Crater Lake National Park vs Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Crater Lake National Park vs Great Smoky Mountains National Park

“Discover a world of contrasts with Crater Lake and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks. Crater Lake presents a stunning blue gem in a caldera created by a long-extinct volcano, while the rolling hills of Great Smoky Mountains are shrouded in a mysterious blue haze. Immerse yourself in the crystal clear waters of Crater Lake or hike through diverse landscapes in the Smokies, from lush forests to wildflower-filled meadows. Whether you’re an adventurer, seeking solitude, or just a nature lover, these two National Parks offer a unique experience for everyone.”

Hiking Trails in Crater Lake National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Crater Lake National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park are two popular destinations for hiking enthusiasts. Crater Lake boasts fewer trails but they tend to be longer and more scenic, with the Pacific Crest Trail running 2650 miles through the park. The Rim Drive Trail, a 33-mile road that offers panoramic views of the lake, and the Watchman Peak Trail, a 1.5-mile hike with awe-inspiring views, are two of the easiest hikes in the park. On the other hand, the most challenging hike in Crater Lake is the Cleetwood Cove Trail, a steep 1.1-mile descent to the lake shore.

In contrast, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has over 800 miles of trails and is famous for its lush forests, rolling hills, and scenic waterfalls. Some of the easiest hikes include the Gatlinburg Trail, a 2.9-mile leisurely hike through the forest, and the Laurel Falls Trail, a 2.6-mile hike to an 80-foot waterfall. For the more adventurous hiker, the Alum Cave Trail is a 5.5-mile journey to the summit of Mount Le Conte, with an elevation gain of over 2500 feet. Both parks offer a variety of hiking experiences, from easy walks to challenging backcountry adventures, making them perfect destinations for outdoor enthusiasts of all skill levels.

Most Popular Hiking Trails in Crater Lake National Park

Name Length Elevation Type Difficulty Visitor Ratings
Garfield Peak Trail 3.39 mi 1,069.28 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5
Cleetwood Cove Trail 2.10 mi 623.20 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5
The Watchman Peak Trail 1.60 mi 387.04 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5
Mount Scott Trail 4.19 mi 1,259.52 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5
Discovery Point Trail 3.99 mi 915.12 ft out and back Easy 4.5/5
Plaikni Falls Trail 2.00 mi 134.48 ft out and back Easy 4/5
Wizard Island Trail 2.30 mi 751.12 ft loop Moderate 4.5/5
Sun Notch Trail 0.80 mi 127.92 ft loop Easy 4.5/5
Pinnacles Valley Trail 0.70 mi 39.36 ft out and back Easy 4/5
Mazama Village to Rim Village at Crater Lake 8.28 mi 1,741.68 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5

Most Popular Hiking Trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Name Length Elevation Type Difficulty Visitor Ratings
Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte 10.68 mi 3,007.76 ft out and back Hard 5/5
Chimney Tops Trail 3.59 mi 1,289.04 ft out and back Hard 4.5/5
Rainbow Falls Trail 5.49 mi 1,653.12 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5
Grotto Falls Trail 2.59 mi 534.64 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5
Laurel Falls Trail 2.40 mi 396.88 ft out and back Easy 4/5
Abrams Falls Trail 4.89 mi 629.76 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5
Clingmans Dome Observation Tower Trail 1.20 mi 331.28 ft out and back Easy 4.5/5
Charlies Bunion via Appalachian Trail 8.58 mi 1,981.12 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5
Ramsey Cascades Trail 8.08 mi 2,223.84 ft out and back Hard 4.5/5
Peregrine Peak via Alum Cave Bluffs Trail 4.19 mi 1,059.44 ft out and back Moderate 5/5

Wildlife in Crater Lake National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Crater Lake National Park in Oregon boasts a large, deep blue lake surrounded by forests, attracting diverse wildlife. Common sightings include black bears, deer, squirrels, chipmunks, and marmots, while bird lovers can observe bald eagles, ospreys and Steller’s jays. The park also offers a mix of coniferous and deciduous trees, and various wildflowers and flowering plants.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park in TN/NC is known for its abundant wildlife and plant life. Visitors can expect to see black bears, white-tailed deer, coyotes, raccoons and a variety of bird species, including bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and wild turkeys. The park showcases deciduous and coniferous trees, wildflowers and flowering plants, including rare and endangered species like Fraser fir and red spruce.

Below are lists of the most commonly spotted wildlife at Crater Lake National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. However, you can see a full list of wildlife at each national park here.

