Despite the size of the state and the amount of scenic wilderness, there is only one national park in Oregon. However, nestled in the high Cascade Mountains of the southern part of the state, Crater Lake National Park is one of the most beautiful and breath-taking national parks in the United States.
From any high point in the Pacific Northwest, volcanoes can be seen soaring well above the rest of the Cascade Range. One volcano, though, is not visible. The glory of this fallen giant lies not in its height but in what it cradles in its summit, Crater Lake National Park, the clearest, deepest, bluest, the most breathtakingly beautiful lake in the United States.
Hidden from view, the lake seems little more than a promise to first-time visitors. Roads climb slowly, offering no hint that they lead to one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. Near the top, you expect the roads after rising 2,000 feet or so in 10 miles, to continue their gentle ascent. Instead of reaching toward the heavens, however, the mountain plunges earthward, disappearing into an immense bowl.
In a sense, Crater Lake offers an experience like that provided by the Grand Canyon, the jolt that comes with finding that you are at the edge of a precipice. In one lavish crescendo you are faced simultaneously with a lake six miles across, canyon-like depths, mountainous cliffs, and a natural amphitheater where light and color play leading roles. Visitors seldom react indifferently. Some are astonished. Some step back, uncertain. Few can look away.
On all sides, the rim of the large bowl circles into the distance. Below the rim, steep slopes drop nearly 2,000 feet to the lake. A small island, Wizard Island, juts from the water: from its shores, the feeling of being inside a vast basin is awesome. Smooth slopes and jagged cliffs rise all around and up to the rim, creating a world that would seem harsh and forbidding were it not for the firs and hemlocks that soften the contours. The trees are proof that life exists.
July and August are the only times when snow does not cover the entire rim. Although occasional storms sweeping in from the Pacific may disrupt the peace, this is the season of serenity at Crater Lake.
Imagine a summer dawn, crisp and still. A robin calls from somewhere, breaking the silence. Within a few moments, the bird sounds are more insistent. An orange glow on Garfield Peak, along the southwestern rim, heralds the sunrise across the water, but the lake remains in shadow. In the stillness, the rim’s reflection transforms the lake into a giant mirror. Steadily the sunshine moves down the wall until finally the reflection is lost.
With the shadows gone, the full glory of nature’s colors bursts forth, proclaiming a new day with the clarity of a bugle. A breath of air stirs the evergreens and sets a clump of lupines sway. A pair of ravens whirls by, climbing and diving in aerobatic displays. Periodically, one does a roll while sounding a musical, bell-like note completely at odds with its usual hoarse cries. Then the performers exit the stage.
Another breeze rustles the branches of aspens and cottonwoods, sending a dusting of pollen into the air, which is beginning to warm. A ground squirrel scampers a few feet, stops, and waits; a rabbit-like pika squeaks a warning and scurries to safety. A Steller’s jay utters a coarse cry, while a chickadee chatters anxiously in the trees.
How was Crater Lake Formed?
Crater Lake was formed thousands of years ago when a very large mountain, named Mount Mazama, underwent a series of eruptions. Eventually, the magma pocket under the mountain was severely depleted, leaving a huge but largely empty cavity. Much of the unsupported mountaintop collapsed into the empty space, creating a caldera or volcanic bowl-shaped depression, about six miles by four and a half miles in a slight oval and thousands of feet deep. Over two or more centuries, the average of about 44 feet of annual snow melted to partly fill the caldera.
A subsequent eruption created a cinder cone that can be seen today, slightly off center, protruding from the lake. The cone is named Wizard’s Island, and it rises roughly 900 feet above the level of the lake.
Depth and clarity
At approximately 1,949 feet deep, Crater Lake is recognized as the deepest lake in the United States, and the seventh deepest in the world. Due to the exceptional purity and the depth of the water, the lake appears very deep blue.
Crater Lake is the fifth oldest national park in the nation, and the park contains the deepest lake, for which the park is named, in the United States. The deep blue lake is more than 1,930 feet deep, according to the U.S. Park Service, which estimates that it holds more than 4.5 trillion gallons of water. The water owes its dark blue color mostly to the depth and purity of the lake, the water primarily coming from snow melt-off and rain.
The park itself isn’t large in comparison to some other national parks and it contains a little more than 183,000 acres. It became a national park when President Theodore Roosevelt signed a bill for that purpose on May 22, 1904.
The surface of Crater Lake is at an altitude of more than 6,100 feet, with the rim, overlooking the lake, at about 1,000 feet higher. The highest point in the park is Mount Scott, the top of which is nearly 9,000 feet in elevation.
Crater Lake National Park in the Winter
The National Park Service closes much of Crater Lake down during the winter, but the parts that remain open are ideal for snowshoe hiking, cross country skiing and a variety of other winter sports. During periods of fair weather, trails and viewing points are accessible to the public. The NPS does monitor for heavy snowfall and will shut the park down if the accumulations reach dangerous levels.
It’s estimated that over 530 inches of snowfall in a year’s time at Crater Lake. This makes it one of the heaviest hit areas of the country when it comes to winter precipitation. Even though much of the park is closed during the winter months, the park still offers many opportunities for education.
Crater Lake National Park is one of the most popular scenic vistas in the country. Almost 500,000 people visit the park each year. A fifth of those, almost 100,000 people, do so in the offseason. The winter months offer some of the most beautiful vistas in the country. The national forest surrounding the lake itself is full of hiking and skiing trails that lead to scenic viewpoints. Visiting during the winter months provides a scenic view that reminds one of a picturesque winter wonderland.
