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10+ FASCINATING Crater Lake Facts (Interesting Trivia + Quick Facts)

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crater lake national park oregon
Crater Lake National Park Facts

Who’s ready for some incredible facts about Crater Lake National Park? This park is filled with beautiful landscapes and amazing stories.

The deepest lake in America is one of the seven wonders of Oregon and is surprisingly the state’s only national park. The kind of blue water that exists here is unlike any other in the world.

It’s sure to captivate you. While the park itself is fairly remote and quite a drive to get to, it’s well worth a visit nonetheless.

To get you excited about planning your next visit, in this article we’re covering 10+ fascinating facts about Crater Lake National Park.

Crater Lake National Park Facts

1. Crater Lake Was Discovered By A Young Prospector | Crater Lake National Park History

Native Americans were the first to discover this park's natural wonders | Crater Lake National Park
Native Americans were the first to know of the existence of Crater Lake | Crater Lake Facts

As a retired history teacher and a lifelong history buff, I always like to start off with a good history lesson. According to the historical record, the first people to know about Crater Lake were the Klamath Indians.

While they knew of its existence, they seldom went there. According to their legends, they regarded the lake and the mountain as the “battleground of the gods.”

Fast forward to American fortune hunters in the nineteenth century. Like Death Valley, Crater Lake’s history features prospectors looking for buried treasure. Crater Lake was discovered by a young prospector on June 12, 1853. His name was John Wesley Hillman.

Hillman was leading a party in search of the “Lost Cabin Mine.” Having failed in their efforts, Hillman’s group returned to Jacksonville, a mining camp in the Rogue River Valley. It was there that they reported their discovery which they had named Deep Blue Lake.

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A Name That Kept Changing | Crater Lake National Park

The park had several discoverers | Crater Lake National Park
Magnificent Crater Lake (above) would have several discoverers (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) | Crater Lake Facts

The discovery of Crater Lake would be forgotten, but others kept coming. On October 21, 1862, Chauncey Nye, leading a party of prospectors from eastern Oregon to Jacksonville, happened upon the lake. Thinking they had made the discovery, they named it Blue Lake.

Then a third discovery would be made by two soldiers from Fort Klamath on August 1, 1865. These soldiers called it Lake Majesty.

In 1869, the name was finally changed to Crater Lake by visitors from Jacksonville. And that’s the name that has stuck.

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“Crater Lake is a thing of the spirit. It must be so, for I have never met anyone who did not express it in one way or another.

Long before I ever saw it myself, I heard about it as I sat talking one day in a London club, from an Englishman who had just returned from a round-the-world trip.

He was a rich sportsman, especially a dry-fly fisherman. He had been jogging in the Orient, had come over to Puget Sound and fished, and then, before returning to England, had visited Crater Lake.

I recall a foolish tinge of jealousy that I, an American, should be learning of this place of beauty from a European.

This man said to me: ‘I have seen beautiful things all over the world. I have never seen anything that touched be so strangely and deeply as Crater Lake. As I sit here, I can still see that blue.'”

-Freeman Tilden, The National Parks

2. A Kansas Man Led To Crater Lake Being Designated As A National Park

William Gladstone Steel's efforts were instrumental in making this place a national park | Crater Lake National Park
It was through the efforts of William Gladstone Steel that Crater Lake became America’s fifth national park.
(Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Before 1885, Crater Lake had few visitors and was not widely known. A man from Kansas changed all that. In 1870, William Gladstone Steel read about the park in a newspaper. Fifteen years later, Steel got his chance to visit.

He was mesmerized by the beauty of the place and vowed to have it made into a national park.

“One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”

-John F. Kennedy

The Father Of Crater Lake

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Crater Lake Facts

For seventeen years, Steel devoted much of his time, energy and effort to the objective of making Crater Lake a national park. Success was finally achieved on May 22, 1902. William Steel proved that one person can make a difference.

Steel became known as the “father of Crater Lake National Park.” He devoted the remainder of his life to its development. Fittingly, he served as the park’s second superintendent and later as park commissioner, an office which he held until his death in 1934.

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“To say that this wonderful lake is grand, beyond description, is to give an idea of its magnificence. Everyone gazes at it in almost tearful astonishment.”

