6 Easy Hikes in Klamath to Take in the Area’s Scenic Beauty
Klamath County has extremely environs with all kinds of ecosystems throughout: The Sky Lakes Wilderness entices with old-growth forests and quiet mountain lakes, Brown Mountain enchants with lava flows and crushed cinder trails, and the Klamath Basin beckons with miles of marshes and farmland. Best of all: Hikers of all ages can enjoy that scenery without thigh-burning treks or endless inclines.
Indeed, easy and moderate hikes crisscross Klamath County, offering solitude and scenic beauty to hikers of all abilities. So as you’re planning your next trip, here are six easy hikes for enjoying the best of Klamath.
1. OC&E Woods Line State Trail
Distance : 4.7 miles round-trip Elevation gain : 160 feet
Through much of the 20th century, the Oregon, California, and Eastern Railroad served much of the Klamath Basin—even carrying as much as one million board feet of lumber per day in the early 1900s. The last of the railroad’s cars ran in 1990—and, today, the OC&E Woods Line State Trail is a 109-mile-long rail-to-trail path that passes through farmland, forests, marshland, and more.
The trail actually starts in Klamath Falls, but you should hike a short section that begins on the east side of Godowa Springs Road, just 0.7 miles north of the community of Beatty. Early on, the flat path passes through open fields near the Sprague River; keep an eye out for bald eagles and sandhill cranes along this stretch.
After 1.5 miles, you’ll pass through a green gate and turn left at the T-shaped junction to head up a short hill onto an unnamed dirt road. This road passes Brown Cemetery, the resting place of the Modoc people who once called this area home, and affords views of the surrounding basin.
The road ends at an old ranch house at the foot of a long-abandoned rail yard (still home to an old rail car and other relics today). Feel free to walk around, but—since this trail borders private property—remain on the trail at all times. Head back through a green gate at the southern edge of the junction to return to the OC&E trail and back toward your vehicle.
2. Discovery Point
Distance : 2 miles round-trip Elevation gain : 100 feet
In 1853, gold prospector John Wesley Hillman supposedly became the first European American to spy Crater Lake’s majestic blue hue. He did so from a spot near Discovery Point, where this particular trail ends.
The out-and-back hike begins at the west end of Rim Village and traverses a forest of whitebark pine and mountain hemlock, gaining a gentle 100 feet over the course of a mile. Wildflowers line the trail well into July, and you should keep an eye out for the gray-and-black Clark’s nutcracker, whose calls sound a bit like a long croak. Crater Lake remains visible through most of the hike, with Wizard Island and the cliffs of Llao Rock dominating the views. A bronze plaque at the end of the hike notes the point where Hillman may have first seen Crater Lake.
Fun fact : Upon spying the lake, Hillman’s camp christened it “Deep Blue Lake.” (so much for imagination.) And even though it’s called Crater Lake today, the body of water actually sits inside the caldera of a volcano—Mount Mazama—that erupted nearly 8,000 years ago. As magma flowed out of the volcano, its walls collapsed, forming the bowl that later filled with water and became Crater Lake.
3. Link River Nature Trail
Distance : 3.4 miles round-trip Elevation gain : 85 feet
To say that the Link River Nature Trail connects Upper Klamath Lake and Ewauna Lake is certainly true—but that sells the trail short. The mostly flat, 1.7-mile trail (which can be done as an out-and-back hike or with a vehicle shuttle at either end) showcases some of the best of Klamath Falls—and doesn’t demand a heart-racing effort to enjoy it all.
The wide, gravel path—itself a short walk from downtown Klamath Falls—follows the Link River and affords all manner of nature. Since Klamath Falls sits along the Pacific Flyway migratory bird route, you’re likely to spot a variety of birds—including pelicans, egrets, herons, and pelicans. And along the way, you’ll find a quick spur trail that drops to the short waterfalls that give Klamath Falls its name.
4. Plaikni Falls
Distance : 2.2 miles round-trip Elevation gain : 140 feet
More than a mile from the rim of Crater Lake, Plaikni Falls offers an easy out-and-back hike that ends at the eponymous waterfall.
The mostly flat path heads south through Kerr Valley—a glacier-carved canyon created in the ice ages—amid a forest of old-growth mountain hemlock, Shasta red fir, and summertime wildflowers (including purple lupine). As it curves west, the trail hugs the base of Anderson Bluffs; rock from the base of these bluffs was once extracted for various projects around Crater Lake National Park.
After 1.1 miles, the trail ends at the base of the 20-foot Plaikni Falls. (Contrary to popular belief, these falls aren’t fed by Crater Lake—but by snowmelt.) The name “Plaikni”—which means “from the high country”—was chosen by Klamath Native American elders. Watch for wildflowers that grow in the clearing at the base of the waterfall, including red paintbrush and arrowleaf groundsel.
5. Sky Lakes Basin via Cold Springs Trail
Distance : 7.2 miles round-trip Elevation gain : 490 feet
As the name implies, the Sky Lakes Wilderness is known for its crystal clear lakes—and for good reason: Environmental Protection Agency studies in the 1980s and 1990s found that the Sky Lakes Wilderness was home to some of the most chemically pure water in the world.
Today, the Cold Springs Trail offers a fine introduction to all that natural beauty. And while it’s a 7.2-mile round-trip hike, several turnaround points and smaller loops create a shorter hike—and the path gains a gradual 490 feet along the way.
The hike starts in a forest scarred by a 2017 wildfire before heading into recovered forests of fir and pinemat manzanita on the South Rock Creek Trail. After 2.5 miles, you’ll arrive at a junction near the Heavenly Twin Lakes; turning left connects back with the Cold Springs Trail, cutting the hike short, while heading right leads to a handful of lakes—including Isherwood Lake, Lake Elizabeth, and Lake Notasha. (It can get confusing through here, with a handful of trails and intersections, so consult with a U.S. Forest Service map or guidebook before setting out.)
If it’s summertime, pack a swimsuit and towel, as these lakes are popular swimming holes.
6. Brown Mountain Lava Flow
Distance : 6.1 miles round-trip Elevation gain : 670 feet
There isn’t a well-defined endpoint along this trail, which follows a section of the longer Pacific Crest Trail. But in just over three miles, the path passes through thick forests and expansive lava flows, all while delighting with views of Mount McLoughlin, southern Oregon’s tallest peak at 9,493 feet.
The trail starts from the Summit Sno-Park, wending through an old-growth forest for about a quarter-mile; at a T-shaped junction, take a left to follow the Pacific Crest Trail south, taking care to cross Highway 140.
At that point, the fun begins: The trail soon enters the first of several lava fields along this stretch. The lava flows here were formed when Brown Mountain erupted roughly 2,000 years ago. Sandwiched between lava flows are forests of hemlock, Douglas fir, and Shasta red fir.
The trail follows a steady, yet mild incline along this stretch. About 2.5 miles beyond Highway 140, you’ll encounter a small, shady clearing as the trail starts its descent. Since there’s no natural turnaround point, this makes a fine spot to call it a day. On your way back, enjoy sweeping views of Mount McLoughlin, lording over the trail to the north.
Written by Matt Wastradowski for Matcha in partnership with Klamath Visitor and Convention Bureau.