Can You Hike Around Crater Lake

Hiking is one of the greatest ways to enjoy Oregon’s best national park, from Crater Lake’s huge, deep blue water to the sweeping summit views. But, with 90 miles of fantastic hiking paths, how do you choose which ones to visit in Crater Lake National Park with your time limit? 

While parts of Crater Lake National Park are open all year, the ideal months to explore are July through September. From late fall through early summer, Crater Lake endures chilly temperatures and heavy snow. Furthermore, Rim Drive, the primary route through the park, is only available from mid-July to mid-October. To minimize crowds, the ideal time to visit is after Labor Day in September. July or August are your only options, aim to arrive early at popular trailheads to avoid crowds and find parking easily.

Temperatures are frigid in the spring, with daytime highs in the 40s and overnight lows below freezing. In the spring, however, crowds are light, with less than 1,500 visitors each day. Furthermore, most paths remain snow-covered until May, making spring a less-than-ideal time for trekking around Crater Lake. 

Temperatures are in the upper 60s during the day but dip to the 40s at night in the summer. By July, the trails are clear of snow and ready for hiking. Crater Lake’s Rim Drive opens completely in mid-July, giving you access to many of the park’s top trailheads. By July, visitor centers and eateries will be open. Summer, on the other hand, is peak season, with an average of 7,000 people per day.

Temperatures continue to fall in September, with highs in the 50s and lows below freezing. Crowds thin down after Labor Day, with less than 2,000 tourists per day. September can be an excellent time to come if you don’t mind chilly temperatures and wish to avoid crowds. Rim Drive closes for the season in mid-October with the majority of the park’s trails being snow-covered by November.

Can You Hike Around Crater Lake

Crater Lake receives more than 100 inches of snow during the winter months, with an average snow depth of about 10 feet in certain spots in February. Even at midday, temperatures are just above freezing. If you can face the snow and cold, you’ll be rewarded with isolation and superb winter sports activities, such as snowshoeing. 

Can You Hike Around Crater Lake

Tips for hiking at Crater Lake

  • Crater Lake National Park has an admission fee. You can, however, save time by purchasing an annual national park pass.
  • Hike early in the morning to avoid crowds. During the high summer season, parking at trailheads frequently fills up. Avoid the crowds by beginning your hike shortly after daybreak or visiting during the week, especially at popular trailheads.
  • In several places of the park, cell service is limited. Download the trail descriptions or bring a paper trail map before visiting the park.
  • Always check the park’s website and the weather prediction. Before you set out on the path, check the Crater Lake website for trail limitations and weather updates.
  • Acclimate to the elevation to avoid altitude sickness. Crater Lake’s Rim Drive is 6,500 feet above sea level, with some spots reaching almost 8,000 feet. Many of the hikes on this list also include significant elevation gain. Avoid altitude sickness by acclimating for a day, especially if you are traveling from sea level. The best approach to accomplish this is to start your vacation with shorter, simpler trails and leave the more demanding walks for your next day in the park.
  • Hiking trails do not accept pets. Pets are not permitted on hiking routes due to wildlife activities and delicate ecosystems.
  • Wear traction-enhancing hiking footwear. Wear hiking boots or trail shoes with a firm grip on the trails for the best traction. On the trail, never wear flip-flops.

Best Crater Lake 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 Crater Lake’s most difficult walks, but it rewards hikers with amazing 360-degree vistas from the summit. If you want to see the lake and the surrounding mountains, this is the trek to take. You’ll begin by hiking through hemlock and pine forests from the trailhead behind Crater Lake Lodge, just off Rim Drive. Along the journey, you’ll be rewarded with stunning vistas of Crater Lake. The views open up as you make your last trek to Garfield Peak, greeting you with a truly panoramic perspective. Many visitors are turned off by the steep ascent. However, the views of Crater Lake, Wizard Island, and the nearby Cascades are well worth the effort. Make sure to begin your hike early because much of the trail is exposed.

Discovery Point Trail

  • Distance: 2.4 miles
  • Elevation: 337 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Time: 1.5 hours
  • Trailhead: Rim Village Cafe & Gift Shop

If you’re searching for a more leisurely stroll around Crater Lake, don’t miss the Discovery Point Trail! This 2.4-mile climb offers spectacular vistas, particularly of Wizard Island, which is situated at the center of the lake. Discovery Point is appropriately named because it was here that John Wesley Hillman “found” the trail in 1853. Mount Mazama and Crater Lake, on the other hand, were important to the indigenous inhabitants of southern Oregon long before he came. The trail is surrounded on one side by hemlock and pine trees and on the other by lake vistas. For those with limited time at Crater Lake, this is an excellent family-friendly hike.

Plaikni Falls Trail 

  • Distance: 2.0 miles
  • Elevation: 137 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Trailhead: Pinnacles Road

This short out-and-back trip leads to Crater Lake National Park’s most accessible and stunning waterfalls. The Plaikni Falls Trail is a tranquil walk through a wooded region with plenty of seats to rest and take in the sights. You’ll begin on Pinnacles Drive, which is just off East Rim Drive at the base of Mount Scott. The trail winds its way through an old forest before reaching Plaikni Falls. Along the journey, keep an eye out for wildflowers and wildlife. While the waterfall is active all year, it is most visible in the spring and early summer when it is fed 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

Mount Scott Trail is one of the most difficult and steep walks in Crater Lake National Park. The trail leads to Crater Lake’s highest point. Mount Scott has an elevation of 8,929 feet. From the summit, you have spectacular views of Crater Lake in the distance and the surrounding surroundings. You’ll start along East Rim Drive and trek up to Mount Scott along the ridgeline. The well-maintained path offers numerous outstanding panoramic views of the surrounding Cascade Range and the Oregon desert to the east. On a clear day, you can see north to Bend and south to Mount Shasta! Because of its elevation, snow is typical on the Mount Scott Trail all year, so carry all of your hiking essentials and only tackle this trail if you are a seasoned hiker. 

Cleetwood Cove Trail

  • Distance: 2.0 miles
  • Elevation: 620 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time: 1.5 hours
  • Trailhead: Cleetwood Cove Parking Lot along Rim Drive

The most popular trail in Crater Lake National Park is the Cleetwood Cove Trail. Its appeal stems from the fact that it is the only route in the park with lake access and serves as the starting place for boat excursions of Crater Lake. You’ll begin by climbing steep switchbacks of nearly 600 feet along Rim Drive. These switchbacks are steep and difficult for inexperienced hikers to manage. The accessibility to this deep, blue lake, on the other hand, is unrivaled. Adding a boat tour to your Crater Lake experience is highly recommended as they only operate during the summer months. These tours provide an excellent opportunity to discover more about the park’s history and beauty from a park ranger. You can also take a shuttle to Wizard Island and trek to the top of the lake! You’ll need to return up the steep switchbacks after spending some time along the shores of Crater Lake. This trail is steep, similar to climbing 65 stories. As a result, the Cleetwood Cove Trail should be only attempted by people in the good physical condition and wearing appropriate hiking boots.

Conclusion

Crater Lake National Park provides hikes for all abilities, from short excursions to views to lengthy, demanding summit hikes. There are plenty of fantastic trails to keep you busy in Oregon’s lone national park. If you’re looking for a lengthier wilderness trip, the Pacific Crest Trail segment that passes around Crater Lake is a must-do.

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