Back in January when we set our 2018 hiking goals, one of the plans we had this year was to attend a ranger-led hike. We don’t spend much time hiking in groups and we don’t often have the time to fully research a trail before we get to a park. In our experience, ranger-led hikes offer a good mix of both. New faces on the trail and a chance to learn more about the park we’re visiting.
When researching hikes in Crater Lake National Park, one of the first hits we found was The Watchman Peak Trail. Located just off the West Rim Drive the hike is a short (1.6 mile) out-and-back hike that offers some of the best views in the park. Given the western vantage point, it also offers terrific sunset views. The evening hike happens to be one of the signature ranger-led hikes in Crater Lake National Park.
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About The Watchman Peak Trail
You can find the trailhead for Watchman Peak at the Watchman Overlook, off West Rim Drive (about 4 miles northwest of Rim Village.) The trail leaves from the Southern end of the parking area and is well-marked. The first 1/2 of the trail slopes gradually up on the old road grade of Crater Rim Drive. Completely exposed, this part of the trail shows good examples of the pumice left when Mount Mazama collapsed and Crater Lake was formed.
At the first switch back, we could see the Watchman Tower, our destination. Built in 1932, the tower provides rangers with a 360º view of the area during fire season. We were told that rangers used Watchman Tower to spot some of the 2018 summer fires. After the trail leaves the old road, it switchbacks the rest of the way up to the tower. The trail gains a total of 384 feet over the remaining 1/2 mile.
It’s not terribly strenuous, but we should have considered that the elevation is over 8,000 feet in the area. We both had altitude headaches halfway up given we’d come from the Portland area that morning.
About the Evening Program
The ranger-led hike on The Watchman Peak Trail departs about an hour before sunset from the parking area. The times change all summer, but we found them easily posted at the campground entrance and ranger stations. We also found the times posted on the NPS website. The guided hike stops on several of the switchbacks (Was a good thing — we were huffing in the elevation!) to talk about some of the plants and animals that live in the park.
When we were there the tower area at the top of The Watchman Peak Trail was closed for some end-of-season construction. The 360º views that we did get though, were stunning. It was without a doubt one of our best views of Crater Lake. Then to the west, we were treated to a gorgeous (albeit smoky) sunset.
At sunset, we hiked back down to the car. There was no need for flashlights given the descent only takes about 15 minutes.
Here are some of our favorite photos from The Watchman Peak Trail: