The Old Man of the Lake

Crater Lake

It would not be difficult to argue that Crater Lake, in central Oregon, is the most beautiful body of fresh water in the world. The lake, which is almost perfectly circular in shape, in unquestionably startling. It sits at the top of a 7,000-foot-high dormant volcano and fills its crater. It is about six miles from side to side, a remarkable 1,950 feet deep (ranking it ninth in the world in terms of depth), and is almost entirely surrounded by cliffs that rise to heights of nearly 2,000 feet above its chilly waters. No rivers or even streams flow into it; the lake is filled entirely with snowmelt and rainwater, and though it practically glows indigo in the North West’s summer sunshine, its water is actually so crystal clear that plant life has been found merrily photosynthesizing on the bottom at depths of 350 feet.

What makes Crater Lake unique, though, is its most celebrated occupant: not a fish, not a bird, but a floating tree trunk known familiarly for decades as the Old Man of the Lake. And what makes this ancient hemlock so very remarkable is that it has been bobbing, absolutely vertically, in the water for as long as Crater Lake has been documented. The Old Man has certainly been there for well over a hundred years, since the earliest known reference to it dates back to 1896 – and while its stump, two feet wide and bleached white by many years of sun, has lost a little of its topmost parts during that time (it used to project five feet above the surface, but now, thanks largely to the habit tourists had of jumping from their boats onto its tip, it has lost the top foot or two of its superstructure), this has not affected its stability. Like an iceberg, the Old Man hides most of its bulk beneath the surface; those who get close to it can look down and see some 30 feet of barkless trunk stretching down into the depths of the lake.

The Old Man of the Lake as it – he? – is now

Why the Old Man floats so serenely, and has not either become completely waterlogged, or rotted, or been knocked to pieces as it crashed against the shore, remains something of a mystery. The most widely accepted theory suggests that when the tree fell into the lake – carried there, presumably, by some forgotten landslide – it took with it just sufficient rocks, trapped among its roots, to weigh it down and set it bobbing. Over time, the roots decayed and the rocks tumbled into the depths, but by then the trunk had become waterlogged, and the weight of that water kept it vertical. Meanwhile the sun, drying out the first five feet, gave the Old Man just sufficient buoyancy to remain afloat indefinitely; and the cold of the lake preserved it.

The first person to record the tree’s existence was J.S. (Silas) Diller, of the United States Geological Survey, who came to Crater Lake in 1883 and returned 13 years later. According to a report that Diller published in 1902, he noted, during a visit in 1896, the existence of a ‘great stump’ out in the waters of the lake near Wizard Island. At first Diller did not realise that the Old Man was floating; the tree had grounded in 37 feet of water, and, peering down through the clear waters, he presumed that it was rooted to the bottom and might constitute evidence that Crater Lake’s surface had risen considerably over time. Later, Diller established that the tree was mobile by tying bailing wire to the exposed portion and pulling it a short distance. [Salinas]  Returning four years later, he noticed that the log was still there, but in a position about a quarter of a mile from where he had left it in 1896. This time he took a photo of it – the earliest known image that we have of the Old Man [below].

Silas Diller’s 1901 photo of the Old Man of the Lake – visible as a white blob to centre right

Diller’s extensive experience of Crater Lake makes it possible to hazard that the Old Man of the Lake probably began floating there some time between his first visit in 1883 and his encounter of 1896. One part of the geologist’s duties was to establish the crater’s depth, which he did in in 1886 by taking no fewer than 1170 separate soundings – covering every part of the lake without spotting (or at least without mentioning or later recalling) any floating tree.

