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Crater Lake via Little Kettle Creek Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Crater Lake and Krag Peak (bobcat)
Granite Cliffs from the Little Kettle Creek Trail (bobcat)
East Fork Eagle Creek valley from the Little Kettle Creek Trail (bobcat)
Swamp onion (Allium validum), Little Kettle Creek Trail (bobcat)
Granite Mountain from Crater Lake (bobcat)
The Little Kettle Creek Trail to Crater Lake (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: East Eagle Equestrian Trailhead or
  • Start point: East Eagle Trailhead
  • Ending Point: Crater Lake
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 13.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3490 feet
  • High Point: 7,825 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Summer into Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Hike Description

Crater Lake is not one of the Wallowas' most picturesque bodies of water, given that it is actually a reservoir that services farms to the south, but it is well within the Eagle Cap Wilderness and offers splendid vistas of the valleys and peaks in this southeast area of the mountains. It's a great base camp for ascents of local prominences like Red Mountain and Krag Peak, explorations of high mountain meadows, and forays farther into the heart of the Wallowas. The Little Kettle Creek Trail, one of the two trails which access Crater Lake directly, is steep and often dusty, but it is a path less traveled and provides views and wildflower sightings in abundance. You have a choice of two trailheads: the lower East Eagle Equestrian Trailhead has restrooms, picnic tables and space for larger vehicles as well as horse trailers; the East Eagle Trailhead, 3/4 mile up the road, takes smaller vehicles only but also reduces the hike by 1.2 miles. The description below begins at the East Eagle Equestrian Trailhead.

From the equestrian trailhead, take the East Eagle Trail #1910 across a wide meadow and enter a woodland dominated by Engelmann spruce and Douglas-fir. The trail rises gently, crossing Little Kettle Creek, and reaches the East Eagle-Little Kettle Creek Trail Junction, which is only about 0.1 miles southwest of the East Eagle Trailhead.

Go right here on the Little Kettle Creek Trail #1945, and soon make a couple of switchbacks that take you up a brushy hillside of sagebrush, choke cherry and aspen. You'll get views of the Granite Cliffs dominating the East Fork Eagle Creek Valley to the northwest. Soon you'll embark upon a course of more than 25 switchbacks and over 1,500 feet elevation gain in the next two and a half miles as you climb up the steep north slope of the Little Kettle Creek valley. This is fairly open country and the views of the Granite Cliffs and down the glacier-carved East Fork Eagle Creek valley improve as you ascend. There is little shade, and the trail, not one of the more popular routes in the Wallowas, can get overgrown and rough in places. About halfway through the switchbacks, you'll enter the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Paintbrush, aster, and balsam root bloom on these slopes in the summer.

After this sweaty ascent, you'll begin a traverse that continues up the brushy slope and crosses a couple of rocky gullies that bloom with paintbrush and arnica. Reach a copse of Douglas-fir and enjoy the shady respite before exiting and continuing up the hillside. Make two more switchbacks and hike steeply up to cross a small creek. Ascend steeply again through the sagebrush and then traverse to the right to make four more switchbacks. Pass up through a coniferous woodland with a small creek running to the right. Reach a brushy slope again and switchback up a few more times to reach a talus slope that supports a population of squeaking pikas. The trail makes multiple switchbacks up the talus as you enter a subalpine habitat; then, cross a creek at a lush meadow with two small ponds. The long ridge line of Red Mountain looms behind. Hike up a slope through subalpine fir and limber pine with small outcroppings of granite and clumps of heather. The path drops gently from here and reaches the north shore of Crater Lake.

You can find campsites along this shore or continue to the dam (This is an artificial lake), which blocks the original outlet to Cliff Creek. The trail crosses the lake outlet here and, in about 250 yards, reaches the Cliff Creek-Little Kettle Creek Trail Junction. Nice secluded campsites can also be found along a low ridge on the southeast side of the lake. Also on the south side is the pipe which conveys overflow from the lake in a cascade down the the slope to augment the waters of Kettle Creek, tapped for irrigation of pastures to the south of the mountains. Views from the lake extend east along the Cliff Creek valley, with Red Mountain and Granite Mountain the high points on the ridge to the southeast. Truax Mountain is the prominence just southwest of Crater Lake and Krag Peak lies to the northwest. The lush wildflower meadows south of the Cliff Creek-Little Kettle Creek Trail Junction also lend themselves to exploration.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Sign in at the Wilderness Permit box at the trailhead
  • Keep dogs on leash around stock; step off the trail when horses approach.

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Wallowa Mountains: Eagle Cap Wilderness #475SX
  • Imus Geographics: Wallowa Mountains: Eagle Cap Wilderness
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Eagle Cap Wilderness
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Wallowa-Whitman National Forest

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Eastern Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • Hiking Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness by Fred Barstad
  • 75 Scrambles in Oregon by Barbara I. Bond
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • The Wallowa Mountains: A Natural History Guide by Keith Pohs

More Links


Page Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.