Dive Deep into the Mysteries of Crater Lake National Park

Sunrise at Crater Lake

Visitors will find magic and beauty abound at this gem located in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon. Crater Lake National Park is renowned for its 21-square-mile crystal blue lake — complete with 2,000-foot tall bordering cliffs, a volcano with a violent past, and two islands colored with mythical stories.

Although officially founded on May 22, 1902, the magical history of this park stretches as far back as the eruption of Mount Mazama. 

Crater Lake

Five miles in diameter and boasting a depth of 1,943 feet, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and 9th deepest in the world. It's located inside a caldera — or volcanic basin — created almost 8,000 years ago when Mount Mazama collapsed post-eruption. Because it is fed almost entirely from snowfall, it is one of the clearest lakes in the world — causing it to appear a blue so vibrant that ancient Native American legends claim the mountain bluebird was grey before dipping into its waters.

Crater Lake is also home to three noteworthy sites, checkered with ghost stories and myths and available for viewing on the park's boat tours:

  • Wizard Island: Named for its wizard hat shape, this volcanic island rises 767 feet above Crater Lake's surface. A crater almost 300 feet across rests on its summit, which served as the inspiration for the name "Crater Lake" by a newspaper editor in 1869. Throughout the years, people have claimed to see ghostly campfires on the island at night.

Wizard Island beneath clouded sky
  • Phantom Ship Island: Emerging about 160 feet above the lake's surface, this 300 foot island with tall rock formations resembles a sailing ship. When viewed in different lighting or weather conditions, it seems to appear and disappear from visibility, hence the ghostly nickname.

Jagged rock formations on island in Crater Lake
  • The Old Man of the Lake: Arguably the park's most well-known phenomenon, this ancient hemlock tree stump has mystified park-goers and scientists alike by floating perfectly upright in Crater Lake, unanchored, for more than 100 years. According to the National Parks Conservation Association, "The Old Man’s sun-bleached and splintered head and torso floated nearly four feet above the water. His lower body descended 30 feet into the depths, and his waist was two feet in diameter at the surface." Local lore claims that the old man can even control the weather, with one legend claiming a submarine crew tied up the tree and experienced severe storms until they let the Old Man float free again.

Ancient hemlock tree stump

Experiencing the Sites

Crater Lake National Park is open year-round, 24 hours a day. However, open entrances and trails vary throughout the year, especially during the long harsh winters.

When visiting in the spring and summer, experience the jaw-dropping views of the lake while walking, cycling, or driving around the lake on the 33-mile Rim Drive. During the summer season, 90 miles of hiking trails, including the Cleetwood Trail, bring you to the shores of the lake. Due to the clean air, some trails offer views of around 100 miles! You and your family can also enjoy swimming, fishing, ranger talks, camping, and special evening programs.

Whether out for scientific exploration, or looking to bask in ancient beauty and lore, Crater Lake National Park is a testament to the fierce power of nature that you do not want to miss.

Rim of Crater Lake covered in snow

To learn about great hikes in other national parks – like Crater Lake National Park’s Cleetwood Trail – be sure to get your free copy of our Owner’s Guide, “Happy Trails.” It features 25 unforgettable treks where you’ll be sure to #FindYourPark!

Photo credit: Ghost Ship image by NPS/Ranger Dave Harrison.


In the handful of years I lived in southern Oregon I went often to Crater Lake, even when covered with smoke from fires, and as a volunteer for the snowshoe guided walks with the park rangers. Riding my bike around it, and hiking up mt Scott was great too!
We visited the park early May this year, the views were breathtaking! It is a must see! I took some pictures that were so perfect as the lake was completely calm and the reflection of the snowy mountains in the water was spectacular.
My husband and I were there at the beginning of June this year. The Park Rangers were shoveling out the Visitors Center from many feet of snow. The Lake was breathtaking! We really enjoyed our visit and would love to go back.
I staffed The Watchman Lookout in the summer 2000. The Watchman was being renovated in preparation for the Crater Lake Park centennial in 2002. My primary duty was to report wild land fires on the park and neighboring forests. My lookout was one of the most heavily visited sites in the park. It is located only a few hundred feet above the Pacific Crest Trail, so i got visits from many of those folks all summer. It is one of the first places of interest one can seen upon entering the park from the North entrance, and turning right on the rim road and driving to the first overlook down to Wizard Island. It's called Wizard View. Once folks get a good look at Wizard Island and Crater Lake they start looking around to take in the nice view of the park and areas to the West and North of the park. In the process of looking around they'll see Watchman PeaK on the East side of the Wizard View parking lot. They'll notice a trail going up the peak and might see The Watchman Lookout at the top. Many hike up to the Watchman to have the very best look around of the park that's possible. The trail ends at a small gathering looking eastward across the lake, and down onto Wizard Island. This overlook is only about 20 feet below the Watchman fire lookout. Many people notice the building and are curious as to what it is, but are intimidated about approaching an official looking structure, so miss out on one of the best views of the lake and park. I always watched for these folks and made a point of inviting them to come on in to have a look around. After about 10 or 15 minutes pass to allow everyone to take in the magnificent view around they finally start asking questions. I always enjoyed meeting everyone and sharing my knowledge of the park, it's ancient geology, including it's formation via the eruption of Mount Mazama,7700 years ago. I explained much of the science of the park, including exactly why the water appears so blue. I explained the primary reason i was there, to look for fires, and how that fit into the park's fire management plan. Some visitors got to witness my discovery and reporting of new fires, with the subsequent actual attack and fighting of the fire, often with smoke jumpers, helitack operations, or fixed wing retardant drops. It's a rather rare experience to actually witness the entire wild land fire fighting action, starting with the initial reporting of the smoke to the actual fire attack and suppression action, all the while getting to listen to to the live radio communication between my lookout, the park's dispatch center, the aircraft and the firefighters on the fire line. I hope i contributed to their enjoyment of visiting the park. I occasionally was delighted to learn that some of my visitors from around the world actually had homes not far from one another and didn't know it until coming half way around the world to meet up at Crater Lake, Oregon. Examples being two families from Paris, who learned they lived just a few blocks apart. Another two from Rome. I had such a marvelous time getting to know people from all around the world ! I'd recommend anyone staff a fire tower for at least one fire season. These jobs are seasonal of course, but some agree they are the best jobs in the world! A good place to learn about open positions is thru the Federal employment website, www.opm.gov. Another good site is Forest Fire Lookout Association, FFLA. At least one former US president, President Gerold Ford had been a seasonal national Park Service ranger at Yellowstone N.P.

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