Crater Lake is pretty darned remarkable, but most visitors will be limited to staring down at the deep blue water from a handful of viewpoints on the crater rim. That’s a shame, when the greatest hiking opportunity is actually in the middle of the lake, on the volcanic cone known as Wizard Island. You can easily spend several hours here, either swimming in the water, or hiking one of a couple of trails — one of which takes you to the top of the cone, for an unparalleled view.
Crater Lake is located in south-central Oregon. In order to reach Wizard Island, you need to take a boat ride out of Cleetwood Cove, on the north side of the lake. I covered the details of the boat ride on the previous page.The boat only runs late-June through mid-September. For most of the rest of the year, much of Crater Lake’s Rim Road is closed by snow — so you wouldn’t be able to get to Cleetwood Cove, even if you wanted to.
The shuttle boat arrives at Wizard Island at a small dock, on a shoreline covered with volcanic boulders. As soon as you walk off the dock, you’re greeted with the island’s two hiking options:
To the left is Fumarole Bay, to the right is the summit. The boat shuttle usually allows three hours on the island, but that should be enough time to hike both trails.
I decided to prioritize the summit hike, so I started uphill.
The summit hike gains about 600 feet in elevation, which is enough to be considered moderately challenging for most people. The trail zig-zags up the constant slope of the cone, starting at first in the trees…
… but before long, great views of the surrounding lake begin to break through.
Does this trail look scary to you? If you step off the trail, you could easily slide down the mountainside. But, the trail is wide enough that you shouldn’t be worried — just be careful.
The higher you get, the more “dead” the trees get…
… until you have some very nice views of the deep blue water below.
Near the top, you’ll enjoy this nice view of Fumarole Bay (on the left), and the wide, flat lava flow area on the island’s northwest side. The peaks on the rim are the Watchman (on the left) and Hillman Peak (on the right). The Watchman overlook is located in that low point between the two mountains.
You may also catch a glimpse of one of the tour boats, as it circles the lake!
When you reach the top of Wizard Island, the fun has just begun. Suddenly you realize, you’re in the middle of a huge volcanic crater, and on the edge of a much smaller one. The top of Wizard Island is known as Witches Cauldron. A trail runs all the way around the top of the cone…
… so you can explore and find your favorite spot.
Every spot along the rim has a different view of the small crater and the surrounding mountains.
If you don’t mind another steep climb, take one of several trails down to the bottom of the Witches Cauldron.
At the bottom, you’ll find some rock cairns…
… and you’ll feel as if you’ve been swallowed up by the volcano. But fortunately, there’s no bubbling lava brewing in the cauldron.
I hiked back to the top, and found a comfortable place to sit (which isn’t an easy thing to do, since Wizard Island is made up of sharp, jagged, volcanic rock). The truth is, I spent way too much time up here. Everyone else was long-gone, and I had the place to myself.
And that’s something to consider, as you plot your Wizard Island strategy. Almost everyone will hop off the boat and head straight up the hill. You might be smarter to hike out to Fumarole Bay first, then hike up to the summit when everyone else is on their way down. Take a look at boat arrival times and work out a strategy for maximum solitude.
After a long time spent snacking on treats from my backpack, and attempting not to share them with the local population of adorable rodents, I took the trail downhill.
I was running out of time when I arrived at the junction to Fumarole Bay. I divided up the minutes and decided I had just enough time to walk about halfway out the trail.
Fortunately, halfway was good enough to capture a beautiful view of Fumarole Bay.
I probably could have gone a bit further, but there isn’t a lot of flexibility on departure times. You don’t want to arrive at the dock to watch the boat pull away.
So, I returned to the dock, and found a nice spot on the shoreline nearby. The water is so amazingly clear in Crater Lake, that you can drink it, straight from the lake. Or at least, that’s what I was told during the boat ride. And so I did it — and the water was great!
Eventually the boat returned, and we all filed back on, for the return trip to Cleetwood Cove.
The Bottom Line
If you’re fortunate enough to be visiting Crater Lake at a time of year when the Rim Road is open, and the boat is running, you should make it a priority to get out to Wizard Island. The experience of hiking to the top of the island’s volcanic cone, and seeing Crater Lake from a different perspective, is well worth the added cost and extra effort.
Here’s a look at the drive around Crater Lake National Park’s Rim Road from the front-facing camera…
… and the rear-view cam: