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Hike the Crater Lake Trail

Crater Lake

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Distance: 11.5 mile

Elevation Gain: 3,080 feet.

No not that Crater Lake. There are more lakes than just one named Crater Lake you know. And this one is pretty spectacular as well, if maybe not quite as big and deep. Located in the Eagle Cap Wilderness of the Wallowa Mountains, this Crater Lake covers about 16 acres along the divide between the Imnaha River and Eagle Creek. While originally a natural lake, formed by the scraping of ancient Ice Age glaciers, more recent actions have transformed it into a hybrid reservoir. A pipe located along the south shore now directs drainage down Kettle Creek and on to Eagle Creek for irrigation, rather than historic flows which headed down Cliff Creek to the East and on to the Imnaha. This can lead to low lake levels in the later summer months, but the jaw dropping scenery of the area still makes it a very noteworthy destination.

Begin your hike from the Little Kettle Creek Trailhead. The trail begins by heading slightly uphill and towards the north for about 0.6 miles until hitting the junction with the East Eagle Trail. Then, make a left to continue heading up Little Kettle Creek. And I hope you like climbing. You’re about to do a lot of it.

As you climb you will begin switchbacking straight up the mountainside. You have somewhere around 50 of them to do, so try and keep your spirits up. The views just keep getting better as you climb, provided you can see over the brush. This is also a popular spot for bears, and don’t be surprised to find lots of piles of bear crap along the trail as they wade through the brush eating berries.

You will get through the worst of the switchbacks about 2.7 miles from the trailhead. That doesn’t mean the climb eases up at all though, and you are still only about half way up. The trail continues working its way up the Little Kettle Creek Valley, along the slopes of Krag Peak. Another 2 miles of relentless climbing will lead you to the headwall of the valley. From here, it’s just a few more steep, rocky switchbacks and you will find yourself on the saddle between Krag Peak and Truax Mountain.

Once you reach the saddle, you will spot a nice pond through the trees on your right. That’s not Crater Lake, so keep heading on. Pass by the pond and head up another small slope and then, finally, you will see Crater Lake in front of you. If you are backpacking, there are several great places to camp along the lake. Just be sure to camp at least 100 feet from the lake’s shore. Seeing the sunset light up Red and Granite Mountains in the evening and waking up to that stunning, blue water is reason enough to haul your gear all the way up there.


From Baker City, take Highway 86 east for 23 miles until you reach Sparta Lane. Make a left onto the road and remain on it for 4.7 miles. You will then reach an intersection with East Eagle Creek Road heading to the left. Take that and proceed for another 3 miles until it joins with Forest Road 70. Stay on 70 for 2.8 miles until you reach a 4-way intersection. Head straight from here on road 7020 and putter along for another 4.6 miles until you pass over Eagle Creek. Here, the road will intersect with Forest Road 77. Make a left and drive for just 0.1 miles before bearing right on road 7745. If you cross over another bridge, you missed it. Stay on the 7745 road for 4.7 miles and look for the trailhaed on your right.

The Sparta Lane is a pretty good gravel road, and most of the roads are pretty decent, although they do transition to dirt. I wouldn’t want to bring your Honda Accord up here, but a Subaru or something would be fine.

Things to Know

Passes: A free, self-issue wilderness permit is required upon entering the wilderness.

Dogs: Allowed and must be on least or under voice command at all times.

Usage: Moderate

Open Season: The trailhead will likely be accessible in June, but snow could linger at higher elevations til mid-July through early August.

Flowers: Early August tends to be the best month for wildflowers.

Bugs Mosquitoes can bepretty bad until about mid August or so, then they seem to die down.

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