– Jim Sutton, Editor, Jacksonville, Oregon Sentinel newspaper, 1869

3. Crater Lake Was Formed From A Collapsed Volcano | Cater Lake National Park

Crater Lake was formed by a volcanic eruption | Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake was formed by a volcanic eruption | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Volcanoes have played an important role in many places around the globe.  Crater Lake sits in the caldera of a collapsed volcano.

The volcano, Mount Mazama, formed half a million years ago. It erupted around 7,700 years ago and collapsed in on itself.

The Makalak People

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Native Americans played an important role in the history of Crater Lake

There’s a wonderful story told by the native Makalak people. According to their legend, the fall of the mountain was caused by a brutal battle between the spirit of the sky and the spirit of the mountain. The destructive eruption signaled the end of the battle.

Many natives have since mourned the loss of their sacred volcano. 

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4. Crater Lake Is The Deepest Lake In The U.S. | Crater Lake National Park

It's the deepest lake in the U.S. | Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the U.S. and one of the deepest in the world | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Bottoming out at 1,943 feet, Crater Lake is deeper than any other lake in America.  Because there are no inflowing streams, the lake is fed solely by rain and snow. It is the cleanest and clearest large body of water in the world, according to the National Park Service.

According to Crater Lake Trust and Crater Lake Institute, the following are dimensions for Crater Lake:

Surface area: 20.53 square miles, or 13,140 acres (53 square kilometers, or 5,317 hectares) 

Maximum width: 4.97 miles (8 km)

Maximum length: 6.02 miles (9.69 km) 

Maximum depth: 1,943 feet (592 meters). Crater Lake is the second-deepest lake in North America. Canada’s Great Slave Lake is deeper. Crater Lake is the seventh-deepest lake in the world. 

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5. Crater Lake Is One Of The Snowiest Places In The U.S. | Crater Lake National Park

It's one of the snowiest places in the U.S. | Crater Lake National Park
If you like winter activities then you’ll love Crater Lake. It’s a winter wonderland with snow shoeing, cross-country skiing, sledding and snowmobiling. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

If you like snow then you’ll love Crater Lake. As a matter of fact, the park is known for its extreme weather. From October through June, the park is covered in snow. It has even been reported as late as July.

The park has an annual average of 43 feet of snow. If you enjoy winter activities, there’s snow shoeing, cross-country skiing, sledding and snowmobiling.

“In respect to beauty and impressiveness this scenery is of the same order as that of the Yosemite Valley or the finest parts of the Yellowstone Park.

The lake itself is a unique object, as much so as Niagara, and the effect which it produces upon the mind of the beholder is at once powerful and enduring. There are probably not many natural objects in the world which impress the average spectator with so deep a sense of the beauty and majesty of nature.”

– John Wesley Powell, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey, 1888

6. Crater Lake Is Home To A Number Of Mysterious Deaths

It's a park with a history of mystery | Crater Lake National Park
The strange deaths and disappearances in Crater Lake National Park could have come out of an Alfred Hitchcock film, but they didn’t.
(Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Imagine a national park that could be hazardous to your health. Relax. The odds are that you’ll have a wonderful time if you travel there, but the park does have a lethal history.

We all know that accidents happen, but they happen with an uncomfortable regularity at Crater Lake National Park. Visitors to the park fall off cliffs, get caught in snowstorms and crash their cars into deep ravines.

Not only that, but airplanes and helicopters have fallen out of the sky there too. And, as if that weren’t bad enough, the park has even had an alarming number of homicides.

A Ghost From The 1940s?

A World War Two era fighter crashed in the park | Crater Lake National Park
A World War Two era fighter crashed in Crater Lake National Park leaving behind a mystery which would take 25 years to unravel. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)

After the end of World War Two, a Grumman F6F Hellcat fighter crashed there.. In 1970, a man named Dave Panebaker was employed as a seasonal park ranger. On his day off, Panebaker decided to look for the wreckage of this lost fighter.

While hiking, he got lost. Not sure what he should do, Panebaker decided to sit down and consider his options. While his was doing this, however, he had this uncanny feeling that he was being watched.

According to news reports, he looked up and locked eyes — or, rather, eye sockets — with a human skull that was staring at him from under a nearby log.

Ensign Frank Lupo

Panebaker did manager to find his way out. He notified the chief ranger of his discovery and a Whidbey Island naval investigative team came to the park a few days later. The Navy authorities identified the skull using dental records. It was 22-year-old Ensign Frank Lupo.

