Agency Spotlight–Crater Lake National Park

Jun 20, 2017


This park is in Oregon and was established in 1902, making it the fifth oldest national park in the United States.

How it Formed

Mount Mazama began its existence about 400,000 years ago. After a period of dormancy, it became active again. Around 5700 B.C., it collapsed on itself during a powerful volcanic eruption, losing 2,500-3,500 feet in height. The eruption formed a large caldera that filled in about 740 years, forming Crater Lake.


Local Native Americans witnessed the collapse of Mount Mazama and kept the event alive in their legends.

On June 12, 1853, three gold prospectors stumbled upon the lake. In awe of the vibrant blue hue of the lake, they named it ‘Deep Blue Lake’ and the place where they first saw the lake became ‘Discovery Point’. However, gold was on their minds so the discovery of the lake was soon forgotten. Plus, locals preferred the name Crater Lake.

William Gladstone Steele devoted his life to the establishment and management of a national park at Crater Lake. He began this endeavor in 1870. He tried to bring recognition to the park by participating in lake surveys that provided scientific support. With the help of geologist Clarence Dutton, Steele organized an expedition to study the lake in 1886. They measured the lake depth at 168 different points and a topographer surveyed the area and created the first professional map of Crater Lake.

Crater Lake National Park was officially established May 22, 1902, by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Unique Features

It is 1,949 feet deep at its deepest point, making it the deepest lake in the U.S., second deepest in North America, and the ninth deepest in the world. If comparing the average depth of 1,148 feet to the average depth of other deep lakes, it becomes the deepest in the Western Hemisphere and the third deepest in the world. The lake depth is due to the volcanic eruption that took place.

One unique feature of this lake is it has no streams flowing in or out of it. All water that enters the lake is eventually lost to evaporation or subsurface seepage. The lake has a very blue hue and is refilled entirely from direct precipitation (snow or rain).

Another unique characteristic is that although snow covers Crater Lake National Park for eight months out of the year (an annual snowfall of 533 inches!), the lake rarely freezes over. This is due to a relatively mild onshore flow from the Pacific Ocean. 1949 was the last recorded year that the lake froze over. And 1985 saw a 95 percent surface freeze. Because the lake is so deep, it acts as a heat reservoir that absorbs and traps sunlight. This maintains the lake temperature at an average of 55⁰ F on the surface and 38⁰ F at the bottom throughout the year. The surface temperature fluctuates some, but the bottom stays quite constant.

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