What Lives At The Bottom of Crater Lake?

Written by Niccoy Walker
Updated: July 21, 2023
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Key Points

  • Crater Lake is a body of pristine water inside a volcanic crater in South-Central Oregon.
  • Crater Lake is a dormant volcano that is still hydrothermally active and produces around one earthquake each decade. The last eruption occurred 4,800 years ago.
  • Colonies of moss and bacteria live at the bottom of Crater Lake. The discovery perplexes researchers because almost no nutrients are at the bottom of this nearly 2,000-foot lake, yet these organisms are thriving. 
Infographic about Crater Lake, OR.
Crater Lake is appropriately named since it is the crater of a dormant volcano.

In the Pacific Northwest, with its lush scenery, lies a deep, royal blue lake on top of a sleeping volcano. This sacred spot has a rich ancient history and is now a tourist attraction for hiking, biking, and camping. 

But some are wary about visiting this crater, and for good reasons—mysterious deaths, disappearances, and paranormal activity plague this beautiful state park. Before you visit this famous site, discover the dangers you may encounter and what lives at the bottom of Crater Lake.

What is Crater Lake?

Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States.

©Pung/Shutterstock.com

Crater Lake is a body of pristine water inside a volcanic crater in South-Central Oregon. The Klamath Native American tribe witnessed the collapse of the Mount Mazama volcano 7,700 years ago. The volcanic explosion created a 2,148-foot-deep caldera, which was filled with water from rain and snow. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and the ninth deepest in the world at 1,949 feet.

 There are no rivers or streams leading to or from the lake. The lack of sediment and mineral deposits makes Crater Lake one of the world’s cleanest and clearest bodies of water. Its water is completely replaced every 250 years from evaporation.

The land is sacred to Native Americans, and researchers traced their existence back to before the explosion of Mount Mazama. Archeologists have uncovered sandals and other items covered in ash and pumice that predate the collapse. 

The Klamath people regard Crater Lake as a spiritual site and retell the story of a great battle between the sky god and the god of the underworld. Their epic struggle created this giant crater. The Klamath tribe used the cavity in vision quests, scaling the caldera walls and other impressive feats. Those who conquered their tests proved to have spiritual powers. 

Local legend states the lake is the gateway to hell and that sinister spirits inhabit the land. Is Crater Lake dangerous, or are the claims simply campfire stories?

Is Crater Lake Dangerous?

Crater Lake National Park - Winter

Crater Lake National Park features rough terrain and extreme weather.

©Matthew Connolly/Shutterstock.com

Crater Lake is connected to several missing persons and accidental death cases. There is story after story about people wandering off a path never to be seen again or those who lose their balance and fall 700 feet to certain death. While some cases are more mysterious than others, much of the danger lies in the extreme weather and rough terrain. 

Despite signs telling people to stay on designated trails, someone often decides to walk over the side of the crater. During winter, avalanches can quickly whirl people down to the bottom. But even during summer, the crumbly texture of the soil does not offer enough grip to keep people from falling into the rocks and water below. 

Like any natural park, you must take precautions and follow directions from the rangers. Many who suffered a harsh fate at Crater Lake did not follow signs or go out during severe weather.

The water itself is not dangerous, and there is one access point for visitors to swim and fish. Snorkeling and boating are not permitted in the lake, but the park rangers offer daily boat tours to Wizard Island, a volcanic island in the middle of Crater Lake. 

Occasionally, hydrothermal vent explosions can send chunks of rock flying through the air and create large waves. It can be hazardous for those on the lake or viewing from the shoreline, which is another reason you can’t bring boats and kayaks onto the water.

Will Mount Mazama Erupt Again?

Crater Lake is a dormant volcano that is still hydrothermally active and produces around one earthquake each decade. The last eruption occurred 4,800 years ago on the east flank of Wizard Island when a small underwater lava dome erupted. The volcano has remained quiet, but scientists believe it will erupt again, just not anytime soon.