Lupo had been part of a squadron of seven Hellcats flying from Redmond to Red Bluff, California. The seven planes flew into a bank of clouds and mist. Seven planes flew in, but only six planes flew out. Lupo’s remains were returned to his mother twenty-five years after his disappearance.

A Skeleton Crew

It’s like waking up from a bad dream only these stories are real | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

On February 26, 1975, Jean Nunn dropped her husband, Dave, off at the airport in Klamath Falls. Dave, along with his daughter and grandchild, were flying home to Salem in his blue Cessna 182.

Two 17-year-old student pilots, Jim Pryor and Matt Perkins, also came along for the ride to pick up some flight hours.

The plane landed in Salem. Dave’s daughter and grandchild were dropped off. Then he and the two student pilots flew back to Klamath. They never made it!

Stories that Alfred Hitchcock would have been proud to film | Crater Lake National Park
Had Alfred Hitchcock brought a camera and crew to Crater Lake National Park, the stories he might have captured | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Jean Nunn reported, “I woke up at 9:30 with the sensation of a hand on my leg,” she recalled in a 2007 interview with Lee Beach of the Klamath Falls Herald and News.

“I looked at the clock. I knew. I called the airport and told them the plane had gone down at 9:20 p.m. and he had died at 9:30. They confirmed they had lost the plane off the radar at 9:20 at 11,000 feet.”

Jean’s worst fears were confirmed | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Search parties went out looking for the three missing men. They weren’t able to find them. Seven years later, on July 5, 1982, a hiker outside of the park boundary, near Huckleberry Campground, spotted what looked like the badly mangled wreckage of a small airplane. Approaching it, he found three skeletons slumped inside the cabin.

Jean’s worst fears were confirmed.

The Vanishing Man | Crater Lake National Park

The vanishing man of Crater Lake National Park
In a sequel to Hitchcock’s, “The Lady Vanishes,” a man disappeared in Crater Lake | Courtesy of Eugene Register-Guard

Here we go again! In 1974, a photographer left his home in the state of Virginia for a cross country trip. Charles McCullar, nineteen years of age, left on a hitch-hiking and bus riding adventure.

In January of 1975, he left on a short excursion, hitchhiking to Crater Lake to take winter photos McCullar planned to return to a friend’s house two days later. He never made it.

Search parties were deployed. The FBI even got involved in this case, but with no luck. Then, a year later, two hikers took a wrong turn and ended up in a little-traveled canyon.

There they found an old dirty ripped backpack with a car key in the side pocket — the key to McCullar’s Volkswagen back home.

“According to NamUs (National Missing and Unidentified Persons System), more than 600,000 persons go missing in the United States every year. Anywhere between 89 percent to 92 percent of those missing people are recovered every year, either alive or deceased.

But how many of those disappear in the wild is unclear. Neither the Department of the Interior, which oversees the National Park Service, or the Department of Agriculture’s US Forest Service keeps track.”

-Eric Spitznagel, Why hundreds of people vanish into the American wilderness

Things Get Really Bizarre

Things get really bizarre | Courtesy of Wikimedia

Now this story gets really bizarre. Rangers went in search of Charles body and found it 12 miles from the trailhead.

On the day he disappeared, there were seven and a half feet of snow on the ground. There’s no way someone could have traveled that distance on foot in those conditions.

And then there’s the condition of the skeleton. According to Tyler Willford of That Oregon Life, “There were foot bones in the socks, but Charles’s jeans were empty except for the broken-off ends of his shin-bones sticking up. The jeans were unbuttoned. And the rest of him was gone, as if melted away. They found the crown of his skull about 12 feet away; nothing more.”

“They never found a shirt. They never found his coat. They never found his boots, either. Just an empty pair of pants sitting on a log, with socks and foot-bones inside.”

An unsolved mystery!

America’s National Parks have been the site of more than one unsolved mystery | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

7. Crater Lake Is A Great Place To Ride Bicycles

A great place to ride bicycles | Crater Lake National Park
It’s not the Tour de France, but Crater Lake provides some challenging biking trails for those who are ready for the adventure | Courtesy of Wikimedia

If you’re a cyclist who looks forward to combining a love of nature with an exhilarating ride then Crater Lake’s a great place to visit. You may find the hilly landscape requires more endurance than what you’re typically used to, however, so be forewarned.

That having been said, the breathtaking nature around you will definitely make all your huffing and puffing worthwhile

If you’re ready to compete, Rim Road goes vehicle-free two days a year for the “Ride the Rim” event. Bicyclists from across the country take part in this ride to enjoy the scenic roadway.