Birds

Crater Lake National Park Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Peregrine Falcon Peregrine Falcon
Northern Harrier Northern Harrier
Sharp-Shinned Hawk Sharp-Shinned Hawk
Osprey Osprey
Tree Swallow Tree Swallow
Mallard Mallard
Canada Goose Canada Goose
Lincoln’s Sparrow Lincoln’s Sparrow
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet Ruby-Crowned Kinglet
American Robin American Robin
Great Horned Owl Great Horned Owl
Red-Tailed Hawk Red-Tailed Hawk
Northern Flicker Northern Flicker
Merlin Merlin
Barn Swallow Barn Swallow
Savannah Sparrow Savannah Sparrow
Great Blue Heron Great Blue Heron
Hermit Thrush Hermit Thrush
Bald Eagle American Kestrel
Song Sparrow Bald Eagle
European Starling Song Sparrow
Northern Pintail European Starling
American Wigeon Northern Pintail
American Pipit American Wigeon
Swainson’s Thrush Green-Winged Teal

Mammals

Crater Lake National Park Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Coyote Coyote
American Beaver American Beaver
Muskrat Muskrat
Big Brown Bat Big Brown Bat
Bobcat Bobcat
Striped Skunk Striped Skunk
Little Brown Bat Little Brown Bat
Deer Mouse Deer Mouse
Raccoon Raccoon
Black Bear Black Bear
Porcupine Porcupine
Silver-Haired Bat Silver-Haired Bat
Hoary Bat Hoary Bat
Red Fox Red Fox
Long-Tailed Weasel Long-Tailed Weasel
House Mouse House Mouse
Mountain Lion Panther (Mountain Lion)
Mink Mink
Mule Deer Or Black-Tailed Deer Gray Fox
Gray Fox Gray Wolf
Wolf Snowshoe Hare
Long-Legged Myotis River Otter
Long-Eared Myotis Masked Shrew
American Badger Water Shrew
Ermine Red Squirrel

Fish

Crater Lake National Park Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Rainbow Trout Rainbow Trout
Brook Trout Brook Trout
Brown Trout Brown Trout
Lake Trout Largemouth Bass
Silver Salmon Green Sunfish
Kokanee Salmon Bluegill
Cutthroat Trout Common Carp
Longnose Dace
Yellow Bullhead
Channel Catfish
Black Crappie
Black Bullhead
Mosquitofish
Creek Chub
Goldfish
Smallmouth Bass

Amphibians

Crater Lake National Park Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Bullfrog Northern Leopard Frog
American Bullfrog
Wood Frog

Insects

Crater Lake National Park Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Orange Sulphur Orange Sulphur
Painted Lady Painted Lady
Red Admiral Monarch
Honey Bee American Painted Lady
Purplish Copper Red Admiral
Anise Swallowtail Mourning Cloak
Cabbage White
Silvery Blue
Common Checkered Skipper
Common Sulphur
Honey Bee
Variegated Fritillary
Buckeye
Commom Wood Nymph
Gray Hairstreak

Beautiful Landscapes in Crater Lake National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Crater Lake features the deep blue waters of the caldera lake surrounded by towering cliffs. The main attraction is the lake, which is the deepest in the US. Visitors can take boat tours, hike trails or drive Rim Drive for panoramic views.

Great Smoky Mountains NP boasts stunning mountain ranges and breathtaking views. The most famous landscape is Newfound Gap Overlook, offering panoramic views of mountains, valleys, and streams. The park has over 800 miles of hiking trails including the Appalachian Trail, and numerous waterfalls such as 80-ft Laurel Falls.

Things To-Do and Activities in Crater Lake National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Crater Lake NP and Great Smoky Mountains NP both offer scenic drives, fishing, and hiking. Crater Lake NP is known for boating, stargazing, winter sports. Great Smoky Mountains NP has camping, wildlife watching, cultural heritage exploration, and fall leaf peeping.

Best Time to Visit Crater Lake National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Crater Lake NP has cold, snowy winters and mild, dry summers, while Great Smoky Mountains NP has a humid subtropical climate with warm summers and cool winters, with occasional snow. Both parks offer scenic beauty, but the best time to visit Crater Lake is during the summer months, while the best time to visit Great Smoky Mountains is in the spring or fall, when the weather is mild and the park is less crowded. The spring or fall also offers colorful autumn foliage in the Smokies.

Family Friendliness of Crater Lake National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Both Crater Lake and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks offer family-friendly experiences, but with different focuses. Crater Lake has scenic drives, boat tours, and easy hikes with stunning views of the lake. Great Smoky Mountains offers a wider range of activities such as scenic drives, camping, fishing, horseback riding, and multiple family-friendly hiking trails. For families, Great Smoky Mountains is a better option due to its wider range of activities, but both parks offer enjoyable experiences.

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