Some 7,700 years ago Mount Mazama --then a 10,000 to 12,000-foot-high volcano in the High Cascades of southern Oregon -- violently exploded, releasing huge amounts of ash and pumice. Following the eruption the cone collapsed, reducing the elevation of the peak by 2,500 feet and forming a broad basin known as a caldera, which eventually filled with water to form Crater Lake. At 1,932 feet, Crater is the deepest lake in the United States. Six miles wide, the lake is surrounded by cliffs up to 2,000 feet high. In the center is Wizard Island, the top of a small volcano that rose from the lake floor.
The snow-free visiting season is from June through September, when narrated boat tours circle the inside of the caldera and take visitors to Wizard Island at the western end of the lake; skiing is popular the rest of the year.
There are many trails to explore, too, if you can take your eyes off this marvel of rock and water. Those wishing to reach the lakeshore can take Cleetwood Trail at the northern rim of the lake. The 2 1/2-mile Mount Scott Trail, off the eastern edge of the lake, climbs to the highest point in the park, 8,926-foot Mount Scott, where there is an isolated sphagnum bog with insect-eating plants like bladderworts and sundews. A clear day brings views of California’s Mount Shasta and the headwaters of the Rogue River. The 1/2-mile Castle Crest Wildflower Trail near the visitor center lives up to its name. South of the visitor center, 1-mile Godfrey Glen Trail leads to a high-elevation forest of Shasta Red Fir, Mountain Hemlock, and some Subalpine Fir and Lodgepole Pine.
The fauna of the montane, forested realms includes such scarce and elusive mammals as American Martens, Fishers, and Short-tailed Weasels, but you are more likely to encounter Snowshoe Hares, pikas, Yellow-bellied Marmots, Common Porcupines, Elk, deer, and a host of squirrels and chipmunks. The endangered native Bull Trout hangs on in nearby Sun Creek. Birds such as Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches and Black-backed and Three-toed Woodpeckers live up here, as do Mountain Bluebirds, Gray Jays, and Clark’s Nutcrackers.
Have you been to this park? How many stars would you give it?