Crater Lake almost always manages to steal the show when it comes to natural features at Crater Lake National Park. But for those who love the challenge of a summit, Union Peak is the hike to check out.
It’s an 11-mile round-trip trek tucked away in the southwest corner of the park that’s often overlooked, meaning it’s a great way to escape from summer tourists. And while it doesn’t look like much from a distance (kind of like a plain, rocky peak shadowed by Mount Thielsen and Mount McLoughlin), once you make it to the top and take in the view you’ll understand why it’s worth the 1,600 ft. elevation-gain climb.
While the path to Union Peak is long, most of the 1,600 feet of elevation gain is squashed into the last two miles. That means that at the start of the trail the walk is relatively flat. The trailhead is technically part of the Pacific Crest Trail, and starts with a relaxed stroll under lodgepole pines. Union Peak isn’t visible for a long stretch of the hike, until it suddenly shows up on the horizon.
You’ll start climbing up increasingly rocky paths once the elevation gain kicks in, and will need to start scrambling up to the peak. This is the tricky part, but you’ll be kept company by hardy trees and flowers, like Oregon stonecrop, whitebark pine, and western pasqueflower. Bring bouldering gloves if you have them, but rest assured it’s only about two miles up to the summit.
Catch your breath at the top, and enjoy the sweep of mountains below on clear days. You’ll be 7,698 feet above sea level here, but also about 1,000 feet above everything else in the area. And while you can’t see the blue of Crater Lake from the peak, you can see Union Creek to the north and Red Blanket Creek to the south, as well as Mount Shasta and Mount Thielsen.
Plan for the hike up and back to take at least 4 hours. We recommend that you take:
- Two liters of water
- Sturdy boots
- Sun protection
- Layered clothing
Directions from the North:
- Drive I-5 south to Exit 188 south of Eugene for Highway 58, Oakridge and Klamath Falls.
- Go 86.2 miles on Highway 58, passing through the town of Oakridge, and bear right to merge with Highway 97S.
- Continue south on 97 for 17.9 miles and turn left onto Highway 138 for Diamond Lake and Crater Lake National Park.
- Continue west on Hwy 138 to its junction with Hwy 230 and take Hwy 230 south to its junction with Hwy 62. Turn left on Hwy 62 and proceed 15 miles east to a "Pacific Crest Trail Parking" sign (at Milepost 72, about 1 mile west of the turnoff into the park's South Entrance) and turn right into a dirt parking lot. There is room here for 10-12 cars but no restrooms or water.
Alternate driving directions:
- Drive I-5 south to Exit 30, Hwy 62, Medford.
- Follow Hwy 62 to the trailhead parking area.
There is no entrance fee or permit required to access this trailhead. GPS is a good way to find it, even though it’s signed and has a small parking lot.
Coordinates of the trailhead: 42.83722, -122.19674