What Lives at the Bottom of Crater Lake?

Crater Lake form the top of Watchman's Peak

Colonies of moss and bacteria live at the bottom of Crater Lake.

©Wollertz/Shutterstock.com

Colonies of moss and bacteria live at the bottom of Crater Lake. The discovery perplexes researchers because almost no nutrients are at the bottom of this nearly 2,000-foot lake, yet these organisms are thriving. 

The moss lives on volcanic rocks around the islands, and scientists are unsure how old it is or how it formed. On top of the moss layers are strange tube-like structures called fumaroles. These pits range from a few inches to several meters in length; it is unknown how they came to be. The team concluded that they needed more research to understand this perplexing natural wonder better. 

In 1989, scientists completed 24 trips to the bottom of Crater Lake using a mini-submarine. They came across strange blue pools filled with dissolved mineral salt, 60-foot bacterial mats, and a temperature reading of 66° Fahrenheit at the very bottom of the lake. Only a handful of teams have explored this blue lake since then. 

As interesting as bacteria and fungi can be, other mysteries live on at Crater Lake.

The Mysteries of Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park, National Park, Oregon - US State, USA, Wizard Island

Park rangers often see bonfires burning on Wizard Island, but nothing is ever there when they investigate.

©iStock.com/Kalichka

Crater Lake is home to some pretty strange occurrences, including eerie sightings. Wizard Island is over 700 feet above the water’s surface and 300 feet across. It is a popular stop on the Crater Lake boat tour, not because it resembles a wizard’s hat but because people report seeing ghostly figures. Park rangers frequently tell their stories of witnessing groups of people standing around a fire, only for there to be no evidence once they get near, not even a scorch mark. 

Phantom Ship Island is another rock formation above the water’s surface. It looks like a sailing ship but seems to completely disappear when people view it in different lighting or weather conditions.

A hemlock tree stump has floated upright and unanchored in Crater Lake for over a hundred years. Nicknamed The Old Man of the Lake, this splintered wood continues to mystify scientists and onlookers. Legend has it the Old Man controls the weather. Other stories in this area include a white deer with pink eyes, UFOs, Bigfoot sightings, and a physiological trance that makes people kill themselves. With this strange phenomenon, you may think people would never come to the lake. However, over 500,000 people visit Crater Lake National Park annually without any incident. 

Where is Crater Lake Located on a Map?

Crater Lake is a stunning natural wonder located in the southern part of Oregon, United States. On a map, Crater Lake can be found roughly midway between Portland and San Francisco along Highway 97. The nearest major city to Crater Lake is Klamath Falls, which lies about 60 miles south-southeast from the park’s entrance. Visitors can easily access the park by car or bus via several highways that lead directly to its entrance.

Wildlife Near Crater Lake

Crater Lake attracts nature lovers as well as UFO and Bigfoot enthusiasts. The most common animals are golden-mantled ground squirrels, Canada jays, and an assortment of butterflies and bees. Black bear sightings are common in autumn ad late spring when the animals are waking or getting ready to hibernate. American marten, snowshoe hare, and Douglas squirrel tracks can be seen in winter snow.

hare vs rabbit

Snowshoe Hares turn from a white color to brown in the summer and can be found near Crater Lake.

©RRichard29/Shutterstock.com

Crater Lake National Park is covered in pumice, ash, and other volcanic rock, but, in spite of that, wetlands are abundant with life. The Mazama Newt is an endemic species native to Crater Lake and only lives on the shores of the lake and on Wizard Island. It is a subspecies of the rough-skinned newt, which is the only newt found in North America, from Central California to Alaska.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Pung/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Niccoy is a professional writer for A-Z Animals, and her primary focus is on birds, travel, and interesting facts of all kinds. Niccoy has been writing and researching about travel, nature, wildlife, and business for several years and holds a business degree from Metropolitan State University in Denver. A resident of Florida, Niccoy enjoys hiking, cooking, reading, and spending time at the beach.

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