Union Peak (Crater Lake National Park) 21-Sep-2021

We said good-bye to summer with a hike up Union Peak (7,709 ft / 2,350 m) in the southwest corner of Crater Lake National Park. The peak is the eroded remains (the neck) of a much larger volcano and is the second oldest peak in the park. The views from its summit are spectacular – provided they aren’t obscured by smoke. Which they were for most of this summer. So when our recent rains cleared the air and damped the wildfires, we knew it was time to visit Union again after a six year ๐Ÿ˜ฒ absence.

This hike starts from a poorly signed parking lot where the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) crosses Highway 62 just northwest of the park’s south entrance. There are no amenities here (other than a porta-potty), but you don’t have to pay the park’s entrance fee either. From here we went 2.4 miles (3.8 km) southwest on the PCT through a “green tunnel” of trees to a signed junction with the Union Peak Trail.

SOBO on the PCT
The brave hiker smile at the trail junction

From the junction, it was about another 1.5 miles (2.4 km) through more forest until the impressive east face of Union popped into view.

Union comes into view

The hike is pretty gradual up to this point but that soon changes. After traversing a boulder field and a stretch of cinders, we reached the steep part of the peak and began hiking and scrambling up a series of ever shortening switchbacks. One has to admire the dedication it took to carve a trail up the side of this peak.

Across the boulder field
And the cinder slope
The LovedOne (arrow) crosses more boulders to the start of the switchbacks
Mount McLoughlin from the trail
Some sections of the climb are just a walk
Peaks around the rim of Crater Lake
A few involve some scrambling

We reached the summit and its views around noon. There was some haze obscuring views to the south (as there often is) but the views elsewhere were expansive! ๐Ÿ˜€

To the north: (1) Mount Bailey, (2) Diamond Peak, (3) The Watchman, (4) Mount Thielsen, (5) Llao Rock
To the east: (1) Garfield Peak, (2) Applegate Peak, (3) Mount Scott
To the southeast: (1) Goosenest, (2) Upper Klamath Lake, (3) Goose Egg, (4) Gardner Peak
To the south: (1) Lee Peak, (2) Devils Peak, (3) Mount Shasta, (4) Lucifer
Mount McLoughlin
To the west: The Red Blanket Creek Valley and Lost Creek Lake (arrow), with the burn scar of the 2017 Blanket Creek Fire in the foreground

After filling-up on views and a snack, we retraced our steps back to the trailhead. It’s the same distance in both directions, but going back always seems to take longer. ๐Ÿ™„

Going down, with the Crater Lake Rim in the distance
Some really short switchbacks
A last look at Mount McLoughlin
A Mountain Pasque Flower goes to seed
Almost off the peak
Then back through the forest
A ledge fungus adds color to the forest
Back through the green tunnel

The out-and-back to Union came to 9.4 miles (15 km) with 1,500 feet (457 m) of gain. The weather had been near-perfect all day: crisp in the morning rising to sunny and warm by mid-day, with a light breeze throughout. And no bugs! Two SOBO section backpackers passed us on the PCT, otherwise we had the trail and the peak to ourselves.

It had been worth waiting-out (as if we had a choice) some seven weeks of stifling wildfire smoke to have a brilliant day like today. To add sprinkles to such perfection, we stopped by Beckie’s Cafe in Union Creek on the way home. We were aiming for pie to-go (which we got ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿฅง) but stayed for dinner too. Thus, when we got home, we were able to skip cooking and cleaning, and just sit on the couch stuffing pie in our faces. ๐Ÿ˜

Our route to and from Union Peak
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4 comments

  1. As far as we can tell, that “trail” south of the peak is just an incorrect mapping of the actual trail. The alignment of the Union Peak Trail, and its connection with the PCT, were corrected on the 2020 USGS topo map for this area. CalTopo uses the 2016 USFS map which doesn’t show this correction.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So it looks like you could have done a loop, or is that other trail south of the Union Peak trail shown on the map not really there?

    Liked by 1 person

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