At that time, the edges of Crater Lake were lined with trees, and Diller cut down several and slid them down the cliffs to make himself a raft. Yet while his observation that

owing to the steep slope of the rim, a tree frequently slides into the water in an erect position, and as the lower part becomes water-logged, it floats about the lake with only a few feet of the top projecting above the water and thus furnishes a spectacle to excite the imagination

might suggest that the Old Man once had companions, no other cases of logs floating vertically in lakes for protracted periods have come to light; the Old Man seems to be unique, and it may be that Diller actually based his observation on nothing more than one or more encounters with the solitary denizen of Crater Lake. [Diller]  For this reason (and because Diller’s description of the stump he discovered in 1896 matches that of the Old Man pretty well), it’s generally accepted that the trunk that appeared in Crater Lake c.1896 actually is the same one that is still floating there today.

A park ranger demonstrates the buoyancy of the Old Man of the Lake. Undated, c.1930

By the 1920s, despite its continuing remoteness, the lake had become a minor tourist attraction, and visitor numbers were boosted by the growing popularity of outdoor activities such as camping, hunting and fishing. One early visitor was Zane Grey, the renowned writer of westerns, who fished there just after the Great War ended; well-travelled though he was, Grey was stunned by the lake’s setting, writing: ‘I expected something remarkable, but was not prepared for a scene of such wonder and beauty… Nowhere else had I seen such a shade of blue… How exquisite, rare, unreal!’ [Grey]  It was not until 1928, however, that the Old Man of the Lake appeared again in the records. In that year, Fred Kiser, a photographer with the National Parks Service, gave the log its familiar name, and at about the same time (though some sources say in 1933), boatman Paul Herron, who made his living running tourist excursions on Crater Lake for several decades, finally established that several reports of a tree floating in different parts of Crater Lake actually referred to one and the same waterlogged trunk. [Pence; Crater Lake Institute chronology]

Undoubtedly the most interesting piece of research into the Old Man was conducted a decade later. Nothing that had been recorded up to that date suggested strongly that the tree was really mobile; indeed, Diller’s experience – of a tree that appeared to have moved 400 yards in four years – suggested that it barely shifted its position. In 1938, however, naturalists Wayne Kartchner and John Doerr took the trouble to track the Old Man’s movements over a three month period, recording its position once or twice a day wherever possible. The challenging weather of the lake (which is often shrouded in mist or wracked by high winds) restricted the  total number of observations to 84, but these were sufficient to prove that – blown by the wind – the tree ranged over the entire lake, and could move at quite surprising speeds.

The Old Man’s full length – around 30 feet – is visible at close quarters through the clear waters of Crater Lake. Note the absence of any root structure.

During that July and August, the two naturalists showed, the Old Man restricted itself almost entirely to the northern portion of Crater Lake. This pattern, they concluded, was the product of an almost continuous southerly wind, which ‘was deflected locally by the crater walls to the extent that numerous eddys and cross currents were created, thus accounting for the continuous back and forth movement of the floating stump.’

During September, the wind shifted, and for the duration of that month the Old Man travelled rather more widely, going as far south as Phantom Ship and spending the last few days of the month to the west of Eagle Point. In total, the log travelled a measured total of 62.1 miles, or an average of about half a mile a day. Even that figure, though, is quite misleading; on 6 August 1938, for instance – a day when morning and evening observations were possible – the Old Man covered no less than 3.8 miles between dawn and dusk.

Both the longevity and the mobility of the Old Man, then, make it remarkable, though certainly no more remarkable than the body of water it calls home. It is not at all surprising to learn that the local Klamath tribe – who have lived in the vicinity for so long that they had no migration myth – regarded Crater Lake as sacred, and the tribe’s initiation rituals included (and still include) various death-defying feats conducted on the lake’s formidable cliffs. Among the Klamath’s legends, too, is one relating how the lake was formed in the course of a battle between the god of the underworld, Llao, and his rival, the sky god Skell. It has been suggested (perhaps not entirely plausibly) that this may be a dim folk memory of the eruption of the volcano, Mount Mazama, in about 5,680BC.

Phantom Ship, photographed by Silas Diller c.1902. It is easy to see how the island got its name. Click to view in a higher resolution.