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“The water of Crater Lake is of the loveliest blue imaginable in the sunlight, and a deep indigo in the shadows of the cliffs. It mirrors the walls encircling it accurately and minutely.

It has no well-like appearance because it is too large to suggest it, yet a water-fowl on its surface could not be discovered by the naked eye, so far below us is it.

It impresses one as having been made for the Creator’s eye only, and we cannot associate it with our human affairs. It is a font of the gods, wherein our souls are baptized anew into their primal purity and peace.”

– Frances Fuller Victor, Author, 1891

8. Crater Lake Features A Ship-Shaped Island

A ship-shaped island | Crater Lake National Park
In the center of Crater Lake is a ship-shaped island | Courtesy of Wikimedia

This one falls under the category of “Mother Nature is the best interior (and exterior) decorator.” At the center of Crater Lake, you will find a ship-shaped island. This island is an ancient rock formation. It appears to resemble a large sea vessel which is about 170 feet above the water.

It’s better known to park-goers as the “Phantom Ship.” So, what is it and how did it come to be?

In a series of surreal graphic works of Ghost ships, The Full Moon Rising could be named the title one. The “Phantom Ship” is not a ghost ship, but it’s got an interesting story of its own to tell. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

400,000 Years Ago

It was formed from andesite rock. It dates from approximately 400,000 years ago and it’s a remaining section of the filled conduit of a fissure. It’s has the appearance of a ship, but that’s unintentional unless one wants to credit Mother Nature with possessing the skills of a Michelangelo.

On second thought, given nature’s incredible body of work, why not compare it to Michelangelo’s finest.

The island is situated on the south east end of Crater Lake and projects more than 656 feet out from the wall of the caldera.

Michelangelo was a great sculptor as evidenced by his Moses. So, it would appear, is Mother Nature as evidenced by her Phantom Ship and much, much more | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

9. There Are No Streams Flowing In Or Out Of Crater Lake

No streams flow into or out of Crater Lake | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As far back as Willian Gladstone Steel, people have marveled at the magnificent blue color of Crater Lake. How does one explain it?

One explanation would be the fact that no streams flow in or out of Crater Lake. All of the water in the lake comes from rain and snowmelt. This explains both the incredible clarity and the sparkling blueness of the water.

The cause of the color of Crater Lake has long been a subject of speculation and inquiry. Some have thought it was due to a reflection of the sky, but it is the same whether the sky is clear or clouded.

Then it was suggested that there was something peculiar about the mineral content of the water. Chemical analysis indicated no such thing.

A small quantity of the water does not exhibit the color characteristic. The generally accepted theory is that a scattering of light, in this water of such clearness and depth, separates and reflects the blue rays and absorbs those of other colors. I suppose the men of science know. But a recall a saying attributed to a wise man of the sixteenth century: ‘Blue is not merely a color; it is a mystery.'”

-Freeman Tilden, The National Parks

10. Reese Witherspoon Filmed A Movie At Crater Lake

Reece Witherspoon poses for the press while doing a brief appearance on the red carpet at TIFF for the premiere of the movie Wild. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

For our film buffs, Crater Lake has appeared in several movies. In 2014, Reese Witherspoon starred in a biographical adventure drama entitled Wild. It’s the story of a divorcee who leaves her troubled life behind to hike 1,110 miles of the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail.

It’s a story of discovery and healing which is based on Cheryl Strayed’s best-seller of the same name. Crater Lake represented only a brief stop on Witherspoon’s journey, but her time along the lake’s magnificent rim marks a critical turning point in her personal journey.

Crater Lake Map

10 Facts About Crater Lake National Park

  1. Crater Lake was discovered by a young prospector
  2. A Kansas man led to Crater Lake being designated as a national park
  3. Crater Lake was formed from a collapsed volcano
  4. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the U.S.
  5. Crater Lake is one of the snowiest places in the U.S.
  6. Crater Lake is home to a number of mysterious deaths
  7. Crater Lake is a great place to ride bicycles
  8. Crater Lake features a ship-shaped island
  9. There are no streams flowing in or out of Crater Lake
  10. Reese Witherspoon filmed a movie at Crater Lake
Tony Pattiz

Tony Pattiz is a retired history teacher currently researching and writing articles for More Than Just Parks.

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