Snowshoe or XC Ski to Watchman Overlook

8 miles 500 ft gain  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Chaney Swiney

Spectacular day trip for a quintessential Crater Lake winter experience. Overlooks along the way serve as a prologue to the stellar view from between Hillman Peak and the Watchman, and the winter woods along the way perfectly frame this path through wonderland.

Starting at the Rim Village parking area, this snowshoe/cross-country ski trip (whichever you choose) heads out on snow-covered West Rim Drive, bound for the saddle between Hillman Peak and The Watchman, overlooking Wizard Island. The path is not terribly steep (this is, after all, a drivable road in summer), but it can be a bit long: four miles out and four miles back along rolling terrain is one thing in the summer but an entirely different prospect in feet of snow. If this is your first time snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, consider condensing this into a trip to and from Discovery Point (2.4 miles roundtrip). But if you're ready for a day in the winter wonderland, head for TheWatchman.

Park at Rim Village and get geared up. Be sure to check road conditions and other alerts for Crater Lake at before heading to the park. The road to the rim is usually open and plowed throughout the winter, but does occasionally close during heavy snow. There is no entrance fee to Crater Lake National Park in winter (lucky you!).

The road descends from Rim Village, heading west towards Discovery Point. Ski tracks are usually easy to come by on this route. If you're snowshoeing, make sure not to tromp through the ski tracks. After a few curves through quiet forest, the large viewpoint parking area that is filled with cars in summer appears ahead, with nice views into the caldera and some great sledding slopes (away from the rim, of course). At 1.2 miles from Rim Village, this is a good place turn around for those considering a shorter foray into the snow.

From Discovery Point, the road climbs a bit, passing a smaller viewpoint and arriving at the junction with the Lightning Springs Trail after 1.1 miles. At this point, the road begins a 1.7 mile climb around the western slopes of The Watchman. As you approach the bend at the westernmost point of the turn, the views to the south just get better and better. The road's slope affords you an elevated look towards Union Peak, Mount McLoughlin, and (on clear days) Mount Shasta. This view alone makes the journey worthwhile, but the real view is so close that you might as well keep going.

After rounding the bend, the last leg requires passing through the shadow of The Watchman, along its avalanche prone north face. Take care here, and make sure you stick to the road. Snow drifts can get rather large on this side, so pick your path and take your time.

At last, The Watchman Overlook is before you. Stay a safe distance from the edge: cornices form easily on the rim of Crater Lake and what looks like solid snow could be a ledge ready to give way. The poles along the roadside, along with exposed fences around the parking lot, should dictate the extent of your viewing area. But what a viewing area it is. Look down on Wizard Island, a cinder cone that formed after the lake began to fill. Look across at Mount Scott, the highest point in the park, or north towards Hillman Peak, the highest point on the rim. Drink in the view, sit by the trees, and glory in the perfect blue water rimmed by perfect white winter.

The return journey is the same, just in reverse and slightly easier as it's more downhill than uphill. If you've chosen to cross-country ski, it's especially pleasant once you round the corner and descend back towards the junction with the Lightning Springs Trail. No matter which option you choose for transportation, the outcome is the same: Stunning views over and around Crater Lake in a Cascade winter wonderland.

Looking for a longer trip or an overnighter? Check out Snowshoe the Rim at Crater Lake NP.

**Make sure you check the weather and are prepared for a variety of temperatures. In the wind and shade, it can get very cold, but then you may feel like stripping down to a t-shrit the sun as you trek. You don't want to get caught out on the rim if conditions turn bad. Know the forecast, and turn back if things look dicey.

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🥇Top Contributor

4 months ago

Did as hike, not as XC or snowshoe

Would totally recommend this hike! Great views of the lake all around! It was easy to follow. Did it in July and there was still a decent amount of snow, so I was grateful to have my hiking books and layers on. This lake is unlike any other lake I have seen and it was tremendous catching different angles of it.


🥇Top Contributor

about 4 years ago

Spectacular route

I arrived to Crater Lake NP in October and did not plan to see snow, yet low and behold! Voila! A winter wonderland. Great trail up, Watchman. Totally loved it.

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