trail instead to escape the crowds found on more popular hikes along Rim Drive.

The trail starts in Mazama Village near Mazama Campground, taking you through forested areas with brush, wildflowers, and quiet streams. Next, you’ll hike through an old-growth forest, a peaceful retreat unlike other hikes in the park.

The Annie Creek Canyon Trail is best in the summer as heavy snowfall and mud make it unpassable the rest of the year. However, if you visit in the winter, this can be an excellent option for snowshoeing instead of hiking.

Pinnacles Trail

  • Distance: 0.8 miles
  • Elevation: 42 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Trailhead: End of Pinnacles Road
Pinnacle spires in Crater Lake National Park

The easy and short Pinnacles Trail is perfect for a unique experience in Crater Lake National Park. The trail takes you to an overlook of otherworldly pinnacle volcanic spires formed long ago.

You’ll start at the parking area at the end of Pinnacles Road, a short drive from the Rim Drive loop. Then, you’ll walk less than 0.5 miles to reach the overlook. The pinnacles are jagged spires made up of volcanic ash and pumice left behind by Mount Mazama’s blast 12,000 years ago.

This trail is also wheelchair accessible to the overlook, making it one of the park’s most family and ADA-friendly trails.

Sun Notch Trail

  • Distance: 0.8 miles
  • Elevation: 127 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Trailhead: Sun Notch Trailhead
Phantom Ship as seen from the Sun Notch Trail in Crater Lake National Park
Phantom Ship in Crater Lake

The Sun Notch Trail is another easy option for those taking a scenic road trip along Rim Drive. Located along the southern side of the lake, the Sun Notch Trail provides views of Sun Notch, Phantom Ship, and the blue waters of Crater Lake.

From the trailhead, you’ll follow an easy path through wildflower-filled meadows. Shortly after the start, you’ll come to a junction in the trail. I recommend heading counterclockwise and stopping at Sun Notch first.

This viewpoint provides excellent views of Crater Lake and the surrounding shoreline.

Next, you’ll reach Phantom Ship Overlook. You can see a small rock spire jutting out of the lake. This formation looks similar to a pirate ship and can often be masked by low-hanging fog, giving it the appearance of a ghost ship sailing along Crater Lake.

If you’re looking for a quick, family-friendly hike, don’t miss the Sun Notch Trail while driving Rim Drive!

Wizard Island Trail

  • Distance: 2.3
  • Elevation: 751 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time: 1.5 hours
  • Trailhead: Wizard Island boat dock
  • Note: These trail stats are only for the hike on Wizard Island. Reaching the trailhead requires hiking the Cleetwood Cove Trail and taking a boat tour.

The Wizard Island Trail is a fantastic hike in Crater Lake. This incredible trail allows you to hike in the heart of Crater Lake, on the small island jutting out of the crystal blue waters.

But to get to the start of the Wizard Island trail, you’ll need to hike the Cleetwood Cove Trail and take the boat ride out to the island. This hike requires not one but two strenuous hikes and nearly an entire day when you include the boat shuttle to and from Wizard Island.

However, those who make it out to Wizard Island get an experience only a few who visit Crater Lake enjoy.

The views from the lake’s center are unparalleled from the summit of the cinder cone on Wizard Island. You can look out over the caldera, shores, and rim of one of the world’s deepest lakes.

You can read more about the Wizard Island boat tour and shuttle here.

Crater Lake Trails for Backpacking

The Pacific Crest Trail, one of the most coveted thru-hiking trails in the United States, runs through Crater Lake National Park. Backpackers have several options for hiking sections of the PCT in Crater Lake. 

Backcountry camping in Crater Lake requires an overnight camping permit. You can read more about backpacking in Crater Lake here.

Frequently Asked Questions About Hiking Crater Lake

Can you hike to the bottom of Crater Lake?

You can reach the shores of Crater Lake via the Cleetwood Cove Trail, a moderate to strenuous hike open from June to October. The Cleetwood Cove Trail is the only way to reach the bottom of the lake and access boat tours.

Is there a trail that goes all the way around Crater Lake?

There is not a hiking trail that goes all the way around the base of Crater Lake. To get to the shores of the lake, you’ll need to hike the Cleetwood Cove Trail. Rim Drive, a famous scenic drive, wraps around the lake and provides views.

How difficult is Crater Lake hiking?

The hikes in Crater Lake range from easy to strenuous, depending on the type of trails you choose. There are easy trails to overlooks along Rim Drive and more challenging hikes to summits overlooking the lake and national park.

Final Thoughts on the Best Hikes in Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park has hikes for every traveler, from easy walks to viewpoints to longer, strenuous summit hikes. There’s no shortage of excellent trails to fill your time in Oregon’s only national park.

These are the ten best hikes in Crater Lake National Park:

  1. Garfield Peak Trail
  2. Cleetwood Cove Trail
  3. Discovery Point Trail
  4. Watchman Peak Trail
  5. Plaikni Falls Trail
  6. Mount Scott Trail
  7. Annie Creek Canyon Trail
  8. Pinnacles Trail
  9. Sun Notch Trail
  10. Wizard Island Trail

If you’re interested in a longer, backcountry hike, don’t miss hiking the Pacific Crest Trail section that passes through Crater Lake.

If you want to learn more about Crater Lake National Park, check out these posts!

Are you planning a national park trip but don’t know where to start? Get my free 28-page national park ebook where I break down everything you need to know to visit all 63 USA national parks.

Download your free ebook here.

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