Crowley Lake Columns.
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Crowley Lake Columns: How to Visit

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Want to know what it feels like to step into another world? Well, come on down to Crowley Lake Columns, one of California’s most bizarre places!

This spot offers a mix of natural beauty, mystery, and adventure. Before heading out, here’s everything you need to know.

What Caused The Crowley Lake Columns?

Let’s get this part out of the way; I’m sure you’re wondering, “How the heck did Crowley Lake Columns come to be?!” We wondered the same.

Close up of the Crowley Lake Columns besides the lake with rocks on the shoreline and a view of mountains on a sunny day.
The columns beside Crowley Lake.

These intriguing formations are not just a feast for the eyes; they’re also a geological puzzle centuries in the making. Formed by a process known as columnar jointing, these columns result from volcanic activity.

Thousands of years ago, hot volcanic ash flowed into the area and cooled rapidly, contracting and cracking into stunningly symmetrical shapes. Over time, erosion played its part, unveiling the columns by the lake’s edge.

Nina overlooking Crowley Lake and the columns with an amazing view far into the distance.
Looking down towards the columns from above.

Thanks, Mother Nature! Now, how does one explore these weird things?

How to Get Here: Hike or Drive?

If you’re picturing a well-marked trailhead leading to a leisurely stroll, think again. The journey to the Crowley Lake Columns is more of an off-road escapade.

You’ll need a four-wheel drive to tackle the rugged path, OR be prepared for a 2-mile hike, one way, if your ride isn’t up to the challenge.

White campervan parked besides the trailhead for Crowley Lake Columns while Nina heads up the trail with a view of mountains.
Lucy parked at the trailhead.

Lucy, our VW Bus, was NOT up for the ride. You can park on the side of the dirt path if you’re in the same boat (or I guess I should say vehicle).

This is the “parking” area.

The Hike:

Distance: 4 miles
Type of Trail: Out and Back
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 515 feet

Other important notes:

  • Dogs are allowed
  • There is no fee for this trail
  • Water levels matter! You might not be able to see the columns if the water level is high during the rainy season.

Trust me, the road’s mix of deep ruts, steep inclines, and sandy stretches make for a tough drive, don’t do it unless you’re 1000% confident.

Nina hiking along Crowley Lake trail between bushes with a view of the mountains ahead on a sunny day.
Crazy views along the trail!

But don’t let this deter you; the walk is incredibly scenic, surrounded by majestic mountains and desert shrubbery.

The path isn’t much of a hike as it’s more like a dirt road you’ll follow. The 4-mile trek is rated moderate, but it’s accessible to most, with just a bit of uphill walking involved.

Two people at the top of a section of the Crowley Lake trail.
A slight uphill section of the trail. I doubt your car wants to attempt this, right?

There are some ups and downs on a sandy trail and then a bit of a wander through some shrubbery before descending to the beach.

Arriving at Crowley Lake Columns

After navigating the sandy and uneven paths, you’ll be greeted by the sight of Lake Crowley’s pebbly shores, with the columns standing tall right in front of you.

Nina standing on a cliff edge overlooking the Crowley Lake Columns down on the shoreline of the lake on a sunny day.
Looking down to the columns.

These formations are nothing short of otherworldly, with cave-like entrances and columnar structures that look like carefully piled salt pillars.

It’s a photographer’s dream, especially if you time your visit for when the sunlight illuminates the columns just right (either very early or late afternoon).

Crowley Lake Columns in shadow with different textures and colors on the columns.
Getting up-close and personal!

You can wander around here for a while, weaving in and out of the columns and enjoying soaking up the sun lakeside.


  • Vehicle Advice: Many who thought their vehicles could make it, didn’t. Even SUVs and trucks often park just a bit further up the trail, giving up on the drive very quickly.
  • Bug Spray: This will be your best friend. The mosquitos are vicious and will start attacking mere seconds after getting out of your car. I can’t stress this point enough. I’d actually recommend covering up as much as possible to avoid bites, then spraying yourself down.
  • Come Prepared: There’s nothing out here. At all. Not even a bathroom or water.
  • Sun Protection: There’s no shade anywhere unless you’re under the columns. Bring a hat and some sunscreen.
  • Swimming: If you want a dip on a hot day, you’ll have access to the lake, and you can swim here.
  • Seasons: During the rainy season, the trail/road to get here might be in even worse condition, and the columns might barely be visible if the lake’s levels are too high.
  • Camping: The Crowley Lake BLM Campground is a great spot to stay just across from the lake.
  • Food Tip: Stop by East Side Bake Shop for some sweet treats or even some breakfast! It’s SO good. We had a yummy egg souffle before getting to the Columns and some of the best scones I’ve ever had that we ate after the hike.
Three people in a red dingy on Crowley Lake with an amazing view of snow-capped mountains.
Or take a boat out and explore the lake!

Final Thoughts

The Crowley Lake Columns are well worth visiting if you’re in the area. There are a lot of cool and weird things to do in California, but I think this tops the charts as one of the weirdest.

We loved walking around and checking out these columns; you’ve got to stop by.

Where to next?

We hope this helps you plan your trip to visit Crowley Lake Columns!

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