Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park sees more than 720 thousand visitors each year

Crater Lake National Park lies in the caldera of an ancient volcano called Mount Mazama that collapsed 7,700 years ago. The lake is the deepest in the United States and is noted for its vivid blue color and water clarity. Wizard Island and the Phantom Ship are more recent volcanic formations within the caldera. As the lake has no inlets or outlets, the lake is replenished only by precipitation.


The result of Mount Mazama

Mount Mazama
The eruption of Mount Mazama, about 7,700 years ago, lasted only a couple of days the first phase of the eruption produced a towering column of pumice and ash
the second phase of the eruption was the ring-vent phase that started the collapse of the mountain into the center pyroclastic flows happened in this phase (mixture rock fragments, gas, ash at temperatures > 1470 degrees F)

Mazama Ash
ash rose and settled over much of the western US and southwestern Canada (656,000 miles squared)
the ash makes a good marker for geologists to study features and processes over a wide variety of landscapes
Shield Volcanoes and Cinder Cones
partly surround Mount Mazama
part of the historic magma input to Mount Mazama
activity of these small volcanoes represents activities of regional volcanism
Crater Lake Caldera and Rocky Fill
the caldera is 5-6 miles in diameter
the caldera is 3,900 feet deep
since the eruption, material has fallen into the caldera from the walls, and from new volcanic activity inside the caldera
Crater Lake
average surface elevation 6,178 feet above sea level
maximum depth 1,949 feet
deepest lake in US
second deepest in North America
seventh deepest in with world
the lake is one of the most clear in the world
the blue color of the lake is one of the treasures of the world
scientific study began as early as 1887
the lake has no stream running in or out
the lake water level is controlled by precipitation, evaporation, and seepage through the rocks
Glacial Features
in the past, glaciers and volcanoes occurred at Crater Lake during the known global ice ages
glacial features include
ice-bounded lava flow formations
table mountains
till and moraines
polish and striations
U-shaped valleys
notches, cirques, and horns
six advances of glacial ice occurred at Crater Lake National Park
carved notches at the beginnings of Sun and Kerr valleys
one advance happened on the caldera walls
the park contains more than 40 caves
31 caves are within the rim of the caldera
many caves are near the lake surface
5 cave sites (with one or more caves) occur outside the rim

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Native American History

There is a rich Native American history near Crater Lake National Park

A Native American connection with this area has been traced back to before the cataclysmic eruption of Mount Mazama. Archaeologists have found sandals and other artifacts buried under layers of ash, dust, and pumice from this eruption approximately 7,700 years ago. To date, there is little evidence indicating that Mount Mazama was a permanent home to people. However, it was used as a temporary camping site. Accounts of the eruption can be found in stories told by the Klamath Indians, who are the descendants of the Makalak people. The Makalaks lived in an area southeast of the present park. Because information was passed down orally, there are many different versions. The Umpqua people have a similar story, featuring different spirits. The Makalak legend told in the park film, The Crater Lake Story, is as follows:

The spirit of the mountain was called Chief of the Below World (Llao). The spirit of the sky was called Chief of the Above World (Skell). Sometimes Llao came up from his home inside the earth and stood on top of Mount Mazama, one of the highest mountains in the region. During one of these visits, he saw the Makalak chief’s beautiful daughter and fell in love with her. He promised her eternal life if she would return with him to his lodge below the mountain. When she refused, he became angry and declared that he would destroy her people with fire. In his rage, he rushed up through the opening
of his mountain and stood on top of it and began to hurl fire down upon them. The mighty Skell took pity on the people and stood atop Mount Shasta to defend them. From their mountaintops, the two chiefs waged a furious battle. They hurled red hot rocks as large as hills. They made the earth tremble and caused great landslides of fire. The people fled in terror to the waters of Klamath Lake. Two holy men offered to sacrifice themselves by jumping into the pit of fire on top of Llao’s mountain. Skell was moved by their bravery and drove Llao back into Mount Mazama. When the sun rose next, the great mountain was gone. It had fallen in on Llao. All that remained was a large hole. Rain fell in torrents, filling the hole with water. This is now called Crater Lake.

Park History

How Crater Lake became a National Park

  In 1870, a young man from Kansas named William Gladstone Steel unwrapped his lunch, carefully contained in a newspaper. As he ate, he read an article about an unusual lake in Oregon. The story sparked Steel’s imagination and he vowed to see the lake for himself someday. Two years later, Steel’s family moved to Portland, Oregon; but another thirteen years passed before Steel finally gazed upon the beauty of Crater Lake. He was so moved that he decided that it should forever be a public park. His seventeen year quest to see Crater Lake established as a national park had begun. In 1886, Steel assisted with the mapping of the lake, which had been undertaken by Clarence Dutton for the U. S. Geological Survey. During the original survey, soundings of the lake were conducted using pipe and piano wire. The maximum depth determined by the survey was 1,996 feet (608 meters),
only 53 feet off from the depth of 1,943 feet (592meters) set by the survey of 2000. Steel’s proposals to create a national park met with
much argument from sheep herders and mining interests. A fledgling U.S. conservation movement began in the late 1800’s, greatly aiding Steel’s efforts by prompting awareness of preserving natural areas. In 1893, the lake received some protection as part of the Cascade Range Forest Reserve. For Steel, this was not good enough. He continued to work, and on May 22, 1902, Crater Lake finally became a national park.