Rim drive and tours
The rim drive mostly circles the edge of the caldera, affording spectacular views of the lake that lies over a thousand feet below. Partway around the drive, a parking lot allows people to stop and walk down Cleetwood Cove trail to the lake itself. During the summer, there are regular boat tours around the lake and to Wizard Island. On those tours, Park Rangers explain the history of the lake. A person can get a boat schedule from the Rangers at Rim Village or from the information center. Visitors should allow themselves plenty of time to walk down to the water, and much more to walk back up.
The air at Crater Lake is some of the cleanest and freshest to be found, all lightly scented by the towering pines, firs, and hemlocks. It is very common from the rim to be able to see 150 miles or more. To the south, Mount Shasta can usually be seen, as can The Sisters to the north. Both of these are over 100 miles from Crater Lake.
Visitors have many options for staying at the park. At the Rim Village, they can rent rooms at the Crater Lake Lodge, a large and beautiful wood and stone building overlooking the lake. Within the last few years, the lodge was renovated, and the utmost care was taken to restore it to its former beauty.
There are also cabins available for rent. In both cases, it is recommended that visitors contact the park in advance, in regard to availability and rates.
There are also campgrounds within the park that are well maintained by the Park Service. These include RV parks available a short distance from the southern boundary. Check out our Crater Lake Camping Guide for more info!
At the Rim Village, a visitor can purchase mementos or dine at the cafe, which offers a breathtaking view of the lake.
There are also other sites worth seeing when a person visits this park. These include Castle Crest wildflower trail, an eighth-mile nature walk near the bottom of Rim Drive that includes many of the wildflowers found in the park. Lady of the Woods, a statuette of a sitting woman carved out of the solid volcanic rock by a lonely and love-struck worker, many decades ago.
There are also numerous streams and waterfalls to be seen within the park. Among the most beautiful are Munson Creek, Goodbye Creek, Castle Creek, and Anne Creek.
Check out all of the great things to do in Crater Lake!
The park is home to an enormous number of wildflowers, trees, and bushes. Mountain hemlock, ponderosa pines, towering firs, huckleberries, wild onions and chives, honeysuckle, wild columbine and pussy willows are only a few of the many plant species living here. An area was even set up, by transplanting some of these plants, to let visitors view some of these species. It is called Castle Crest Flower Gardens and consists of a looped trail of about one-eighth mile.
Trees at the park include enormous Ponderosa pines, sugar pines, hemlocks, noble, Shasta, Douglas, and white firs, cedars, lodgepole pines, and spruces. The wildflowers and plants include columbine, bleeding hearts, wild chives, huckleberry, mountain cranberry, alpine lupine, Oregon grape, bearberry, trillium, and honeysuckle.
Crater Lake is also home to a huge number of animal species, some of which are rare, elsewhere. Black bears, deer, and elk frequent the park and it is hard to find a place inside the park boundary where there aren’t golden-mantled ground squirrels and chipmunks, at least in warmer weather. Ravens, hawks, owls, and eagles tend to be plentiful. If a person is exceptionally lucky, they might even glimpse a cougar, though these shy but majestic animals rarely stick around long enough to be photographed. Fairly recently, it was postulated that the large resident fox population belongs to a subspecies of fox that isn’t seen very often, but which lives in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada Mountains.
While you are visiting the park, you may be fortunate enough to see much of the wildlife that lives in the park: Black bears, foxes, badgers, marmots, golden-mantled ground squirrels, pine squirrels, mule deer, elk (American wapiti) and more rarely, wolverines, cougars, hawks, falcons, owls and more. Steller’s Jays, Clark’s nutcrackers and ravens are common. Small and inconspicuous animals are also abundant, though sometimes not noticed: Hummingbirds, deer mice, chickadees, pine martins, lemmings, voles and pikas.
Note: Though many of these animals appear tame and many are not concerned about people, they are still wild animals and should be treated with respect and caution.
According to the park service, all of the fish in the lake itself were planted. These were fingerlings that were carried, arduously, down to the lake in collapsible canvas buckets, before a trail was created down to the lake. The effort was discontinued after only a few years, but there appear to be breeding populations of both rainbow trout and kokanee in the lake now, and they occasionally grow to great sizes. According to Buzz, a longtime resident who did not provide his last name, it wasn’t unusual to see or catch a 2-3-foot long fish out of the lake.
A small year-round community at the park maintains the park even in the wintertime when the park is closed to visitors. Park opening and closing dates are largely dependent upon the weather and it isn’t unusual to see lingering snow banks in May, at the rim.
Though Crater Lake National Park is much smaller than many national parks in the western United States, it is a gorgeous and worthwhile vacation destination. Allow yourself time for your visit and expect to enjoy yourself so much you may not want to leave.
Crater Lake Weather
Crater Lake receives on average 43 feet of snow at the park headquarters. In 2017 they experienced over 48 feet of snow. Crater Lake receives so much snow because of its position at the crest of the Cascade Mountains.
For the most up to date weather report check out the National Weather Service.
Crater Lake Depth is 1,943 feet making it the deepest lake in the United States. Scientists believe that Crater Lake is the cleanest and clearest large body of water in the world.
Where is Crater Lake?
Crater Lake is located in central Oregon approximately 75 miles from Medford, Oregon.
Check out these other great posts about Crater Lake National Park!!!!
Oregon may only have one national park, but the outstanding beauty and serenity draw people from around the world. There are campsites and lodging available inside the park, and a short distance outside of it, and a person going to Oregon for a visit really should consider a visit to Crater Lake. The park service warns, “Don’t feed the animals,” for many good reasons. An additional warning could also be given, “Don’t forget the camera.” This is a small but astoundingly beautiful national park.