Watchman Peak Trail

Watchman Peak Trail

Crater Lake National Park

Type: Out and back dayhike
Distance: 1.7 miles (2.7 km)
Cumulative Elevation Gain/Loss: 405 feet (123 m)
Date Visited: Sunday, July 30, 2017
Watchman Peak Trail Map (KTNP)

Visiting Crater Lake National Park in late July means dealing with snow. Yes, somewhat hard to believe, but it’s true. When we arrived in the park, some hikes were still closed due to snow. Luckily for us, a park ranger we met on our lake tour mentioned that Watchman Peak had opened two days ago! So that’s where we headed that afternoon.

Watchman Peak Trail is a 1.7 mile out and back hike with views of Crater lake, including the best spot to see Wizard Island. At the top is one of two fire lookout towers in the park – the other being on Mount Scott. We’d read that the top had great sunset views, so we timed our arrival to coincide. Like many features, Watchman Peak was named by William Gladstone Steel, an early supporter and promoter of the park.

Through Fire and Snow

Along West Rim Drive, we encountered construction that slowed us down. The main parking lot for the area was closed due to construction, but there were some spots along the shoulder. Those spots had been parked up earlier that day, but there were plenty available when we showed up around 6:30 p.m.

We stopped at an overlook, which has access from both Rim Drive and Rim Trail. There were also a few outhouses. After taking in a view of Crater Lake, we headed south on Rim Trail. Looking off in the distance, we saw smoke rising from a wildfire, and the whole area had a smoky orange tinge.

Crater Lake: Watchman Peak Parking During Construction
Construction at the parking lot
Crater Lake: View of Wildfire From Watchman Peak Parking Lot
Wildfire as seen from the parking lot
Crater Lake: Watchman Peak
It’s only 0.8 miles to the lookout tower at the top of Watchman Peak

As we approached the start of the trail, we could see Watchman Observation Station, the fire tower at the top. On the trail in front of us was an unexpected obstacle – snow. Honestly, we should have expected it since the trail had just opened for the season. Cut through the snow was a narrow path. It was fun to walk through the snow, and we were glad to have our trekking poles.

We came to the intersection of Rim Trail and Watchman Lookout Trail, and headed left for Watchman Peak. After the snow came a series of switchbacks. We gradually ascended with alternating views of the mountains and Crater Lake. The climb was reminiscent of Mount Scott due to its trees, wildflowers, sandy trail, and switchbacks.

Crater Lake: Watchman Peak Lookout From Below
Our first glimpse of the lookout above
Crater Lake: Snow on Watchman Peak Trail
Park employees cut a path through the snow, allowing the trail to open
Crater Lake: Kristin Going Through the Snow on Watchman Peak Trail
Surrounded by snow – in July
Crater Lake: Intersection With Rim Trail and Watchman Peak Trail
The intersection of Rim and Watchman Peak Trails
Crater Lake: View From Watchman Peak Trail
Watchman Peak Trail provides many views of the surrounding mountains, and a few glimpses of Crater Lake
Crater Lake: Switchback on Watchman Peak Trail
A switchback on the trail

The Peak of Watchman

At the top of Watchman Peak, we met some firefighters. They pointed out another fire in the distance, and told us there were several currently burning in the area. The observation station was constructed between 1930 and 1933, and was originally intended as part educational center. Today, it functions primarily as a fire lookout, with a few informational signs on a viewing platform.

The firefighters descended, and we were again alone. We read the signs, took photos, and realized that the sunset views were over the mountains, not the lake. For some reason we had expected them to be over the lake, but that was probably wishful thinking.

Crater Lake: Watchman Peak Lookout
We arrived at the lookout!
Crater Lake: Original Watchman Fire Tower, built in 1917
The original fire lookout, which was built in 1917. It was replaced with the current one in 1933 (
Crater Lake: Informational Signs at Top of Watchman Peak
Signs at the top of Watchman Peak that tell visitors about the area
Crater Lake: View From Watchman Peak
Crater Lake from the top
Crater Lake: Watchman Peak Lookout
Access to the lookout is restricted to park employees
Crater Lake: View of Wildfire from Watchman Peak
The same wildfire we saw earlier, this time from on top of Watchman Peak. Must be why they put a lookout here!

It was time for dinner, so we ate – and enjoyed the impressive 270 degree views – while we waited for the sunset. A few other hikers joined us. The sky was hazy due to wildfires, and we wondered whether the sunset would be more impressive because of the smoke. For the first time, we could see inside the crater on top of Wizard Island.

It was a colorful sunset, and we stayed up there for 45 minutes before heading back down. Gnats were biting us a lot, which hindered our enjoyment, but I’m glad we went up later in the day. I bet it would also be a great place to see the sunrise! As we descended, the mountain glowed red as the sun continued to set, which made for a nice ending to the hike.

Crater Lake: Waiting For Sunset on Watchman Peak
Kristin waiting for the sunset, with the lake in the background
Crater Lake: Wizard Island From Watchman Peak
The best views of Wizard Island were from Watchman Peak
Crater Lake: Descending Watchman Peak
Time to head down
Crater Lake: Spreading Phlox on Watchman Peak Trail
A beautiful wildflower called Spreading Phlox (Phlox diffusa) along the trail
Crater Lake: Travis Standing on Snow
Travis enjoying the snow
Crater Lake: Kristin Descending Through Snow on Watchman Peak
Alpenglow reflected on the snow
Crater Lake: Wildfire and Sunset on Watchman Peak
Wildfire at sunset

Watchman Peak Trail

Watchman Peak Trail Map (1:7,000)

Dates: Sunday, July 30, 2017
Out and back dayhike
Total Distance:
1.7 miles (2.7 km) round trip
Cumulative Elevation Gain/Loss:
405 feet (123 m)
Time: 1.5 hours hiking, not including the time we spent on top of Watchman Peak
Trail Markings: None
Difficulty: Easy
Crowds: Only a few groups late in the afternoon
Water: Views of Crater Lake
Highlights: Views, history, wildflowers
Directions to Watchman Overlook Trailhead: Google Maps Directions

Trail Directions

  • Mile 0.0 – From Watchman Overlook parking lot, head south on Rim Trail.
  • 0.3 – Turn left onto Watchman Peak Trail.
  • 0.85 – Arrive at Watchman Peak Lookout. There are educational signs and a viewing platform next to the lookout. When ready, head back down on Watchman Peak Trail.
  • 1.4 – Turn right onto Rim Trail
  • 1.7 – Arrived back at the parking lot.




Elevation Graph

Interactive Map

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