Established on May 22, 1902, Crater Lake National Park in Oregon is a natural wonder born out of a cataclysmic volcanic eruption. Crowning the Cascade Mountain Range, the park contains vibrant forests, bountiful wildlife and an awe-inspiring blue lake worthy of its nickname “lake majesty.” Its geologic history spans back thousands of years and inspires visitors today as they swim, snowshoe, ski, hike and cycle through the mountainous terrain. With countless other activities and thousands of acres to explore, adventure is endless at Crater Lake.
To celebrate the incredible natural landscape of our nation’s 6th national park, check out 12 things you might not know about Crater Lake.
1. The blue beauty of Crater Lake extends beyond its depth. At 1,943 feet deep, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in America. Famous for its beautiful blue color, the lake’s water comes directly from snow or rain -- there are no inlets from other water sources. This means no sediment or mineral deposits are carried into the lake, helping it maintain its rich color and making it one of the cleanest and clearest lakes in the world. Visitors can swim at designated areas, but beware -- the water is usually very cold!
2. With an annual average of 43 feet of snow, Crater Lake is one of the snowiest places in United States. That’s equivalent to 1.4 inches of snow every day for a year! The park’s official winter season lasts from November to April, but visitors are advised that snow may linger into May and June. While parts of the park close for winter weather, there are plenty of opportunities to have fun in the snow -- from snowshoeing with a park ranger to cross-country skiing, sledding and snowmobiling. If you’d rather experience the winter season from the warm comfort of the indoors, check out the Steel Visitor Center or catch partial views of the lake from the observation room at Rim Village.
3. Crater Lake was formed by the fall of a volcano. Mount Mazama, a 12,000-foot-tall volcano, erupted and collapsed approximately 7,700 years ago, forming Crater Lake. Mount Mazama was an important symbol to the native Makalak people who lived in the surrounding areas. Makalak legend explains that the fall of the mountain was caused by a brutal battle between the spirit of the sky and the spirit of the mountain. The destructive eruption signaled the end of the battle, but many natives mourned the loss of the sacred volcano. As you explore Crater Lake, take time to remember its sacred history.
4. The drive around Rim Road features more than 30 scenic pullouts. At Pinnacles Overlook, visitors can see volcanic ash frozen into 100-foot-tall solid rock formations. Stopping at Videa Falls provides a view of a cascading waterfall and is one of the best places to observe some of the park’s plant life. For a unique spot bursting with color, stop at Pumice Castle Overlook. Over time, an orange layer of pumice eroded into the shape of a castle -- a magnificently royal occurrence. Or visitors can step back in time at Discovery Point and imagine themselves in the boots of John Hillman, the first pioneer to see Crater Lake. With so many wonders along the way, the 33-mile drive around Rim Road can be an all-day sightseeing trip!
5. The unique tree life gives the park color. Crater Lake National Park is home to some amazing old growth forest ecosystems. The park has four forest zones to explore -- ponderosa pine forest, lodgepole pine forest, mountain hemlocks zone and whitebark pines zone -- each one named after its dominant tree species. Make sure to enjoy these natural beauties as you hike or snowshoe through the landscape.
6. Enjoy some outstanding wildlife viewing. With many different mammals, amphibians, fish and birds, Crater Lake is home to plenty of wildlife. Deer, squirrels and birds are most common, but visitors exploring the forests and trails might encounter elk and bobcats. If you are lucky enough to see these amazing creatures, always remain a safe distance away and never feed wildlife.
7. While exploring the park, don’t forget to look up. Crater Lake’s elevation offers stunning views across the lake and up above. The warm glow of the sunrise fills Crater Lake in the early mornings with colors reflecting off the water and snow. Sunsets in the park are just as spectacular. At night, Crater Lake’s skies turn into some of the darkest in America. On clear, moonless nights, starscapes illuminate the park, and visitors can see satellites, planets and the arms of the Milky Way.
8. Crater Lake is a great place to test your cycling skills. The hilly landscape requires extreme endurance and plenty of training prior to participation. But don’t worry -- the breathtaking nature around you will still be there to admire at your leisure when the ride is over. Rim Road goes vehicle-free two days a year for the Ride the Rim event. Bicyclists from across the country take part in this ride to enjoy the scenic roadway.
9. Crater Lake is the only place in the world to find the Mazama newt. This subspecies of rough-skinned newt, also called the Crater Lake Newt, is native to the lake. Threatened by invasive species, scientists are trying to combat non-native crayfish and preserve the existence of these unique newts. Usually found hiding under rocks or logs, lucky visitors may spot one of these rare creatures around the edge of the lake.
10. Fire is essential to Crater Lake’s plant life. The summer fire season at Crater Lake can scorch thousands of acres of land. However, this natural occurrence has proven to have positive impacts on the ecosystem. Many plants have adapted to survive fires and thrive in their aftermath from restored nutrients in the soil. While essential to the ecosystem, wildfires can be dangerous for visitors. Always follow fire safety tips when venturing out during fire season!
11. Eerie islands rise out of the lake. Wizard Island is the largest in Crater Lake. The remains of a volcanic cinder cone, it rises more than 750 feet about the surface of the lake. Visitors in the summer can take a boat tour out to explore Wizard Island and hike to the its summit. Phantom Ship Island is anchored just off the lakeshore and is off the radar of most visitors. Though it resembles a small sailboat, the island is as tall as a 16-story building. It’s made of erosion-resistant lava, and at 400,000 years old, it’s the oldest exposed rock within the caldera. Visitors can get a great view of the island by driving to at Phantom Ship Overlook or by hiking to Sun Notch.
12. Where the water goes, no one knows! Because Crater Lake has no outlets leading to other water sources, the changing water level of the lake presents an interesting scientific question. Precipitation rates are more than twice the evaporation rates, so there is a lot of water that seemingly goes unaccounted for. Scientists have discovered that steady seepage is what maintains the water balance. Water seeps out of the caldera’s walls at a rate of about 2 million gallons of water an hour! The mystery scientists are still studying is where all of that water goes -- no paths, springs or other water sources have been found to carry the same water as the lake. With complex dynamics, Crater Lake’s water level will remain a subject of wonder and study for years to come.
Crater Lake is the perfect place to explore snow or shine! Start planning your adventure here: https://www.nps.gov/crla/index.htm