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The Watchman Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Hillman Peak, Mt. Thielsen, and Llao Rock from The Watchman (bobcat)
Little-leaf creambush (Holodiscus microphyllus), The Watchman Trail (bobcat)
Inside the lookout, The Watchman (bobcat)
Wizard Island from The Watchman (bobcat)
The trail to the lookout on The Watchman shown in red (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: The Watchman Trailhead
  • Ending Point: The Watchman
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 1.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 420 feet
  • High Point: 8,013 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: Mid-summer into Fall
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Yes


Hike Description

Because it is such a short trail and it begins right off of Rim Drive and the Pacific Crest Trail, this is the most crowded hike to a summit along Crater Lake's rim: it's a good idea to leave this one for early in the morning (Summit Post calls it "probably the most frequently climbed 8000 foot peak in Oregon"). At any time of day, however, the rewards are definitely worth the visitor-intensive experience. Atop The Watchman is a two-story lookout station constructed in 1932. Views from the stone-walled viewing platform at the lookout extend 360 degrees, and it is the best vantage point for an examination of Wizard Island, 1,800 feet directly below across Skell Channel. This is also an excellent wildflower hike.

Longer approaches to The Watchman can also be made using access points to the Pacific Crest Trail, including the Rim Village Trailhead, to soak in multitudinous perspectives of the caldera lake below. The hike from the Rim Village Trailhead is particularly recommended in winter (using snowshoes) as the nearby Rim Drive will be closed to vehicle traffic.

You can walk to the railed viewpoint at the parking area to get a view to Wizard Island and across Crater Lake. Then, head south to take a paved sidewalk along Rim Drive, actually part of the Pacific Crest Trail. After about 100 yards, this turns into a wide trail, in fact the former road bed of the old Rim Drive! You'll traverse gently up along a scree slope on The Watchman's north side and reach a signposted junction. Make a left and head up over a ridge in a parkland of scattered mountain hemlocks and whitebark pines. Lupine, phlox, sulfur buckwheat, arnica, and pasqueflower bloom here. Then ascend the southwest slope in a series of seven switchbacks to the lookout structure atop The Watchman. During the height of the summer tourist season, rangers will be here to answer questions; the lookout also serves as an active fire station at times and has been preserved as a historic example of the 1930s lookout construction period.

The views are, as to be expected, expansive, with Crater Lake spreading below and Wizard Island the most prominent feature close at hand. Views north along the rim include Hillman Peak, the Devil's Backbone, and Cleetwood Cove. Directly to the east is Mount Scott, and along the southern rim stretch the steep high cliffs of Castle Rock, Dutton Cliffs, and the Eagle Crags, including Garfield Peak. Farther afield, look north to see Mount Thielsen and Mount Bailey, while to the south Union Peak, Mount McLoughlin and the very top of Mount Shasta can be viewed on a clear day.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • $30 per vehicle entrance fee to Crater Lake National Park - good for 7 days - or America the Beautiful Pass
  • No pets


Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • Hiking Oregon's Geology by Ellen Morris Bishop
  • Oregon’s Best Wildflower Hikes: Southwest Region by Elizabeth L. Horn
  • Best Hikes With Kids: Oregon by Bonnie Henderson & Zach Urness
  • Trails of Crater Lake National Park & Oregon Caves National Monument by William L. Sullivan
  • 100 Hikes in Southern Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • Trips & Trails: Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • Hiking Oregon's History by William L. Sullivan
  • Pacific Northwest National Parks & Monuments: The Creaky Knees Guide by Seabury Blair, Jr.
  • 50 Hikes in Oregon by David L. Anderson
  • Hiking Central Oregon & Beyond by Virginia Meissner
  • Day and Section Hikes Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon by Paul Gerald
  • Oregon's Southern Cascades: Camping & Hiking by Tom Stienstra & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Sean Patrick Hill

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.