A Hiker’s Guide to Klamath County: Where to Go, What to Know
The first thing to know about hiking in Klamath County is this: hiking here is not only a huge part of Klamath County culture and recreation; it’s also truly incredible. Between the towering peaks of the Cascades, the underground caves of Lava Beds National Monument, the remote beauty and bounty of Sky Lakes and Mountain Lakes Wilderness areas, the in-town escapes of Moore Mountain and the Link River Trail, and more, Klamath County is positively overflowing with a dynamic and downright breathtaking network of hiking opportunities.
Here, we’re divulging and dissecting some of the best aspects of Klamath County’s hiking scene, plus a few tips and tricks for making the most of your Klamath County hiking adventure.
Klamath County Is A Hiker’s Paradise
Situated in south-central Oregon and straddling the demarcation line between the dry and wet sides of the Cascades, one of the first things that sets Klamath County apart as a world-class hiking destination is the sheer diversity of topography and terrain.
Within a day, it’s possible to experience lush evergreen forests full of pines, firs, and cedars as well as high desert environs dotted and splotched with sagebrush, rabbitbrush, and western junipers, and even wetlands squelching with bulrushes, cattails, and arrow grasses.
Hikers can literally summit the 9,493-foot peak in Mount McLoughlin one day, then venture below ground at Lava Beds National Monument the next. From old-growth forests to new-age trail developments implemented by the fine folks at Klamath Trail Alliance, there’s no shortage of unforgettable hiking experiences in Klamath County.
Incredibly Accessible Wilderness Areas
Another major selling point for Klamath County’s hiking scene is the extreme accessibility of some truly stunning wilderness areas. In fact, there are four federally designated wilderness areas that exist either wholly or partly within Klamath County.
Ranking as the biggest wilderness area in Klamath County, the Sky Lakes Wilderness covers nearly 114,000 acres along the rolling forested crest of the Cascade Range south of Crater Lake National Park. As the name suggests, glittering high-country lakes are the defining feature of this wilderness. All told, more than 200 tarns, lakelets, and ponds shimmer up here. In short, the Sky Lakes Wilderness gives new meaning to the word “picturesque.”
About an hour and a half north of Klamath Falls, the Mount Thielsen Wilderness Area comprises 55,100 acres of epic natural beauty. Arguably the star of the show is Mount Thielsen itself, a jagged 9,182-foot spire that towers over the wilderness area with namesake command. There are nearly 80 total miles of trails in this wilderness area, including an immaculate 34-mile chunk of the famous Pacific Crest Trail (the “PCT”).
Not many towns in America can boast being within a 45-minute drive of a 23,036-acre, volcano-laden, glacier-whittled wilderness area, but with Klamath Falls and the Mountain Lakes Wilderness, that’s exactly what you get. The hiking here is as good as it gets, featuring sweet-smelling conifer forests, pine-laden paths, beautiful mountain lakes, and glorious panoramas from 8,208-foot Aspen Butte.
An hour and a half east of Klamath Falls, the western edge of the Gearhart Mountain Wilderness technically (and welcomingly) falls within Klamath County lines. This place is defined by picturesque rock formations, sun-drenched high mountain meadows, and a sprawling mix of lodgepole pines, ponderosa pines, whitebark pines, and quivering stands of aspen groves. The Gearhart Mountain Trail is the main thoroughfare here—a 13-mile showstopper that traverses the best aspects of the wilderness and offers up-close-and-personal views of hoodoos, balancing rocks, rock-walled mazes, and the Dome (a 300-foot bare rock monolith perched on a hillside).
5 Must-Do Hikes in Klamath County
At a glance, here are some of the most beautiful, bucket-list-worthy hikes in the Klamath County area:
Mountain Lakes Loop
In a word, this hike is “stunning.” Weaving through and lollipopping around some of the Mountain Lakes Wilderness Area’s most breathtaking features, this 16.7-mile loop with 3,782-feet elevation gain travels through forests and wildflower-filled fields, alongside creeks, and past dozens of shimmering lakes.
Looking for the best views in Crater Lake National Park? Then the 5-mile out-and-back to the highest point in the park is the trail for you. With well-maintained trails and a relatively gentle elevation gain of 1,250-feet, the hike itself is moderate and memorable. But the 360-panorama from the summit is almost otherworldly.
Mount McLoughlin’s 9,493-foot summit is a lava cone on top of an inactive composite volcano. The 9-mile, 4,000-feet in elevation gain, out-and-back trail to its summit is an absolute treat for intrepid hikers looking for a leg and lung workout. The views from the top of Mount Thielsen, Mount Shasta, and even the rim of Crater Lake are exceptional.
Short, easy, and sweet, the .6-mile trail through Sentinel Cave is one of the most popular and worthwhile experiences in Lava Beds National Monument. Sentinel Cave is the main artery through the monument’s lava loop. It’s fully immersive and full-on fun.
Pacific Crest Trail
For an unforgettable (yet demanding) adventure, the roughly 65-mile stretch of trail along the PCT from Sky Lakes to Crater Lake offers a 5-7 day backpacking experience that could hold its own with pretty much any 5-day trip along the entire 2,650-mile PCT. Plus, ending with a cold beer and a warm shower at the Crater Lake Lodge would be downright divine.
For more options, check out these 7 Klamath County hikes with amazing views!
How to Leave No Trace While Hiking in Klamath County
As ever, venturing onto any trail is an experience we should be grateful for and increasingly cognizant of. These days, the protection of our trails is possibly more important than ever. The good news is that everyone can be a personal steward. By practicing the 7 simple Leave No Trace principles, we can all do our part to keep Klamath County’s trails beautiful for years to come.
So, if you’re looking for a good hike, Klamath County is the place to be. It’s not only bursting at the seams with world-class hiking opportunities; it also wins on accessibility every time. You can hike some of Oregon’s most beautiful trails and be back in time for supper with ease. Happy Trails!
Written by Ethan Shaw for Matcha in partnership with Discover Klamath Visitor and Convention Bureau.