You don’t truly know what the color blue looks like until you’ve seen Crater Lake. It’s mind blowing, it’s breathtaking, and the section of the PCT leading up to it is as beautiful as the lake itself.
For us, Crater lake was the end of a 323 mile journey along the PCT. It was the perfect culmination to our entire experience, and backpacking into the park itself made the destination so much more memorable. There’s nothing like lugging all your gear multiple days and many miles in order to reach a remote and beautiful location.
Distance: 51 Miles
Time: 4 Days
Maps Used: Halfmile’s PCT Maps – Oregon Section C
Day 1: Fish Lake to CS1775
Miles: 4.4 Elevation +/- : +1334/-17 Camp Elevation: 6287 ft.
Leaving from the Fish lake lodge, it is about a 2 mile hike east to the trail. From here you head north and cross over the relatively busy Hwy. 140. Be sure to look both ways.
A few minutes after crossing the highway, you will cross over a large creek via a wooden bridge. From there, the rest of today’s hike is pretty much uphill. However, the trail is well graded and the uphills pass without too much struggle.
Around 4 miles in you will merge with the Mt. McLoughlin trail. Mt. McLoughlin is a 9,495 foot volcano that stretches high above the surrounding terrain. Mt. McLoughlin summit was our ultimate destination for the day and the reason we kept the mileage so short.
Shortly after the PCT merges with the Mt. McLaughlin trail, the latter splits off to the left (west) where it reaches the summit 3.9 miles later. Just ahead of this junction, about .1 miles, there is a large space where you can set up a base camp before heading for the summit. If you have the time, take a trip above the clouds – it is more than worth the climb.
Day 2: CS1775 to CS1791
Miles: 16 Elevation +/- : +1454/-1161 Camp Elevation: 6580 ft.
Your first reprieve from the infamous “Green Tunnel” comes around 4.5 miles into the day when you come up onto an open hill with great views of Four Mile Lake to the southeast. Enjoy these sporadic views as they come and go for the next 3/4 of a mile, because after that you head back into the depths of the Green Tunnel.
About 10 miles in you’ll start your first major climb of the day. Once reaching the top, you’ll have panoramic views to the east over Klamath lake. Once crossing over the ridge you begin to descend. About 1 miles before the campsite you’ll see a sign for a nice viewpoint looking out to the west.
Day 3: CS1791 to CS1811
Miles: 17 Elevation +/- : +2638/-2267 Camp Elevation: 6580 ft.
The day starts out traversing along the eastern slope heading towards Luther Mountain. After a mile you reach a saddle and junction for the Divide trail. The PCT heads turns left and heads north, while the divide trail continues along down Luther Mountains southern slope.
After leaving the trail junction, you begin to hike north along a high ridge for another couple miles, the entire time having expansive views to both the east and the west – quite the contrast from yesterday mornings start under thick tree cover.
After a steep climb to over 7,000 ft., you finally begin a switchbacking descent 4.5 miles later down the northern slope of Devils Peak. About half a mile later, you leave the rocky terrain behind and drop into lush forest and green meadows.
Enjoy the vegetation while you have the chance, because during the last 5 miles you enter into what could easily be mistaken as a wasteland. Wildfires have left burn scars nearly as far as the eye can see.
Day 4: CS1811 to Crater Lake
Miles: 14.3 Elevation +/- : +2191/-1563 Camp Elevation: N/A
The day begins with a gentle climb over more burned landscapes. After about 2 miles you reach the top of a burned ridge and begin to criss cross back and forth over it. A short half mile later, you begin the first major decent of the day.
5 miles in, you’ll officially enter Crater Lake National Park. Wahoo!
From here, it’s another 6 miles to highway 62, the main highway leading into Mazama Village. After crossing the highway, it’s a steep climb up to the Annie Springs Trail – the best way for hikers to access Mazama Village.
A mile past Annie Springs Trail, you’ll reach the junction for Dutton Creek Trail, which will lead you up to Crater Lake and Rim Village. Heading north along Dutton Creek Trail, its 2.3 miles and about 1,000 ft of elevation gain to Crater Lake, but at this point you’ll be so fueled by stoke that the miles fly by.
No words can describe the feeling you get as the tree cover breaks and the lake starts to come into view. It’s a magical ending to a long distance hike along the PCT and unlike anything I’ve ever felt. I’d urge you to pack your backs and head out to experience yourself.