The eruption would certainly have been memorable, though – geologists estimate that Mazama stood 12,000 feet high at the time, which means that about a mile of mountain, the top 5,000 feet of rock, was shot into the sky in a single colossal blast. Certainly there is evidence of a deadly pyroclastic flow some 1,200 feet deep around the base of the mountain, stretching as much as 40 miles down into a nearby valley, and thick deposits of pumice and ash blanketed the whole North West. About 200 years later, in the course of a second eruption, Mazama collapsed in upon itself, forming the caldera which Crater Lake now fills.

It is certainly no surprise that a landscape so awesome and primaeval has given birth to numerous myths. What’s intriguing, at least for the purpose of this blog, is that just such a legend is showing signs of building around the Old Man of the Lake itself. The venerable log has been a fixture of Crater Lake for so long that it seems to be assuming the role of guardian of the waters – at least if the account of recent events there in the excellent Atlas Obscura are credited. According to this version of the Old Man’s story, when scientists began to explore the lake by submarine in 1988, it was decided that the floating log represented a dangerous hazard. Accordingly, the Old Man was tethered where they found it, east of Wizard Island, for the duration of the expedition. This restriction on the Old Man’s freedom produced some swift results. ‘Immediately upon doing so,’ it is said, ‘a storm descended upon the lake. The tempestuous weather only came to an end when the Old Man had broken away from his anchor and was again free to glide the water as he pleased.’

Crater Lake showing Wizard Island, familiar haunt of the Old Man of the Lake


Joseph Silas Diller, ‘The geological history of Crater Lake.’ Washington, Government Printing Office, 1912.

Zane Grey, ‘Crater Lake’. In Country Gentleman, 15 May 1920.

Wayne E. Kartchner and John E. Doerr, ‘Wind currents in Crater Lake as revealed by the Old Man of the Lake’. Crater Lake National Park Nature Notes vol.XI, 1938.

Dan Pence, ‘A brief history of Crater Lake launches.’ River West, April 2004.

John Salinas, ‘The Old Man of the Lake.’ Crater Lake National Park Nature Notes vol.XXVII, 1996.

221 thoughts on “The Old Man of the Lake

  1. I remember when I went to Crater Lake, the thing that struck me most was the color of the water. You see pictures like the one above and think it’s just professional manipulation to encourage tourists. NO. THAT’S HOW IT ACTUALLY LOOKS. I swear I’ve never see anything more blue than Crater Lake in my life.

  2. I’ve seen this. What you fail to fully convey here is that it’s really kind of eerie when you’re up close.

    Crater lake is beautiful, but it’s actually kind of inhospitable. That water is freezing, and I think I remember reading that there’s not any kind of fish in it. There are few access points to the lake since it’s surrounded by cliffs, and any sand/gravel –what little there is of it — is really sharp volcanic stuff.

    All this makes the lake very quiet, and while it’s beautiful, it’s kind of foreboding, too. It’s not the kind of place where you’re going to hang out on the beach and go for a nice dip.

    Coming across this strange log during one of the tourist boat rides is actually kind of strange. It’s a lot more ghostly feeling than you’d expect. It feels perfectly reasonable that there’s be a log floating there, but when you see its odd position, then look down into those dark waters and see it’s immense height, it throws you a little. It’s like its been there forever…just waiting.

  3. thanks:) i did my first research project ever on this lake in grade school…. thanks for reminding me of how beautiful it is

  4. On my first time in the US, I took an Alaska Air flight from Seattle to San Francisco. As we flew over Crater Lake, the pilot tilted the plane so that everybody on board could get a look at it, explaining “It’s just so pretty”.

    A fond memory. It’s nice to be reminded of it and to read a little about the place.

  5. My dad worked at Crater Lake for two summers. He said it was the best two years of his life. Some spooky stuff goes on there though.

  6. Saw a mention of this log on a show one time, and for the life of me I can’t remember what it was called. But they didn’t mention the whole weather-controlling part. Neat, tho.

