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Wapinitia Pass to Little Crater Lake Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Mt. Hood and Salmon River Meadows, Wapinitia Ridge (bobcat)
The Pacific Crest Trail on Wapinitia Ridge (bobcat)
Fall huckleberry bush, Pacific Crest Trail (bobcat)
Looking over Little Crater Lake (bobcat)
Route from Frog Lake Sno-Park to Little Crater Lake on the PCT (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Frog Lake Sno-ParkRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Little Crater Lake
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 15.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2025 feet
  • High Point: 4,285 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Summer into Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No



The Pacific Crest Trail rolls along the Cascade crest south of Mount Hood in a dry woodland that supports at least 12 species of conifers. This section of the trail sees few day hikers, but has its particular charms. There are views to Mount Hood and Salmon River Meadows, since 2009 a designated wilderness area. Huckleberries are a constant distraction along the trail in late summer. The destination is Little Crater Lake, a deep artesian spring reminiscent of some of the geyser pools in Yellowstone. This is an "easy" 15 miles, but the the hike can also be done as a car shuttle, with the return vehicle being parked at the Little Crater Lake Trailhead.

Access to the Pacific Crest Trail #2000 is to the left of the restrooms at the vast Frog Lake Sno-Park. Walk a few yards past a picnic table to a T-junction and go left under mountain hemlocks and silver firs shading a bear-grass carpet. The trail crosses Highway 26 and comes to the Pacific Crest-Blue Box Trail Junction. Continue straight and gradually upward in a coniferous forest of silver fir, Douglas-fir, western hemlock, mountain hemlock, noble fir, rhododendron, bear-grass and huckleberry. The trail soon begins to drop slightly. There are glimpses through the trees of the Salmon River Valley below. Note the lightning scars on a lot of these ridge trees. The trail traverses above a clearcut with great views over to Salmon River Meadows and Mount Hood. The white building visible is the Mt. Hood Summer Ski Camp by the Chevron station along Highway 26. Pass above a talus field with its skirt of vine maple that turns red in the fall. Then there’s another clearcut with views back to the meadows and the mountain. The trail drops, passing a clearcut on the left. The path levels among big trees, especially Douglas-fir and noble fir, with another view of Mount Hood above a clearcut. The tread rises along the ridge and threads between clearcuts, and then drops gently among younger trees, mainly silver fir. An old trail leads down to the right. Pass through an area of lodgepole pines to descend into Douglas-fir and western hemlock woods. An unmarked, unmaintained old trail leads past a talus field on the right. Come to a campsite at the halfway point. A small clear spring, at the headwaters on Crater Creek, is active all year here. The sign points 4 miles to Little Crater Lake.

In this area, there are also a few western white pines and Alaska yellow-cedars. The trail reaches level ground in another lodgepole pine woodland and crosses a gravel road, FR 5800-240. The huckleberries form a carpet under the lodgepoles. Mountain hemlock, Douglas-fir, chinquapin, bear-grass, lupine, and grouseberry also flourish here. The trail crosses paved FR 58 and reenters a lodgepole pine stand. Then, the tread drops purposefully in varied coniferous forest. Come to the Pacific Crest-Jackpot Meadows Trail Junction. Little Crater Lake is 2 ½ miles from here. The path levels in Douglas-fir, silver fir and western hemlock woods and then drops. There are also a few larches and western red-cedars. The trail reaches gravel FR 5890. One has to walk about 40 yards to the right to pick up the Pacific Crest Trail again. From here, the path drops gently in old growth forest with some impressive Douglas-firs and western hemlocks with thickets of yew. Engelmann spruce also makes an appearance. To the left, one can see willow-choked Crater Creek. Reach the Pacific Crest-Little Crater Lake Trail Junction and go left.

It’s less than a ¼ mile from here to Little Crater Lake. Pass through a stile in the fence and over a footbridge in a skunk-cabbage swamp. Engelmann spruce and lodgepole pine rim and dot Little Crater Meadows. A boardwalk leads over a low stile to this relatively unknown gem of the Mt. Hood National Forest. The views into this beautiful clear artesian spring are a memorable sight. Huckleberry bushes rim the lake shore, along with lupine, white false hellebore, and arrow-leaf groundsel. An interpretive sign at a small viewing platform explains the formation of Little Crater Lake.

There are restrooms and picnic tables at the nearby campground. If you're not doing this as a shuttle, then head on back the way you came.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass (or America the Beautiful Pass) required at Frog Lake Sno-Park
  • Restrooms and picnic tables at both ends of the hike


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Pacific Crest Trail #2000: Frog Lake Sno-Park to Skyline Road (Zigzag sec. #1) (USFS)
  • Little Crater Lake Trail #500 (USFS)
  • Green Trails Maps: Mt. Wilson, OR #494 and High Rock, OR #493
  • Discover Your Northwest: Mt. Hood National Forest North: Trail Map & Hiking Guide
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Zigzag Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Pacific Crest Trail Map: Northern Oregon Map #8
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Hood
  • Adventure Maps: Mt. Hood Area
  • K. Scott Parks: Pacific Crest Trail Pocket Maps: Oregon & Washington

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • Day Hiking Mount Hood: A Year-Round Guide by Eli Boschetto
  • Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain
  • 50 Hiking Trails: Portland & Northwest Oregon by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon by Eli Boschetto
  • Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon & Washington by Jordan Summers
  • Day Hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon & Washington by George & Patricia Semb
  • Hiking the Oregon Skyline by Charles M. Feris

More Links

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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.

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