Did you know that Crater Lake in Oregon is the deepest lake in the United States? Its sapphire waters are easy on the eyes, and the climbs in and around this caldera are steep enough to make even the most seasoned trail runner feel worked.
On a recent road trip through some iconic public lands, we scouted the area around Crater Lake National Park for the best trail runs. Here’s what we found.
There are several different places to pick up the Rim Trail. We parked our van at the Rim Village Visitor Center near Crater Lake Lodge and headed northwest (clockwise around the lake.) Contrary to what the name suggests, the Rim Trail doesn’t go all the way around the lake. It does, however, give you stunning views of the lake and Wizard Island.
You’ll definitely want to bring your camera along on this run; you’ll pass by Discovery Point, one of the most photo-worthy locations in the park. Watch your footing along this section, stick to the trail and stay back from the edge.
The PCT to Annie Spring
To run to Annie Spring, drop your car off in the parking lot for Union Peak and run north along the PCT for about a mile. As you wind along the gently rolling singletrack, keep your eyes peeled for the split that takes you to Annie Spring. (It’s labeled with a sign but we still recommend carrying a map and compass).
You’ll follow several steep switchbacks as you wind down the side of the mountain towards the spring. From there you can either run the road back to your vehicle or backtrack along the trail. To clock even more miles, continue along the PCT at the split until you’ve had enough.
The Watchman Trail is one of the most iconic trails within Crater Lake National Park. Though the observation station at the top was under construction when we visited a few weeks ago (and is currently boarded up for winter) the reward for our efforts (a 0.8 mile climb with some switchbacks) was an incredible view of Wizard Island. For current info on the observation station’s status, visit the park’s website ahead of your trip.
Take a moment to catch your breath (you’re at 8,013 feet!) and point your camera towards the indigo color of the water surrounding the island. If you want to tack on extra miles, look for signs pointing to the Rim Trail which can be accessed from the Watchman parking lot as well as about two-thirds of the way down the Watchman Trail.
Cleetwood Cove Trail
From the top of the trail, it’s a little more than a 1-mile descent to the bottom of the lake. It’s a short but steep trail and the only one in the park that takes you directly to the water’s edge. We recommend going early, before all of the day hikers (who have tickets to ride the boat) start making their way along the trail.
Though not a trail, Rim Drive is an epic 33-mile stretch of road to run. There are more than 30 pullouts for you to get a great view of the lake. If 33 miles doesn’t sound like it’ll slake your thirst for distance, take a detour to Plaikni Falls on the southeast corner of the lake or even continue on towards Pinnacles Overlook.
What to Know Before You Go
Be sure to check the park website for road and trail closures before you go. Though the park is open year-round, some roads and trails close once it snows (typically in late October/early November.)
Rim Drive doesn’t have much of a shoulder so be sure to run against traffic. Headphones are not advisable so that you can listen for cars.
There are bears in this area. Know what to do if you meet one on a trail.
Cell phone signals are spotty. Be sure to carry the proper navigational tools with you rather than relying on your phone.
Carry plenty of water with you. This park is located several thousand feet above sea level and many of the trails are strenuous. If you want to travel light, you can plan to fill up at Rim Village, Mazama Village and the Steel Visitor Center.
Stay out of the caldera and on the marked trails. Going off-trail can lead to falls which unfortunately can lead to life-threatening injuries and even death.
The trails are very dusty. Consider wearing something over your mouth and nose to keep the grit out.
Photos by Erin McGrady and Caroline Whatley of Authentic Asheville.
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