Until about 7700 years ago, Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park was the site of 12,000 foot Mount Mazama. Mazama literally blew out its core in a massive explosion that spread pumice as far north as Alberta and as far east as Yellowstone National Park. The blast was 42 times more powerful than Mount St. Helens.
The mountain could no longer support itself following the eruption and collapsed, forming a caldera with no inlets and no outlets. As volcanic activity slowed and eventually stopped, the caldera began to fill with snow and rain. The water remains remarkably pure because of the closed ecosystem, and is noted for its brilliant color of blue.
Crater Lake is a little over 1900 feet deep, filling about half of the 4000 foot deep caldera. It is not only the deepest lake in the United States, but the seventh deepest in the world. The lava cliffs that surround the 26 mile shoreline are up to 2000 feet high.
Most visitors experience the park by taking the 33-mile rim road which encircles the entire lake. There 20 scenic overlooks along this narrow, winding road. Be sure to take the paved spur road up to Cloudcap on the east rim for awesome lake views.
Until man stocked the waters, the closed ecosystem also meant there were no fish. Salmon and rainbow trout now inhabit the waters. Only the steep Cleetwood Trail, which descends 700 feet over the course of a mile, drops down to the lakeshore. A limited number of tours take visitors to Wizard Island, a cinder cone in the center of the lake. A one mile trail leads from the shoreline to the cone’s crater.
There are more than ninety miles of hiking trails in the park, although many of them are blocked by snow from October to July. The highest point in the park, Mount Scott, is nearly 9000 feet and is rarely snow free. A 2.5 mile trail leads to its summit, where you can climb a fire lookout station. You can hike a shorter trail to another fire station at The Watchman.
If you're up for a longer experience, and have the advantage of a shuttle companion, one of the most beautiful legs of the Pacific Crest Trail goes right through the park.