The best things to do in Crater Lake National Park

Visitors arrive at the park with anticipation of seeing Crater Lake, one of the world’s deepest, clearest, and bluest lakes. Whether day-tripping or spending a week, there are many ways to explore the park and enjoy the lake.

Discover Crater Lake’s geology on a boat or trolley tour, or join a ranger program for another fascinating perspective on this 183,224-acre national park. Kids are encouraged to learn about the park by completing seven pages in the Junior Ranger book, and during the summer participate in daily Junior Ranger activities.

Ninety miles of trails meander through diverse forests, and rise to peaks with views of the lake. The historic 33-mile Rim Drive circles Crater Lake with views from 30 overlooks. Opportunities to photograph landscapes, the lake, and wildflowers are countless. Stargazing, camping, and with some advance planning fishing are also options for things to do.

Select one of the images below or download the park newspaper to learn more about the different activities available during summer and winter.

Activities may depend on the season and the weather. A late spring snowmelt or a summer thunderstorm could change your plans. Clouds that sink into the caldera, and sometimes smoke from area wildfires can obscure lake views. On the day of your visit check the weather and current conditions (includes road status and accommodations), and take a peek at the park webcams.

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The wildflowers alone are worth the trip to Crater Lake 

Surrounding the picturesque, deep-blue Crater Lake are over 180,000 acres of forests, meadows, wetlands, and pumice fields. Together these create the canvas of Crater Lake National Park which rises from 3,990 feet in elevation to 8,926. The park supports more than 700 species of native plants that thrive, in spite of a short growing season and the challenge to survive in soils derived from porous pumice and volcanic ash.

Wildflowers are delicate splashes of color in the highest elevations but in lower elevations they grow profusely along rivers, creeks, and hillsides. The tallest trees are found along and up from the park boundary while the oldest trees hug the caldera rim. Rare plant species of conservation concern are protected throughout this diverse canvas.

The introduction and spread of invasive plant species is an ongoing threat to the Park’s biodiversity. Through re-vegetation and management of invasive species, park botanists are restoring disturbed areas back to their natural condition.

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Animal Life

The lake offers an incredible ecosystem for wildlife

Crater Lake National Park is rich with wildlife. Mammals, birds, and insects makeup the largest portion of animals living throughout the park. Native and some invasive fish species occupy many of the streams. Amphibians live in the wet lands, streams, ponds, and along the shore of Crater Lake. A few species of reptiles thrive on Wizard Island and in dry habitats.

Common Sightings
The most common animals observed around Rim Drive are golden-mantled ground squirrels, Canada jays and an assortment of butterflies and bees. Black bear sightings are more common in autumn and late spring when animals are waking up or getting ready to hibernate. American marten, snowshoe hare, and Douglas squirrel tracks are abundant in the winter snow. Melting snow and changing temperatures signal animal migrations, hibernation and seasonal foraging.

While many common animals are observed along Rim Drive and popular trails, visiting other areas might provide better opportunities to enjoy the sights and sounds of a wider variety of wildlife. Animals—amphibians, birds, invertebrates, mammals, reptiles and fish—may be more prominent around some of the unique and less visited landscapes of Crater Lake National Park such as Sphagnum Bog, Union Peak, Panhandle, Boundary Springs, and Desert Creek Research Natural Area.

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Hiking Trails

The best hiking trails at Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park has over 90 miles of hiking trails that are accessible in the summer months, providing visitors a great way to discover the park. The park receives an average of 43 feet of snow each year, making the winter months challenging. However, if you’re prepared, the parks winter trails and unplowed roads provide skiers and snowshoers with access to open slopes, dense forests, and breathtaking views, making Crater Lake ideal for both day-trippers and backcountry visitors.

Come prepared to hike at elevations in changing weather patterns. Park elevations range from around 4,500 feet to almost 9,000 feet above sea level, and depending on the time of year, weather conditions can fo from Sunny and clear to heavy snow in jus a few hours. If you’re new to backcountry camping and travel, seek the proper training and advice of an experienced friend or park ranger. Always tell a friend your plans and remember safety is your responsibility.

Backcountry Camping Permits
A backcountry camping permit is required year-round for all over night trips in the backcountry. The free permit is only valid for the dates, locations, and party size specified. Permits are not required for day hiking; however, day hikers must observe all backcountry regulations.

All backcountry camping permits must be obtained in person, during business hours, from one of two following locations at park headquarters. They are not available over the phone, or more than 1 day in advance.

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