Pets allowed
Allowed
Elevation Gain
3,300.00 ft (1,005.84 m)
Trail type
There-and-back
Distance
11.20 mi (18.02 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Crater Lake sits in a cirque just below its namesake, Crater Mountain (6,787 ft), and it is one of the Jewel Basin's deeper lakes. Part of a region ideal for backpacking, Crater Lake is one of 25 lakes in Jewel Basin connected by 35 miles of hiking trails, located a half-hour from Kalispell. It is an excellent lake for swimming, camping, and fishing. Whether camping or fishing, Crater Lake and the Jewel Basin area are designed with backpackers in mind.

To access via Crater Notch Trail, begin hiking along Broken-Leg Divide Trail #544, crossing over Birch Creek via a recently constructed wooden bridge. After 0.5 mile, the trail forks. Take the left fork onto Crater Notch Trail #187 and follow it for 3.6 miles as it plods steadily and consistently up the mountain. This stretch is not overly steep, but it is still strenuous due to the sustained nature of the incline. All except for the last mile of this section of trail is technically outside the Jewel Basin hiking area, and it thus is open to horses and mountain biking, but not to motorized vehicles. Be aware of both quickly approaching bikes and horses.

After passing through a notch in the mountains, Crater Notch, after which the trail is named, the trail will begin to descend, and shortly after you will come to a T-junction with Alpine Trail #7. The left trail will take you back to Birch Lake and the main Jewel Basin trail network. Instead, go right, passing the small-in-size Squaw Lake, and continue hiking for another 1.5 miles until you reach Crater Lake.

As the trail begins to descend, Crater Lake comes into view. Here, visibility of the trail cuts in and out as you traverse over large granite slabs with the lake in view. Follow the obvious route around to the left and down to the shoreline.

Crater Lake sits just below Crater Mountain (elevation 6,787 ft). Since it is one of the Jewel’s deeper lakes, it is excellent for swimming (but better make sure you’re prepared for the cold water!). For the best swimming, camping, and picnicking, head to the east shore of the lake, where some narrow peninsulas of land outcrop into the lake itself. The west shoreline is difficult to access in many places, due to log jams and high rock bluffs. For fishers, lakes in the Jewel Basin are stocked every 3 years with westslope cutthroat trout.

If camping, be aware that open fires are not permitted within 500 feet of most lakeshores in the Jewel Basin, including Crater Lake. Building a campfire on the lakeshore not only endangers the ecology of the lake, but risks heavy fines from patrolling rangers. Gas stoves are permitted and should be used instead, especially given that Jewel Basin is frequently in moderate to high fire danger throughout the latter portion of the summer.

To return, hike back the way you came. If planned ahead with a group, you can also leave another car at the Camp Misery Trailhead (all the way at the top of Jewel Basin Road) and hike out that way to turn the hike into a shuttle semi-loop.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer
Fall

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

No

Open from

May 01 to September 30

Pros

Low traffic. Beautiful vistas. Clean and clear swimming water. Low activity restriction. Interesting terrain without being too physically strenuous. Multiple lakes. Many different intersecting routes for potential multi-day.

Cons

Bears and mountain lions. Unexpected storms possible.

Trailhead Elevation

3,255.00 ft (992.12 m)

Highest point

6,175.00 ft (1,882.14 m)

Net Elevation Gain

2,920.00 ft (890.02 m)

Features

Near lake or river
Backcountry camping
Wildlife
Fishing
Big vistas
Horseback riding
Wildflowers
Family friendly

Typically multi-day

No

Suitable for

Horseback

Permit required

No

Location

Field Guide

Nearby Adventures

Nearby Lodging + Camping

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