Crater Lake…just what it says it is

On my road trip last year from San Francisco to southern Oregon and back I noticed a sign proclaiming that Crater Lake National Park  was nearby.

After a short detour off of U.S. 97  I was at the entrance, my senior citizen national parks pass in hand.

I came in the northern end and took the eastern loop around the lake down to the southern entrance.  There was road work causing tieups on the western loop, the guy at the gate told me.

It was indeed all that it was cracked up to be; a lake in a crater.    The name itself has

crater lake google earth snip

Google Earth image of Crater Lake

always described it in my mind’s eye and I was happy it lived up to its billing.  Truth be told, it was much larger and way more defined that I thought it would be.

And the real truth to be told…somewhere in my mind has always been the notion that it was actually formed when a meteor fell out of the sky and left a crater that filled with water.  I have never claimed geological literacy.

Au contraire.  Crater Lake used to be a volcano, Mount Mazama.  Eruptions for approximately 400,000 years had built the mountain up to about 12,000 feet.  A massive eruption about 7,700 years ago caused so much material to be thrown up out of the center that the remaining mountain collapsed, creating a deep hole, or caldera, that is today about half filled with water.  Subsequent eruptions were within the caldera and resulted in two islands in the lake.

It took about 700 years for rain and snowmelt to fill the crater to where it is now.  At just over 1,900 feet at maximum depth, it is the deepest lake in the U.S. and it is about 5 miles by 6 miles.  Its average depth is 1,100 feet.

The lake has no inflow or outflow.  Loss is from evaporation and gain is from rain and snowmelt.  The Pacific Ocean weather systems bring an average of 44 feet of snow a year to the crater.  And the snow can hang around.   It was September when I visited, and there were still couple of small snowdrifts visible along the shoreline.

The systems that bring all that snowfall generally bring moderate winter temperatures, so there is rarely a surface freeze of the lake. The last complete one was in 1949.

And in case you’re wondering, with the evaporation and the precipitation the lake replenishes itself every 250 years.

How about the swimming?  Pretty cold.  The water temperature is 55 to 60 degrees in the summer.  And to take the plunge one has to take a 1.1 mile hike, descending 700 feet, and then hike back up again.

Not for me, thanks.


This is Wizard Island, one of two formed from volcanic activity within the crater after the massive collapse of Mount Mazama.  The other, a small rocky outcrop with a handful of trees on it, is called Phantom Ship because of its profile.  All photos by Ron Haines.




The tan outcrop in this photo (and the closeup below) is pumice, which is created when super-heated, highly pressurized rock is violently ejected from a volcano.  This formation was buried under the years of volcanic activity before the mountain collapsed.  Subsequent erosion of the sides of the crater have exposed it.




About Ron Haines

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This entry was posted in Nature, Offbeat, Road trip, Snow. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Crater Lake…just what it says it is

  1. Roger says:

    Great posting, Ron!
    It’s been 40 years, but Crater Lake remains among the prettiest sights I’ve ever seen!
    Love the history/ geology too.


  2. DJ says:

    So interesting ….. & sure do love your pictures. Love lakes ….. enjoy more than the ocean, personally. Enjoy ….. & Happy Traveling, friend.


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