You are here

Trails I’ve Hiked: Castle Crest Wildflower Trail At Crater Lake National Park

Alternate Text
Mid-August continues to bring out color along the Castle Crest Wildflower Trail/Kurt Repanshek

Though short, at not quite a half-mile, the Castle Crest Wildflower Trail offers a refreshing walk through a cool, colorful corner of Crater Lake National Park.

Located less than a quarter-mile from the start of East Rim Drive near park headquarters, this quiet nature trail with its gurgling creek offers both the chance to stretch your legs and to take a closer look at some of the park'™s colorful vegetation.

The trail, built by the Boy Scouts in 1929, is said to take you through an area with more than 200 species of wildflowers. There are pinkish monkeyflowers, purple lupines, yellow buttercups, purple monkshood, and blazing red paintbrush and skyrocket gilia.

When the Scouts built the trail, they created an oval-shaped loop that crosses the main spring-fed creek four times, as well as some seeps and springs feeding into it. For the crossings, wooden bridges or native flagstone stepping stones help keep your feet dry.

Depending on which direction you head from the start, the trail leads you first either onto a dry slope pitched down towards the meadow in the middle of the loop, or up onto a slope of Castle Crest kept moist by snowmelt and springs. 

The forests that rim the trail count Mountain hemlock, Lodgepole pine, Shasta red fir, and subalpine fir among their trees.

For photographers, the trail catches the best light in the morning, with afternoon bringing creeping shade. 

Careful observers might spot an American dipper, or Water Ouzel, in the creek, or rufous hummingbirds attracted by the Skyrocket gilia'™s trumpet-shaped flowers.


Alternate TextLewis Monkeyflowers brighten the trail in August/Kurt Repanshek



Castle Crest Wildflower Trail


Crater Lake National Park


Klamath County, OR



Castle Crest Wildflower Trail is a 0.40-mile interpretive trail that loops around a meadow below Castle Crest Ridge. The site is located 0.25 miles east of Park Headquarters at Munson Valley. Originally built in 1929, the trail was created to provide visitor access to and interpretation of one of the most abundant wildflower displays in the park. The Castle Crest Wildflower Trail was not only connected to the early development of Crater Lake’s education program, it was also a local manifestation of a greater NPS educational movement.

The period of significance of Castle Crest Wildflower Trail is 1929-1938, beginning with the date the trail was constructed, ending at the date the last major documented changes were made to its alignment. This landscape is associated with the events of early National Park Service educational program development of the 1920s and 1930s. It is an example of popular techniques used to interpret a park’s natural resources during this period, incorporating both a self-guided nature trail and a wildflower garden.

The Castle Crest Wildflower Trail is significant as the first trail and wildflower garden planned, constructed, and used specifically for interpretational purposes as part of Crater Lake National Park’s educational program. The early development of this program was highly influenced by Dr. John C. Merriam, who was appointed in 1928 by the Secretary of the Interior to a committee to study educational possibilities of the national parks.

From 1928 to 1945, Merriam developed the educational program at Crater Lake, using the park as experimental grounds. Merriam intended Crater Lake’s educational program to become an example for all parks to follow. Merriam established the interpretational foundations of the education program by determining the park’s interpretive theme: the processes of volcanism and its influence in the creation of the Crater Lake landscape. During this time, eleven nature trails were built specifically for interpretation purposes. These trails were differentiated from bridle trails and fire access trails in the park master plans. The Castle Crest Wildflower Trail was the first of these interpretative trails.

Castle Crest Wildflower Trail, originally called the “Castle Crest Garden,” is also one example of the wild flower displays that were created in several national parks in the 1920s and 1930s. Wildflowers were typically displayed at the parks using two main techniques: 1) a cut flower display, labeled and maintained at the park’s museum, naturalist’s office, or lodge, or 2) a labeled wildflower garden.

These wildflower gardens were usually created by either transplanting native flowers to a designed garden site or into an existing meadow to increase the density and variety of blooming plants. Alternatively, some wildflower gardens made use of existing meadows by simply adding paths. In all cases, the flora was labeled to facilitate plant identification by visitors. Crater Lake’s Castle Crest Wildflower Trail was one of the first wildflower gardens created in the national park service.

The wildflower meadow or “garden," is bowl shaped – enclosed on the north and east by Castle Crest Ridge towering 2,000’ above, and on the south and west by low moraines. Five springs create moist conditions within the meadow that support a prolific wildflower community. The trail continues to follow its historic alignment and provide visitors an interpretive opportunity of the wildflower displays.





Cultural Landscape Recommendations: Park Headquarters at Munson Valley, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon





<< Previous | Table of Contents | Next >>




Natural features of the Castle Crest Wildflower Trail. No scale.

"In order that visitors unable, through lack of time or physical strength, to visit all parts of the park may see and enjoy as many varieties as possible of the exquisite wild flowers that abound in out-of-the-way places, wildflower gardens have been constructed in several of the national parks."(1) Visitor accessibility was the incentive behind construction of the Castle Crest Wildflower Garden east of the Administrative plaza in 1929. Chief naturalist Ansel Hall (1923-1930), of the NPS Research and Education Branch, may have directed the layout of the .4 mile loop trail and organized the presentation of interpretive information. The trail contained at least 29 interpretive stops through an area of forest, swamp, wet-meadow, and grassy slope featuring native wildflower display and an occasional glimpse of wildlife through the spring and summer seasons. Boy Scouts constructed the trail and attached aluminum identification labels to plant materials adjacent to the trail.(2) At an approximate construction cost of $160.00, the unpaved trail featured five log bridges and four rustic benches.

Park naturalist at the footpath access to the Castle Crest Wildflower Garden from the Administrative plaza, c.1930. (CRLA Park files)

Establishment of the Castle Crest Wildflower Garden in 1929 may have been part of an NPS interpretive program to provide accessible and educational nature trails. Other gardens developed at this time include a garden at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley and an area adjacent to the Museum and Administration building at Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park. Both garden designs used transplanted materials from other areas in the parks to exhibit a "profuse" array of native flowers and to attract wildlife. In contrast, park records indicate that plant materials of the Castle Crest garden were not imported but are indigenous to the site. Trail construction and interpretive devices constitute the only design elements of the site.

Research to-date suggests that the historical significance of the Castle Crest Trail is a designed landscape associated with NPS interpretive programs of the mid-1920s to mid-1930s, and the work of naturalist and forester Ansel F. Hall. Hall's NPS career (c.1920-1938) included terms as senior naturalist and chief forester, and chief of the Field Division. His vision for environmental education in national parks combined a deep feeling for youth and nature. Hall's "plans" were ready for implementation when the New Deal public works programs were formed. He brought private funds and public involvement to the parks as he developed the first museum association at Yosemite and organized Eagle Scout trips in park areas. Although further research is required to properly assess the historic contexts and significance of the Castle Crest Wildflower garden, the site possesses many of the design features and qualities from the original design. Additional field investigation is required to assess the site boundaries and the extent of historic materials present at the site.

Suggested research topics include: Boy Scouts of America; history of interpretation in the National Park Service; and the history of accessible design, general and NPS.

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide