11 Best Hikes in Crater Lake National Park Oregon

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No, those aren’t fake photos — the water really looks that blue. You can see down, down, down into that clear, cerulean color which averages 102 feet deep. Crater Lake in Oregon is the deepest lake in the United States and one of the top ten deepest lakes in the world.

It. Is. Beautiful. You’ll never forget the water color, and your kids won’t, either. 

However, if your kids think they’ll march down from the rim lickety-split and jump right in, it’s worth a conversation ahead of time. You are high up on Crater Lake’s 33-mile Rim Drive, and there’s only one way to get down to the lake’s shoreline. 

You guessed it — you can only get down by hiking. It’s not an easy hike, either. But no worries, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy the gorgeous lake and surrounding landscape.

Let’s take a look at the best hikes in Crater Lake National Park based on the challenge level of each hike.

entrance sign Crater National Park, OregonPin

11 Best Hikes in Crater Lake National Park

I went to Crater Lake on a girls’ trip with my mom and sister. While my mom’s in her sixties and in really good shape (she plays pickleball all week long), she was reluctant to hike down to the lake after reading lots of literature that you had to be in really good shape to do it. We stuck to the trails around the top of the lake, even though I longed to go down

author with mom and sister at the Crater Lake rim in OregonPin
me, my mom and sister on one of our wonderful hikes in Crater Lake NP

Oh, well. Next time. (I still tell her she could have easily made it down.)

To make it easier to decide which trails make the most sense for your family, we’ve categorized them by “easy,” “moderate” and “difficult.”

stunning Crater Lake at sunset (Oregon)Pin

Best Easy Hikes in Crater Lake National Park

Easy hikes generally don’t gain too much elevation — typically less than 500 feet per mile and they usually aren’t lengthy. While there might be some smaller steep sections, you can generally expect that it won’t be too taxing. In other words, they’re usually short with a low elevation gain.

Here’s the crème de la crème of the easy trails in Crater Lake National Park. 

1. The Pinnacles

  • Length: 0.8 miles
  • How to get there: You can access the trailhead on Pinnacles Road from East Rim Drive near the Phantom Ship Overlook. 

With a name like the Pinnacles, how can you resist checking it out? This easy trail through the forest conjures images of volcanic spires and hot ash filling a deep valley. 

Guess what? You do see volcanic spires as a result of Mount Mazama’s eruption 7,700 years ago, which collapsed the volcano and exposed an enormous caldera. This hike can help you imagine the most explosive eruption on Earth this side of the past 10,000 years. Believe it or not, if the volcano hadn’t erupted, it would be taller than Mt. Hood. 

If you have kids curious about the eruption thousands of years ago, this short hike is your ticket to the pinnacles overlook.

pinnacles at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon - fossilized fumerolsPin
These “pinnacles” seen along the Pinnacles trail are actually fossilized fumeroles, or vents through which volcanic, sulferous gases once escaped

2. Castle Crest Wildflower Trail

  • Length: 0.5 miles
  • How to get there: You can access the trailhead on East Rim Drive, 0.25 mile east of park headquarters. 

If you’re a wildflower enthusiast, you’ll see wildflowers like fireweed and western boneset in this meadow in July. You’re undoubtedly at the top of the rim at 6,300 feet in elevation but 2,000 feet below Castle Crest Ridge. It may be a little soupy on the trail because a stream runs through.

woman hiking along the Castle Crest Wildflower Trail, Crater Lake National Park, OregonPin
Castle Crest Wildflower Trail at Crater Lake National Park | Oregon State Archives, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

3. Godfrey Glen Trail

  • Length: 1 mile
  • How to get there: You can access the trailhead 2.25 miles south of the park headquarters from the Munson Valley Road turnout on the south side of the road.

The Godfrey Glen Trail offers views of the Munson Creek canyon and a forest of hemlocks and shasta red firs. You can also see more fossil fumaroles and walk along Munson Creek.

Even though it’s a dirt path, it’s wheelchair accessible, so all family members can access the trail.  

Godfrey Glen Trail circled on NPS park map of Crater Lake National Park in OregonPin
Godfrey Glen trail location highlighted on the map; it is not far from the Mazama Village area of the park

4. Plaikni Falls Trail

  • Length: 2 miles
  • How to get there: You can access the trailhead on Pinnacles Road from East Rim Drive near the Phantom Ship Overlook. 

One of the benefits of going on a hike: Seeing beautiful scenery at the end. A relatively new trail, the Plaikni Falls Trail has quickly become one of the most popular options for hikers.

“Plaikni” means “from the high country” from the Klamath Native Americans. The falls give you a gorgeous view of a falls which blast over a glacier-carved cliff 7,000 feet above. You’ll also see the results of spray along the edge of the falls: gorgeous wildflowers.

