Like any good state or national park, Crater Lake National Park has a myriad of hiking options, from the easy to the challenging. During the course of our three-night stay, we did almost every hike that was open (sadly, much of the park was off-limits due to fires). Here were the easy hikes, perfect for those of all ages and most abilities. None of these offered lake views, but were all still gorgeous in their own unique ways.
A week’s worth of entry to the park is covered by a one-time fee of $15 for a vehicle (or use your America the Beautiful interagency pass). As it is a National Park there are no dogs allowed on the trails. I realized on the loop hikes we went counter-clockwise every time without planning to, but am sure either direction works on the loops.
Located close to the Mazama campground is the Godfrey Glen hike. After setting up camp, we still had a few hours of daylight left, so went to explore the park. This flat hike is typically wheelchair accessible (with the right wheels), but a bridge was being replaced while we were there, so it was not 100%–so double check before leaving. This one-mile loop wanders through a thick group of trees (according to our guidebook, mostly Shasta red firs and mountain hemlocks) before delivering you to the edge of a box canyon. Heed the warnings and guardrails here–the volcanic ash from thousands of years ago has left the soil less-than-stable here and erosion is visible across the canyon. We could hear rushing water, but not quite see it–I’m sure in the spring the water is running a bit more vigorously, so there might be a peek-a-boo waterfall view here.
LADY OF THE WOODS
Next, we went to the main visitor center (I got my NPS Passport cancellation here–normally I think they also have a PCT one as well but I did not see it–maybe because the PCT through the park was closed due to fires?). Just to the left of the wooden lodge was a sign directing us to the Lady of the Woods hike. This might be the shortest hike in the park (0.5 miles), but is still worth seeing, especially if you are already at the visitor center. Many of these hikes have pamphlets guiding you through–they ask for a $0.75 donation, so bring quarters (or return them at the end of your hike). While the title draw of the hike, a woman carved into a boulder back in 1917 (pre-LNT?) is interesting, I loved seeing scattered throughout the loop all of the old buildings used for various park functions–some as old as 1926!
If you want some extra mileage, leave your car at the visitor center and cross the street. It’s an additional 0.3 miles each way through a path here to get to the Castle Crest trailhead. We started to notice more wildflowers, but it was nothing compared to the actual Castle Crest trail. The trail was another short (0.4 mile) loop, but with thunder rolling in overhead we were okay with that. On a Tuesday, this hike had limited visitors, but on subsequent days I saw a full trailhead lot, so plan accordingly. Again, there is a booklet for a suggested donation to guide you through the trail. For the mileage, I don’t know if you can find a more stunning wildflowers-per-mile trail in the US. I still lack a green thumb, but my Crater Lake guidebook informs me we saw monkeyflowers, shooting stars, and skyrockets.
This ended up being one of our favorites in the whole park–and it was right in our campground! Like Godfrey Glen, some construction due to bridges being replaced, so it might not be open at this time. Like Castle Crest, there were stunning wildflowers, but there was also the Annie Creek rolling along right next to us keeping us cool, and some lush, green meadows (but no deer, to my disappointment). Named for Annie Gaines, the first white woman to touch Crater Lake, this 2.2-mile loop is the most challenging of the ‘easy’ hikes–a fairly steep downhill from the campground means you must climb switchbacks to return. Here, you are facing Godfrey Glen’s clay-colored cliffs and it’s a daunting perspective to see just how much erosion has occurred here.
The last of the easy hikes, we did this one on a whim when driving back from a more challenging hike (post on those here). About a mile out and a mile back, this hike is not entirely level for the duration, but still mostly wheelchair accessible. After a fairly flat jaunt through the forest, you curve around a hill and are greeted by Plaikni Falls. A bit of an uphill and you can get close enough to feel the mist (but please stay on the trail and do not attempt to cross the creek to get closer). More wildflowers here, but we were much more enthralled by the 20-foot falls.
Overall, we had a blast exploring the trails of Crater Lake, both easy and challenging. While the lake is the big draw of the park, there is so much more to offer in the park besides a stop at a viewpoint to see the lake. I was never in a million years expecting so many gorgeous wildflowers! What easy hikes would you choose inside Crater Lake National Park?