Dive Deep into the Mysteries of Crater Lake National Park
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.