Watching Wildlife in Crater Lake National Park

Located in southern Oregon, Crater Lake National Park is known for housing the deepest lake in the United States and the second-deepest lake in North America. Established in 1902, the lake is the fifth-oldest national park in the United States and the only national park in Oregon today. It’s home to the caldera of Crater Lake, a remnant of a destroyed volcano, Mount Mazama, and the surrounding hills and forests.

Thanks to a massive explosion that created the geological spectacle, there is lots to see and do in this park. The Pumice Desert, created from the very thick layer of pumice and ash that fell north of Mazama, is an impressive spectacle where few plants grow today. Visitors can also see the Pinnacles, where very hot ash and pumice came to rest near the volcano. There’s also Mount Scott, a steep andesitic cone whose lava came from the Mazama magma chamber.

The park was originally inhabited by Native Americans who witnessed the collapse of Mount Mazama and built it into their legends and religions. It wasn’t until the 1800s when a trio of European gold prospectors, John Wesley Hillman, Henry Klippel, and Isaaz Skeeters, discovered the lake. Mesmerized by how blue the lake was, they named it “Deep Blue Lake” and the southwest side of the rim where they saw the lake as “Discovery Point.” As they kept moving to find gold, locals renamed the lake “Crater Lake,” which has stuck with it ever since.

Local William Gladstone Steel devoted his life to ensuring the lake was managed and preserved as part of the park system. He began his mission in 1870 in an effort to bring recognition to the park, which he believed more people should see. The park was established on May 22, 1902 by President Theodore Roosevelt thanks to Steel’s efforts.

Today, Crater Lake National park encompasses 180,000-acres of heavily forested land that is home to a diverse range of plants and wildlife. As you venture around the trails, you can spot bears, coyotes, elk, porcupines, amphibians, and other birds and insects. There are also plenty of bats and smaller mammals like pikas, squirrels, and rabbits. The park is home to vegetation that ranges from mixed conifer forests to high-elevation hemlock and white bark pine forest.

There were no native fish present in the lake due to its formation; however, in 1888, kokanee salmon and rainbow trout were introduced to the lake. They now thrive there naturally.

Crater Lake National Park’s Top Animals

  • Bobcats
  • Chipmunks
  • Pronghorns
  • Foxes
  • Squirrels
  • Black bears
  • Coyotes
  • Pikas
  • Badgers
  • Deer
  • Elk
  • Falcons
  • Jays
  • Bald Eagles
  • Hummingbirds

Viewing Locations

Cleetwood Trail: If you want to go fishing or get close to the water, this hiking trail is a great place to do it.
Rim Drive: This 33-mile drive is your best bet for seeing the park’s mammals and birds. Take your time, slow down, and use the pull-offs to get amazing photos.
Mount Scott: The highest point in Crater Lake National Park is Mount Scott, which provides views for 100-miles in all directions. You can also see the white-peaked Cascade Range volcanoes in the north, the Columbia River Plateau to the east, and the Klamath Mountains to the West.
Sphagnum Bog: A great place to catch birds, small mammals, and even medium-sized mammals passing through and grabbing a drink.
Union Peak: Look for pronghorns and bigger mammals in this area.

When Should You Go?

Black bear sightings are much more common in the fall and spring seasons, when they are waking up or getting ready to hibernate. However, you can see the snowshoe hare, squirrels, elk, and deer in the winter snow as they are more likely to venture near the park attractions when there are less people there.

Note: Winters can get wet and cold in this National Park, so pack accordingly if you want to explore the hundreds of miles of hiking trails. It’s recommended to visit the park during the spring, fall, and summer seasons for unexperienced hikers.