The only thing that could possibly make these shots of Crater Lake National Park any more beautiful – is the absolutely fascinating history behind them.
The deepest lake in all of the United States, Crater Lake boasts a past unlike any of our other national parks. As one of the most pristine bodies of water on the planet, the beyond-perfect blues it produces inspire unmatched awe. As the park’s official description states, “scientists marvel at its purity.” As do all who visit this treasure of south-central Oregon.
Fed by rain and snow, Crater Lake inspires countless photographers, painters, poets, and sightseers to take in her majesty atop the Cascade Mountain Range. Below, we’ve gathered the best photos Crater Lake National Park has to offer to do just the same. To complement, we’ll dive deep into the crater’s history, as well, to shed some light on this American marvel.
Native Americans Witnessed the Formation of Crater Lake
The history of Crater Lake is every bit as fascinating as the landmark is beautiful. Unlike many other famous U.S. sites that are as “old as time”, however, Crater Lake is still in its infancy geologically. In fact, Native Americans saw the formation of this lake with their own eyes 7,700 years ago.
“Nature always wears the colors of the spirit,” the park’s Instagram captions this gorgeous photo of Crater Lake. The Ralph Waldo Emerson quote perfectly captures the unreal beauty of the site, as does the shot itself, taken by Stephanie Duwe in 2020.
Amazingly, Crater Lake in its entirety formed with the violent collapse of a volcano. The culprit? Mount Mazama, a staggering 12,000-foot-tall volcano. When Mazma erupted those 7,700 years ago, it subsequently collapsed – forming the Crater Lake we know today. This would’ve been an unbelievable sight that surely cost many lives, as all of Mazama’s enormous height collapsed within itself to form the lake’s crater.
According to the U.S. Department of Interior, Mount Mazma itself was an important site & symbol to the indigenous Makalak peoples. Makalak legend explains that “the fall of the mountain was caused by a brutal battle between the spirit of the sky and the spirit of the mountain.”
For the ancient Makalak, this cataclysmic eruption brought the end of this battle. Much of their legend speaks to their peoples mourning the loss of the sacred volcano, however. As a result, Crater Lake is an important and sacred site to many Native Americans to this day. When visiting, taking the time to acknowledge and feel this is paramount.
Crater Lake: A Winter Wonderland
As much striking blue as Crater Lake offers, it is also one of the “whitest” winter wonderlands in the U.S.
Averaging more than 500 inches of snow per year, the park is chock-full of winter recreation opportunities, and is officially one of the snowiest places in the U.S.
This photo of Wizard Island and Llao Rock was taken from Garfield Peak, and perfectly captures what so much snow can do. Those 500+ inches of powder add up to an average of 43 feet (13+ meters) of snow per year. This is the equivalent of getting 1 1/2 inches of snow continuously for all 365 days of the year! Converting to these measurements really gives a sense of how – and why – Crater Lake is one of the snowiest places in all the United States.
As a result, Crater Lake’s winter season lasts from November well into April. Moreover, snow is so plentiful in the park that it often lingers over into May and June.
Snow is to be respected, however. With it come many dangers for the inexperienced. With this in mind, parts of the park close for their intense winter coatings. Plenty of opportunities still remain for snow-laden fun, though. From park ranger-led snowshoeing to cross-country skiing, sledding, and ever-popular snowmobiling.
Showcasing Crater Lake’s winter wonderland vibes is photographer Greg Funderburk.
Crater Lake: Also a Top 10 Dark Sky Observatory
Crater Lake’s beauty doesn’t stop here on Earth, either. The National Park is listed as a Top 10 Dark Sky Observatory location by the National Parks Service. But what exactly does this mean?
In essence, Crater Lake offers one of the absolute best viewings of the night sky in all of the contiguous United States. Most people come for the blue beauty of the lake during the day. It’s at night, however, when Crater’s unbelievable skies come to life.
In this near-naked shot also captured by Stephanie Duwe from 2018, we see a “snow covered segment of hillman peak leading down to a sliver of the lake.” Within, the stars are clearly visible above the mountain hemlock trees.
To see such a sight with the naked eye, stargazing at Crater Lake is most fruitful on clear nights without the brightness of a full, or near-full moon. Sticking around late into the apex of night allows for our light-sensitive eyes to adjust to a night sky unlike any other – one where the colors of the cosmos are discernible to our unaided eyes.
Crater Lake’s remote location, elevation, and unusual isolation all factor into it’s Dark Sky ratings and visibility. In short, light pollution is drastically reduced within the national park, allowing the night sky to shine as it once did for our ancestors – long before the onset of electricity or industry.
In addition, the summer climate will also aid in the transparency of the night sky. As the U.S. DOI explains, “the humidity of the air and the frequency of cloud cover is low in the High Cascades of South-Central Oregon. The views of the night from the 7,000′ elevation at Rim Village are optimum because of the low density of tree cover and the unobstructed view of the horizon is all directions created by the pre-historic collapse of Mt. Mazama.”
As such, if you’re looking to do some stargazing at Crater Lake, it’s best to do so in summer. If you manage a particularly perfect night, our band of the Milky Way Galaxy is brilliantly visible to the naked eye, too.
Watchman & Hillman Stand Guard
When viewing the western side of Crater Lake’s caldera, these two magnificent peaks can be seen looming tall over the lake. Standing guard are the Watchman to the left and Hillman on the right. The heart of their duties? Ensuring the lake stays fed and wet year-round.
When storms roll in from the Pacific Ocean, they travel inland to Crater’s south-central Oregon. As they do, clouds hit these high peaks as they stand guard, forcing them to rise and cool. The resulting roll-off brings “copious amounts of precipitation” to the lake, clarifies the park’s Instagram. Whether this precipitation falls as liquid rain or solid snow & ice depends on temperature. This natural phenomenon is known as the Rain Shadow Effect, and Crater Lake wouldn’t be what it is without it.
If not for these unique peaks of the crater’s caldera, Crater Lake would be as dry and arid as eastern Oregon’s desert beyond it. We have Stephanie Duwe to thank for this photo, as well, which was taken in 2011.
Time for a Trip to Crater Lake, Yes?
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