In the remote southeast corner of Crater Lake National Park sits the Pinnacles Overlook and Pinnacles Trail. This little-known part of the park is not heavily trafficked and definitely not what jumps to mind when most people think of Crater Lake. However, the lack of people in the area only adds to the enjoyment for most.
The trail is less than a mile (round-trip) with only a small amount of elevation gain and leads to pumice spires that seem as if they are man-made for an amusement park attraction. For those not up to the short hike, the Pinnacles Overlook is accessed from the parking area, and you can catch a good glimpse of what you can see on the trail.
While this isn’t the first hike that we’d recommend you explore while visiting Crater Lake, it is definitely worth checking out if you have the time. If you are staying at the nearby Lost Creek Campground or wanting to couple this hike with the Plaikni Falls Trail, this trail is along the same road, making it a “no brainer” if you are already in the area.
PINNACLES TRAIL DETAILS
- Difficulty: Easy
- Distance: 0.8 miles (round-trip)
- Trail: Out-and-back
- Elevation gain: 3 feet
- Peak elevation reached: 5,509 feet
- Best time of year to hike: Early summer to fall
- To beat the crowds: Arrive before 11:00 am or after 3:00 pm
- Footwear: Sneakers
- Watch out for: Mosquitoes, sun exposure
- Restrooms: Located at the trailhead, but not on the trail
- Pets: Not allowed
- Time needed: 30 minutes
Crater Lake has a lot to see and do other than just viewing the lake from the rim. Before you arrive, download a copy of our Crater Lake National Park itinerary. We’ll make sure you bring the right items in your suitcase, let you know the best way to spend your time, give you details on hikes and also help you know what else to do while you are in the area.
PARKING AND TRAILHEAD FOR THE PINNACLES TRAIL
Map of the Pinnacles Trailhead parking area, courtesy of the National Park Service
The trailhead for the Pinnacles Trail is located at the end of Pinnacles Road. Pinnacles Road is a ~6 mile, dead-end spur off Rim Drive, which circumnavigates Crater Lake. Rim Drive is not open all year round, with the eastern part of the rim closed for most of the year due to snow. When we visited in mid-July, the road to the East Rim had only opened that very morning. Opening day for the Rim Drive can vary widely, pending snowfall and availability of snow removal resources, so be sure to check the Crater Lake Road Conditions prior to making any concrete plans!
The Pinnacles Road is narrow in spots and two-lanes the entire way, so be sure to drive with care as you head around bends in the road. Keep your eyes out for both oncoming traffic and wildlife.
- Directions from the Rim Village Visitor Center to the Pinnacles trailhead (this will take about an hour due to the slow speeds on the road, even though it is only about 17 miles)
The parking area for the Pinnacles Trail has room for about 30 cars. While not very big, the parking lot is rarely full, and turnover here is very fast. If you don’t see a spot, wait about a minute or so and one is likely to open up.
There are restrooms at the trailhead but none while actually out on the trail.
HOW THE PINNACLES WERE FORMED
In the parking lot at the Pinnacles Trail Overlook there is a sign explaining the formation of the Pinnacles, and it is worth a quick read.
Essentially, when the eruption happened (which was about 7,700 years ago), Mount Mazama created large flows of pumice, which traveled down Wheeler Creek. The water from below the surface was superheated, and eventually escaped to the surface through small vents.
As the water escaped, the heat created a “welding” phenomena, whereby the pumice surrounding these vents were solidified in place. Since then, the creek started to flow again and slowly washed away the surrounding softer rock, leaving only the hardened spires behind.
While these pinnacles may remind you of the hoodoos that you may have seen in Bryce Canyon National Park, they were formed in a very different manner. Yet, they are still strikingly beautiful to look at!
HIKING THE PINNACLES TRAIL
Pinnacles Trail map, courtesy of the National Park Service
After departing the parking lot, the Pinnacles quickly become visible. While you can’t see all the way down to Wheeler Creek from the edge of the dirt trail, you can see quite a far down into the Pinnacles area.
Along the trail you’ll be able to see Mount Scott in the distance. Mount Scott sticks out over 3,000 feet above the surroundings, and its peak sits at 8,934 feet.
The most intense pinnacles are in the first 0.2 miles of the trail. If you do hike the entire way (which is worth it if you have an extra 5 minutes or so), you will get to the park boundary.
As a bit of a warning, the bugs got pretty bad on this trail, particularly toward the end. Hence, the funny looks on our faces when Pete snapped this photo! We were able to apply bug spray and get rid of them. The mosquitoes in the park are pretty bad-the Caldera is actually a major breeding ground for the pest, with the eggs sinking to the bottom of the lake before hatching. By the time the larvae make it to the surface, they are hungry and ready to eat!
The trail is dirt the entire way, and only drops about 40 feet in elevation on the way out. Keep an eye on any children hiking with you, as the edge drops off sharply. While not nearly as far down as the Grand Canyon, our guess is that falling off the cliff here may yield the same fate if you are not careful!
WHAT ELSE TO DO IN THE AREA OF THE PINNACLES TRAIL
Along the Pinnacles Road is the Plaikni Falls Trail. This easy, 2-mile (round-trip) trail starts 1.1 miles down the Pinnacles Road. With only about 130 feet of elevation gain (with most of it during the last 0.2 miles of the way out), this trail passes through a nice forest on the way to Sand Creek before heading up to Plaikni Falls.
Plaikni Falls has a fall of about 20 feet, but includes cascades so it is quite beautiful. This trail is not generally too crowded, but it can be when the park is busy. The trail has great views of Crater Lake.
Plaikni Falls, courtesy of Mike
FURTHER INFORMATION ON CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK OR THE SURROUNDING AREA FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- Be sure to download a copy of our Crater Lake National Park Itinerary ahead of your trip! Cell phone service in the park is pretty much non-existent, and our guide will help you plan out your day!
- Another great “must-do” activity in Crater Lake is hiking into the caldera and taking the boat to Wizard Island for a day of adventure. To learn about this great day-trip, read our blog, Crater Lake National Park – Wizard Island. You should also check out the trail with a great view, the Watchman Peak Trail. Finally, be sure to review our blog on Camping in Crater Lake National Park if you are planning on staying in the park.
- We have a number of other blogs on Oregon, including information about What to See and Do in Ecola State Park and What to Do along the Oregon Coast.
- If you are big fan of National Parks, definitely check out our WPA Posters, including our Crater Lake National Park poster.
- When you get back from your trip make sure you send us a photo so we can make a custom, vintage-style travel poster for you!
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK
- If you are looking for a great blog on Crater Lake in general, we highly recommend checking out this article from Chris Toone: The Ultimate Guide to Crater Lake National Park.