Crater Lake National Park


National Parks Image Gallery The startling blue waters of Crater Lake owe their color to the great depth of the crater. See more pictures of national parks.
©2006 National Park Services

Crater Lake National Park

PO Box 7

Crater Lake, OR 97604

541/594-3100

www.nps.gov/crla

Crater Lake -- located about 60 miles north of Klamath Falls, Oregon -- is a startling place because of the intensity of its deep cobalt-blue waters. In much the same way that the area around the Grand Canyon does not prepare you for its magnificence, the mountainous terrain surrounding Crater Lake seems an unlikely location for such a large body of water. To fully enjoy the offerings of Crater Lake National Park, visit it during the warm-weather months.

Entrance fees: $10 for seven days

Visitor centers: Steel Visitor Center is open daily except December 25. Rim Village Visitor Center is open from early June through late September.

Other services: A park lodge, motel, and two campgrounds

Accommodations:

  • Mazama Campground. Open from mid-June to early October.
  • Lost Creek Campground. Open from mid-July to early October.
  • Crater Lake Lodge. Open from mid-May to mid-October. Reservations recommended. 541-830-8700.
  • Mazama Village Motor Inn. Open from early June to early October. Reservations recommended. 541-830-8700.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Visiting Crater Lake National Park

One would have to search long and hard to find a blue as intense as the blue of Crater Lake. This phenomenon occurs in part because the freshwater lake is incredibly deep -- almost 2,000 feet! The purity, tranquility, and hauntingly translucent color of Crater Lake has long attracted artists, photographers, and nature aficionados. A rim road completely encircles the six-mile-wide crater far above the surface of the water, and a small village on the rim completes the picture. Despite the modest developments, visitors can still have those peaceful moments of solitude with the lake on hiking trails that wander among the thick quiet forests of spruce and fir before turning suddenly toward the steep rim.

As one would expect, Crater Lake has a number of water activities available to visitors, such as fishing and boating. There are also several scenic trails for hiking and biking. We'll detail the diverse sightseeing opportunities at Crater Lake National Park on the following page.

Sightseeing at Crater Lake National Park

©2006 National Park Services Shasta fir, hemlock, and pine populate the mountainous terrain surrounding Crater Lake.

Crater Lake National Park is located unexpectedly in the midst of a mountainous terrain. As you approach the lake, a road that rises gradually through twists and turns up the side of a mountain clothed in forests of Shasta red fir, hemlock, and pine.

Suddenly the road comes over a rise and plunges downward into a great basin, and there is the lake. At first you can hardly believe that you are seeing 25 square miles of water so blue that it looks like India Ink, circled by steep slopes, mountains, and great cliffs, which form a vast natural amphitheater.

One of the lake's loveliest inlets, Steel Bay, was named in honor of William Gladstone Steel. He became intrigued by the lake from a newspaper article he read while he was still a schoolboy.

As an adult, Steel worked tirelessly to make Crater Lake a national park. He lobbied for 17 years and appealed to President Theodore Roosevelt. Finally, in 1902, the nation's sixth national park was created, with the lake as its centerpiece.

Crater Lake National Park is well known for its deep snows (some years, they are more than 50 feet). Those same prodigious drifts nourish the wildflower displays that linger long into September, and, some years, even into early October. These include monkeyflower, spreading phlox, paintbrush, aster, lupine, and penstemon, among many others.

The forests provide a sanctuary for such native fauna as deer, elk, coyotes, black bears, bobcats, and assorted bird life (from common jays to bald and golden eagles). It is hard to believe, among all the harmony and gentle birdsong that surround Crater Lake today, that at one time it was the scene of one of nature's most violent events: a volcanic eruption.

Crater Lake National Park Photo Opportunities

Many of the park's features add to the spectacle of its remarkable lake. Keep your camera handy for photographs of these highlights:

  • The Phantom Ship: The Phantom Ship is an island made of lava, with 160-foot-high ridges and peaks. Seen at dusk, the silhouette evokes an eerie image of an ancient ship marooned in the middle of the water.
  • Hillman Peak: Hillman Peak is a 70,000-year-old volcanic cone, named for a prospector.
  • Wizard Island: Wizard Island is a volcanic cinder cone that rises 764 feet above the lake's surface. Its name refers to the pointed hat worn by sorcerers, which it resembles, but there is also no doubt that there is plenty of magic in this stunningly beautiful place.
  • The Pinnacles: The Pinnacles were sculpted by volcanic gases and erosion. First, hot gases spewing out of tall vents solidified the rock; then erosion cut away the softer rock, leaving only the hardened spires. Off of Rim Drive, The Pinnacles can be reached via a six-mile road.

The enormous lake visitors marvel at today is the result of great upheaval in the Earth's crust, caused by a volcano about 7,000 years ago. To learn about the enormous cave-in that created Crater Lake, go to the next page.

History: How Crater Lake Was Formed

©2006 National Park Services Standing on the edge of a tranquil Crater Lake, it's difficult to imagine that in this very spot, thousands of years ago, the great Mount Mazama erupted for the last time, spewing volcanic ash and smoke for miles.

Upon viewing the miles of blue water at Crater Lake National Park, visitors often speculate: How did a lake get on top of a mountain? Geologists believe the story begins long ago when Mount Mazama, a great volcano possibly 12,000 feet above sea level, formed as part of the chain of volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest that includes Mount Shasta and nearby Mount St. Helens.

Indian legends that relate to quarreling between the deities of heaven and the netherworld have helped geologists construct a reasonably accurate timetable. The peak was built of lava flows, ash, and debris from repeated eruptions. About 4860 B.C., Mount Mazama erupted for the last time.

This gigantic explosion catapulted volcanic ash and smoke miles into the air. After the blast, Mazama's peak remained as a shell over a hollow interior. Apparently, the ancestors of the native people who knew the legend of Mazama watched the summit finally collapse with a deafening roar. This geologic event created a huge smoldering caldera.

The distance from the surface of the lake to its bottom is 1,932 feet, which makes it the deepest lake in the United States. Water has accumulated here over centuries as rain and snowmelt filled in a huge caldera. This vast bowl is the remnant of a volcano.

Because no water flows into or out of the lake, its waters contain few minerals and almost no impurities. The lake's only fish, rainbow trout and kokanee salmon, were introduced by people. Forests of hemlock, pine, and fir and meadows of wildflowers grow in the lava and ash on the rim of the caldera. Today, bobcats, deer, marmots, bears, hawks, and eagles make this place their home.

Scientists today still do not fully understand the ecological character of the lake. Evidence of hydrothermal venting near the lake's bottom was discovered by manned submarines in 1989. This hot water may play an important role in the lake's ecology. Recently, green algae has been found growing at a record depth of 725 feet. This indicates to scientists that sunlight may penetrate deeper in Crater Lake than in any other body of water in the world. The lake's purity and its depth also account for its startling blue color.

Most of the park's tourist traffic occurs in the summer, when the snow has melted, the wildflowers have bloomed, and the birds are flitting from tree to tree. But every winter, the park opens in clear weather, and adventurous travelers return to traverse the deep snows using snowshoes or cross-country skis. In either warm or cold weather, Crater Lake National Park is a beautiful, tranquil getaway.

©Publications International, Ltd.

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