Kids can scurry around in spaces below the waterfall, but watch out for the tiny things growing underfoot!

Plaikni Falls Crater Lake National Park, OregonPin
Plaikni Falls

Best Moderate Hikes in Crater Lake National Park

Moderate hikes offer more of a challenge for those willing to get their feet wet a bit — not literally. Don’t be afraid to take your seven-to-ten-year-olds on these trails, as long as you think they’re ready. 

5. Watchman Peak Trail

  • Length: 1.6 miles
  • How to get there: You can access the trailhead at Watchman overlook, 3.8 miles northwest of Rim Village on West Rim Drive. 

When we hiked the Watchman Peak Trail, it was one of our best hikes, offering panoramic views of Crater Lake. We went around lunchtime, because I can remember eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich after the hike. (It’s funny what you remember, isn’t it?)

Anyway, the trail climbs a relatively easy 400 feet, meaning that kids can easily handle both the length and incline. 

view of the Watchman Trail heading up the mountain, Crater Lake National Park, OregonPin
Watchman Peak Trail | Markgorzynski, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When you arrive at the lookout, your jaw will drop. You’ll see that stunning blue water, a great view of Wizard Island. You’ll also see the boat moving back and forth from Wizard Island to the Cleetwood Cove Trail.

We had a conversation with each other about how they get those boats on Crater Lake, and sure enough, I looked it up when we got home. Helicopters have to move them because the entire lake is like a giant bowl.

watchman lookout crater lake national park, oregonPin
Watchman Lookout

6. Annie Creek Canyon Trail

  • Length: 1.7 miles
  • How to get there: From the campground, head to the back of the amphitheater located between loops D and E to access the trailhead.

Annie Creek Canyon Trail doesn’t have a view of the lake, but the canyon views are worth taking in as well. This loop trail contains moderate switchbacks and runs behind the campground in a stream-cut canyon. You can even see the volcanic activity rock formations.

Annie Creek Canyon Trail, Crater Lake National Park, OregonPin
Annie Creek Canyon

7. Boundary Springs Trail

  • Length: 5 miles
  • How to get there: You can access the trailhead outside the park on Hwy 230 at a pullout near milepost 19.

Okay, this one comes with a caveat: Don’t go without a guide on the Boundary Springs Trail because it isn’t well-marked.

You do experience an abundance of wonderful — streams, forests, wildflowers — you know, everything you go to a national park to experience. All those good things end when you find Boundary Springs cascading from a ridge. Beautiful!

NPS map of Crater Lake National Park, Oregon with the Boundary Springs trail location highlightedPin
location of Boundary Springs trail

8. Garfield Peak Trail

  • Length: 3.5 miles
  • How to get there: You can access the trailhead at the east end of Rim Village behind Crater Lake Lodge.

We filed this trail under “moderate” difficulty because it’s 3.5 miles — it’s not a short trail, especially with young kids. However, this is a great, steady one for older kids because the views are spectacular (read: there are also some steep drop-offs, so if that’s a deal-breaker in your family, you may want to forgo this opportunity)!

In the winter, expect to encounter snowshoers and cross-country skiers enjoying the views.

best hikes in Crater Lake National Park: 
 hikers on the Garfield Peak trail, Crater Lake NP, OregonPin
hikers on the Garfield Peak trail – looks potentially scary to this mama, but that could just be me | Markgorzynski, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Best Difficult Hikes in Crater Lake National Park

Here’s where you need to consider the health of your family members to ensure they’re ready for a difficult hike. There’s only one way to get to the lake, and that’s through the most difficult hike at Crater Lake.

9. Cleetwood Cove Trail 

  • Length: 2.2 miles
  • How to get there: You can access the trailhead 11 miles from Rim Village. 

If you’re looking for a difficult hike, Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200. Go straight to the Cleetwood Cove Trail. It is the only one that takes you down to the lake, and the only one that you can legally (and safely) take to hike down to the lake.  

best hikes in Crater Lake NP: Cleetwood Cove trailPin
view from the Cleetwood Cove trail down to Crater Lake where one of the tour boats can be seen pulling into dock

The hike descends 700 feet down almost vertical switchbacks to the boat dock. 

You can swim here, and kids will be so thrilled to do that, so don’t forget your swimsuits! After a hot hike, jumping into the cold water will feel so good.

best hikes in Crater Lake National Park: woman jumping into Crater Lake at the end of the Cleetwood Cove trailPin

You can also take a boat tour to Wizard Island, the charming island in the middle of the lake, run by park rangers.  

Regardless, it’s important to consider your fitness level (and age of your kids) before you choose this hike at Crater Lake National Park. The hike back up may catch you unawares. And don’t forget to take water!

It is by far the best trail at Crater Lake (and the one I was sad to miss out on).

sunrise over Wizard Island in Crater LakePin
sunrise over Wizard Island in Crater Lake

10. Mt. Scott Trail

  • Length: 4.4 miles
  • How to get there: You can access the trailhead on East Rim Drive, 14 miles east of park headquarters.

