Distance: 5.4 miles (8.7 km)
Cumulative Elevation Gain/Loss: 883 feet (269 m)
Date Visited: Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Boundary Springs Trail Map (KTNP)
The average July rainfall in Crater Lake National Park is around one inch, the lowest of the year. So, it was just our luck that it was raining on our first few days in the park. We wanted to go backpacking in the northwestern section of the park (on Bald Crater Loop), but the rain and threat of thunderstorms put a stop to that. Instead, we decided on a 5.4 mile out-and-back dayhike to Boundary Springs.
Boundary Springs Trail is not a heavily used or well-known trail. The best way to access it is from the northern edge of the park in Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. The trail leads to the headwaters of the 215-mile Rogue River, which starts in Crater Lake NP, Oregon. The source of the spring is snowmelt, not Crater Lake itself. The trail was a delight and one of the (pleasant) surprises of our trip. But it’s not well marked or widely publicized. A ranger we met later in the trip said she had hiked the trail recently, but hadn’t found the spring.
To Mount Mazama Viewpoint
Driving north from Mazama Campground on West Rim Drive, we were stopped by construction for 30 minutes. After we made it past the delay, we stopped at a few overlooks to photograph Crater Lake with Wizard Island. The overcast sky reflecting on the surface of the lake was stunning.
Passing the North Junction, we continued on North Entrance Road and stopped to check out the Pumice Desert. Only a few trees and wildflowers dot the barren landscape as Mt. Theilson looms in the distance. The soil felt squishy and strange with each step. We examined some rocks that had holes and were lighter than an average rock, but not as light as we imagined. Continuing, we left the park boundaries and turned left onto highway 230.
Along highway 230, in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, we found trailhead for Mount Mazama Viewpoint. Just off the road is a decent-sized parking lot and a pit toilet. We stopped to read a sign there that explained how the caldera, and later Crater Lake itself, formed after the eruption of Mount Mazama.
Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest
We tried to read the peeling trailhead sign while mosquitoes attacked us just feet from our car. We reserve insect repellent for those “absolutely necessary” situations, and within 10 minutes of starting the hike we applied some. Upper Rogue River Trail (1034) descends through a forest that had a fire in 2015. Many burned trees remained, and new seedlings had sprouted. Pumice was scattered on the forest floor, and we stopped to pick a few up to see how heavy they were.
After half a mile, the trail comes to a fork with a small wooden sign nailed to a tree. To the right, Upper Rogue River Trail continues. We headed left on Boundary Springs Trail (1057). The trails here are not well signed, so a quality map is a must. The trail continued down a hill and the Rogue River flowed on our right. Beautiful wildflowers grew on both sides of the trail.
At the bottom of the hill was a stream crossing. Kristin was a bit hesitant, but made it without any issue. As we ascended the trail we were rewarded with views of the Rogue River. We would follow the river upstream the rest of the way to Boundary Springs.
Fifteen minutes after the stream crossing, we reached a road. We were uncertain where to go, so we checked our Nat Geo map. The map showed that the trail should be to the right, across the road. So we turned right and crossed the Rogue River which flows underneath the road. On our left, we found the trail, next to another badly peeling sign which read “Rogue River.” Metal or carved wooden signs would be more functional than these.
Crater Lake National Park
We continued up the trail, which became rolling and narrow. A few sections of the trail had steep dropoffs. We saw other hikers for the first time, near a small stream crossing. One mile after crossing the road, we crossed into Crater Lake National Park.
The trail got lower and closer to the river, as the river widened. We noticed yellow flowers growing all over dead logs in the stream.
The trail descended, providing beautiful views of the widening river. We began to notice yellow flowers growing all over dead logs that floated in the water. Looking it up later, we learned that they were yellow monkeyflowers. We were here at the right time of year! Other wildflowers, like fireweed and bleeding heart, grew nearby.
As we progressed, we passed burnt areas from a recent fire, which dramatically changed the landscape. The Rogue River continued to widen, and flow more rapidly. Upstream we saw multiple waterfalls, which were partially obscured by trees.
The trail got muddy as we came upon a marshy meadow. I always celebrate discovering any marshy area since it means there’s a chance to see some unique wildflowers. And sure enough, there were bog orchids and clintonia wildflowers growing alongside the trail. We stopped, and I took way too many photos.
The river seemed to fork at this point, and the trail followed a smaller stream. Eventually, the small stream seemed to dry up and disappear. We wondered if the waterfall we had seen earlier was Boundary Springs, and were unsure of where to go.
Continuing, we came to a curious log embedded in the ground. The log was polished, like it was meant for something, but there was no sign on it. A narrow dirt trail ran to the left, while the trail we were on continued straight. We decided to check out the side trail, and we found part of the river that had split earlier.
The side trail wasn’t well defined, but we continued on. After about five minutes on the side trail, we found what we were looking for – Boundary Springs. We could see the start of the Rogue River pouring out of the earth.
We carefully made our way directly behind the spring. It made for a gorgeous view of the river, dotted with yellow wildflowers. We relaxed for a bit and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the spring. It’s very powerful to think about the beginnings of a huge river coming from this humble spot.
We headed back the way we came, and the mosquitoes began attacking us again. As we started north toward the parking lot, thick gray clouds appeared in front of us, and blue sky behind us. The skies started sprinkling, but it didn’t storm. Maybe we could have done that backpacking trip after all.
This was one of our favorite hikes in Crater Lake. It’s unique, and there are fewer visitors than most trails we hiked during our trip. It’s off the beaten path, but that only adds to the experience. Just be sure you have a map, since it isn’t well marked.
Boundary Springs Trail
Dates: Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Type: Out and Back Dayhike
Total Distance: 5.4 miles (8.7 km) round trip
Cumulative Elevation Gain/Loss: 883 feet (269 m)
Time: 3.5 hours which includes photo breaks
Trail Markings: A few peeling trail signs
Crowds: A few groups, otherwise had it to ourselves
Water: Rivers and streams along the trail
Highlights: Boundary Springs, wildflowers, marshy area, burnt areas, waterfalls
Note: You could also hike to Boundary Springs from the south, but it would take longer.
Directions to Mazama Viewpoint Trailhead: Google Maps Directions
- Mile 0.0 – From Mazama Viewpoint, take the Upper Rogue River Trail (1034). This trail starts inside Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.
- 0.6 – At a poorly defined intersection, turn left onto Boundary Springs Trail (1057).
- 1.0 – You’ll come to a dirt road, Old Diamond Lake Road. There will be a stream to your right, perpendicular to the road and flowing under it. Go right onto the road for about 100 feet, and you’ll see the trail continue on your left.
- 1.6 – A sign indicates that you’ve entered Crater Lake National Park.
- 2.5 – An intersection with the trail that leads to Boundary Springs. There’s no trail sign as of 2017, just a polished wooden pole in the ground marking the intersection. Take a left here.
- 2.7 – You’ve arrived at Boundary Springs! Enjoy the peace, quiet, and beautiful scenery, then return the way you came.
- 5.4 – Back at the parking lot.
- Mazama Viewpoint Trailhead | 43.0906366, -122.2239233
- Pumice Desert Overlook | 43.027926, -122.119328