A PCT Detour: Hiking the Rim Trail

Our correspondent breaks off from the official Pacific Crest Trail route.

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The sun is setting noticeably earlier now and rising noticeably later: autumn is urging us northward, warning us of the cold to come. So it’s northward we’re headed, out of Mazama Village and up to the Rim Trail along Crater Lake.

While not the official Pacific Crest Trail route, the Rim Trail is pretty popular as an alternate. You leave the PCT on the Dutton Creek Trail at mile 1820.5 and take it to the Rim Village; from there, the Discovery Point Trail and the Rim Trail take you back to the PCT at mile 1836.7. At 11.7 miles, it’s nearly five miles shorter than the official trail, which runs around the base of the caldera.

That the official PCT never actually approaches the lake seems a shame to me – it gets within two miles of the rim, so why wouldn’t it venture up? A couple of years ago, the Rim Alternate was apparently signed as the Hiker PCT, while the official trail was signed as the Equestrian PCT. Trail rumor has it that the alternate would be the official route if it were accessible to equestrians as well as hikers, but the trail is brutal in spots, and horses would have a hard time.

Another reason to keep the trail off the rim might be the lack of water. From the Rim Village, it’s 26 miles to Thielsen Creek, the next reliable source, whereas water is a bit more bountiful along the official route. There were a few caches after the Rim Trail rejoined the PCT for folks in trouble, but I carried four liters out of Rim Village.

Even four liters wasn’t enough to weigh me down today, though: I’d never seen Crater Lake before, and I was blown away by its beauty. The alternate was too short for my tastes—I could’ve spent all day next to that blue expanse. But eventually, I left the rim and, later, the park itself, to have a joyous reunion with my partner at its northern border. He’ll be hiking with me for the next week, and I’m looking forward to having a little bit of the warmth of home with me as the weather continues to cool off.