The Mt. Scott Trail allows you to be King of the Mountain — you get to the park’s highest point up a steep climb.

trailhead sign for Mt. Scott trail, Crater Lake NPPin
trailhead sign for Mt. Scott | Mark Gorzynski, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

It’ll take you a hefty 90 minutes to get up and 60 minutes to get back down. The views from the top are unmatched, with views of the lake, Klamath Basin and the ancient whitebark pines unique to the park.

climb to Mt. Scott, highest point in Crater Lake National Park, OregonPin
Mark Gorzynski, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You can’t beat this spectacular view!

nearing the top of the Mt. Scott trail, Crater Lake NPPin
nearing the top of Mt. Scott | Mark Gorzynski, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

11. Pacific Crest Trail

  • Length: 33 miles
  • How to get there: From the south, the trail ascends to the Dutton Creek Trail to the rim and follows the edge of the caldera. Check online or with the Pacific Coast Trail Association.

Imagine hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada through the Cascades and the Sierra Nevadas. Most people don’t have the luxury of through-hiking such a long, intense trail. 

And with kids? Fuggetaboutit. 

However, did you know that 33 miles pass through Crater Lake National Park? They do, and you can view the mountains hiking a portion of the trail. 

best hikes in Crater Lake National Park: Pacific Crest trail (showing trail marker)Pin
Pacific Crest trail marker

Tips for Hiking Crater Lake National Park

The best hikes traverse many scapes, including old-growth forest, views of the lake, and interesting geological phenomenon unique to this volcanic landscape. Here are some things to consider before choosing the best hikes in Crater Lake National Park for you and your family…

Consider the Time of the Year

Crater Lake’s 33-mile scenic Rim Drive, the highest paved road in Oregon, isn’t open year-round. The full loop usually is open from late June to mid-October, depending on snowmelt.

Picking a great hike with the best views requires you to pay close attention to this timeline. However, the winter months also offer benefits, too. You can see things you won’t see in early July. Hiking trails turn to gorgeous powder that your kids will enjoy snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.

view down to Crater Lake from the rimPin

Understand Your Family’s Readiness

You can appreciate the whole of Crater Lake from Rim Drive. Truth be told, you don’t have to leave the parking lot. But if you want to get nose-to-water, you’re facing a steep climb out on the Cleetwood Cove Trail. It’s the only way to touch the beautiful blue water and take boat tours.

author with mom and sister at the Crater Lake rim in OregonPin
You’ll want the trails you select to be doable for everyone in your family. Here’s me, my sis and mom again during our trip.

Bring Water

It’s notoriously dry in Crater Lake National Park, and my body felt it when I went. I guzzled water the whole time, even on the short hikes. The elevation change made a difference, that’s for sure. Pack as much water as you can and drink it, particularly if you visit Crater Lake National Park in July, like we did.

Talk to a Park Ranger

The park rangers are a gift to the national park service. Whether you’re looking for panoramic views of Crater Lake or a short trail, they will help direct you to the right type of hike for your family.

They can help you tailor your hike choices based on your energetic eight-year-old or wheelchair-bound mother-in-law — whomever you choose to take with you to enjoy your vacation. Don’t forget to attend a ranger talk around a campfire at night! It’s a trip highlight.

Crater Lake NP visitor center and lodge in backgroundPin
Crater Lake NP rim visitor center and lodge in the background | Jrozwado, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Choose the Right Hikes at Crater Lake National Park

My mom, sister and I enjoyed every minute of our time at Crater Lake. We even had reservations for dinner at Crater Lake Lodge but canceled them because we were having too much fun enjoying our time outside in Oregon. 

Consider the easy and moderate hikes before you tackle the difficult hikes, especially if you’re unsure that you’re ready for the difficult hikes!

This is a manageable national park, meaning that you can tackle some great hikes over the course of just one or two days. In fact, some people complain that there’s “not enough to do” at Crater Lake, but I disagree. It’s like a playground for outdoor lovers. Enjoy!

view of Crater Lake from the rimPin
picture I took on my family trip with my mom and sister to Crater Lake NP

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Crater Lake National Park: 11 Best Hikes for Every Skill Level  with grid showing some of the top hikes in this Oregon parkPin
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About Melissa Brock

Melissa Brock is a writer, editor and the owner of the website College Money Tips. She loves to strap on her hiking boots and strike out on a trail. Her favorite trail (so far!) is the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park. Her love of travel has led her to explore the following national parks with her family: Rocky Mountain, the Everglades, Yellowstone, Voyageurs, Glacier, Great Smoky Mountains, Crater Lake, Badlands, Arches, Grand Teton. (She's not done yet!)

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