Plaikni Falls & Pinnacles Trails

Plaikni Falls & Pinnacles Trails

Crater Lake National Park

Pinnacles Road runs through the southeast part of Crater Lake National Park. This road was once the eastern entrance to the park, but has fallen into disuse. Along the road are a couple of must-see attractions: Plaikni Falls and the Pinnacles. Plaikni Falls Trail, a 2.0 mile hike dotted with wildflowers, ends at a waterfall. Pinnacles Trail is a unique 0.8 mile hike that features pumice spires, remnants from the area’s volcanic past.

We had just finished hiking Mount Scott, also in the southeast section of the park. It was an easy drive to Pinnacles Road, which intersects with East Rim Drive at Phantom Ship Overlook. Plaikni Falls was our next destination, 1.1 miles down Pinnacles Road.

Crater Lake: Phantom Ship Overlook
Crater Lake from Phantom Ship Overlook – do you see the ship? Later we got a closer look on a boat tour.

Plaikni Falls Trail

Type: Out and Back Dayhike
Distance: 2.0 miles (3.2 km) round trip
Time: 45 minutes, including wait time to view the falls up close
Date Visited: Saturday, July 29, 2017

The trail to Plaikni Falls is an easy 2-mile out and back hike. The trail, constructed in 2011, is mostly wheelchair accessible. The exception is the short section at the end which allows visitors to walk closer to the falls. The name “Plaikni” comes from a Klamath Native American word that means “from the high country.”

Rocks line the manicured path, and distinctive benches are placed periodically along the trail. Meandering through a forest, the trail passes a large rocky outcropping on the left. Red, yellow, and purple wildflowers were scattered along the trail. I was surprised by the plant diversity given how short the trail is. There were columbines, monkey flowers, orchids, bleeding hearts, and more!

Crater Lake: Plaikni Falls Trailhead
Plaikni Falls Trailhead
Crater Lake: Plaikni Falls Trail Bench
A cozy place to rest, in case you get tired from the flat and well-manicured trail
Crater Lake: Rocky Outcropping Along Plaikni Falls Trail
Rocky outcropping along the trail
Pacific coralroot (Corallorhiza mertensiana), a type of orchid with small pinkish-purple flowers. Rather than by photosynthesis, this orchid receives nutrients through a symbiotic relationship with fungi that live off the roots of nearby trees.

As we approached the end of the trail, a stream flowed on our right. Upstream we saw the beautiful Plaikni Falls, where a few other groups enjoyed the scenery. After a brief wait, we had it all to ourselves for a few minutes. We were able to get close enough to the falls to feel drops of water, which was very refreshing. Late afternoon is the perfect time to photograph Plaikni Falls to avoid glare from the sun.

Although there were a few mosquitoes, particularly close to the water, this short hike has great payoff. The trail is wide and flat, so it’s easily accessible for people of all abilities. We usually prefer more rugged terrain, but this hike is well-maintained and culminates in a captivating waterfall.

Crater Lake: Stream Coming From Plaikni Falls
The stream on our right before reaching Plaikni Falls. A variety of multicolored wildflowers grows all around.
Crater Lake: Lewis Monkeyflower near Plaikni Falls
Lewis monkeyflower (Erythranthe lewisii), the second species of monkeyflower we saw in Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake: View of Plaikni Falls From End of Accessible Trail
Plaikni Falls from the end of the wheel-chair accessible portion of the trail. Stone steps lead to a slightly closer view of the falls.

Pinnacles Trail

Type: Out and Back Dayhike
Distance: 0.8 miles (1.3 km) round trip
Time: 30 minutes
Date Visited: Saturday, July 29, 2017

After enjoying Plaikni Falls, we drove further south to Pinnacles Trail, at the end of Pinnacles Road. On the way, we stopped to check out Lost Creek Campground, which the National Park Service operates. The first-come, first-served primitive campsites cost $10 per night. It was very quiet, and we wished we had stayed there rather than Mazama Campground. The campground bathrooms (outhouses) are the only in the area, as Plaikni Falls and Pinnacles don’t have any facilities.

We parked in the small lot near Pinnacles Trail, along with a few other visitors. A sign details the geological formation of the nearby spires, some of which we could see from the parking lot. The spires, also called fossil fumaroles, were formed by volcanic gases and steam that were released through tubes in ash that covered the area. Over time, these tubes hardened and the ash surrounding them eroded, leaving the spires.

Crater Lake: Lost Creek Campground
A campsite at Lost Creek Campground, operated by the National Park Service
Crater Lake: Looking Into Wheeler Creek
Looking into Wheeler Creek Canyon
Crater Lake: Pinnacles Trailhead
You can spot some pinnacles from the trailhead

Although you can see some volcanic spires from the parking lot, a 0.8 mile out and back hike takes visitors along a rim overlooking Wheeler and Sand Creeks. Like Plaikni Falls, Pinnacles Trail is wheelchair accessible. Covered with gravel and sand, the trail is easy and flat.

Along the trail are several lookouts into the canyon, providing views of the pinnacles and Sand Creek. Clusters of pinnacles line the trail side of the canyon. Looking across to the other side are lone pinnacles amongst the trees. Some spires were fun (and difficult) to pick out from the trees! Afternoon is not an ideal time for photography; morning or midday might have provided better lighting.

At the end of the trail is a large stone structure which marks the historic eastern entrance to the park. The structure was built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) in 1937 and the entrance was closed in 1973 due to disuse. We noticed how similar it looked to the north entrance.

Beyond that point, the trail becomes a forest road and continues into Fremont-Winema National Forest. After relaxing a moment in solitude, we turned around and headed back to the parking lot. This is a short and unique hike, especially for those interested in geology.

Crater Lake: Pinnacles Along Trail
At a distance, it can be hard to tell the pinnacles from the trees
Crater Lake: View of Pinnacles and Wheeler Creek
Looking west along Wheeler Creek
Crater Lake: End of Pinnacles Trail and Old East Entrance
This stone structure once welcomed visitors at Crater Lake NP’s eastern entrance. Now, it marks the end of Pinnacles Trail and the boundary of Crater Lake NP.

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