  7. I’ve been to Crater Lake as often as I can go and have never seen or heard of this tree. Very interesting read though.

    • I have too, Grew up 30 miles away, used to get there at least 5 times every summer. I have heard of the floating logs, but there isn’t just one, there are several, and we were told that from time to time erosion uncovers one and sends it into the lake from the edge of the crater, and that they only last a few years and then rot or sink.

  8. “…owing to the steep slope of the rim, a tree frequently slides into the water in an erect position, and as the lower part becomes water-logged, it floats about the lake with only a few feet of the top projecting above the water and thus furnishes a spectacle to excite the imagination.”

    made me smile

  9. This is one nicely crafted blog. Seriously, I liked the article and the site even looks nice. I am so happy to say that I was able to visit crater lake long ago and took some amazing photos. It is truly the bluest water you will ever see.

  10. “(it used to project five feet above the surface, but now, thanks largely to the habit tourists had of jumping from their boats onto its tip, it has lost the top foot or two of its superstructure)”

    all of my hate

    • The point is that if you shave off a foot or two from the top the log will float higher from being relieved of that weight. If the stories are true that 30 feet of the log are underwater and 5 feet are above water, that means 1/7th of the log protrudes out of the water. If you remove two feet from the top of the log, it should rise to the point the 1/7th of it protrudes from the water. Removing two feet from the top should cause its floating height to go from 5 feet to 4′ 8.5″.

    • You should definitely visit this place. It is amazing. The drive up there will make you shake though. There are roads with no guardrails and no shoulder built on ridges so steep that you only see openness to either side of the road. It’s particularly scary when a bus drives by in the other direction at full speed taking up almost every inch from the center of the road to the edge like it’s no big deal.

      I wish I had taken pictures of the drive up when I was there.

      • Well I’m in Britain here. Nothing compares to that. Nothing. Bloody Americans and their scenic beauty.

      • I live about an hour away from crater lake. It’s definitely a jaw dropping site. The old man of the lake is actually a giant dragon penis, and the dragon lives in the depths of the once was volcano.

      • Plus, North American lakes don’t have killer sea monsters roaming their depths.

  11. Hmmm… this post makes me wonder just how many readers are in Southern Oregon. I thought I was all alone out here…

    • @izzyhearts
      No you’re not alone, but I thought I was. Actually, I wish I were! I’m willing to share the sights.

  12. Pingback: TIL that a tree has been bobbing around, vertically, in Crater Lake, Oregon for almost 120 years. It can pop up in any part of the lake, and some say it controls the local weather. at

  13. All of you absolutely have to visit Crater Lake at least once in your lifetime. No picture can ever do it justice.

    My wife and I were able to visit in June of ’04. I had always seen pictures, but nothing could really prepare me for high beautiful and clear the lake was.

    A word of advice though; its just like hiking the Grand Canyon, its easy to get down, but exausting to get back up. The higher altitude can really drag you down physically.

    • I wouldn’t consider it difficult. It’s a 700ft drop over a 1.1 mile hike. Cleetwood Cove trail. Anyone in reasonable shape can complete it with no difficulty… Hell, I’ve seen 300lb+ people make it up with some well-timed breaks.

  14. I think that’s more of a log than a tree. Maybe a trunk, if you want to compromise. Did anyone else expect to see leaves?

  15. This isn’t really that spectacular. This is called a “dead head” and they are in all of the great lakes bobbing just as this one does for hundreds or years, taking props off boats or tearing a strip out of its keel. I’m not sure why dead heads float like that, but i know that it’s not because of rocks. maybe the base is just bigger and over time waterlogs more than the rest…

    • I didn’t believe this, but it looks like you’re right (text under fig. 5). The root ball gets the most waterlogged the fastest, which causes the tree to float upright instead of on its side. Trees without the root system tend to float on their side because they have a more uniform density when waterlogged. It apparently takes quite a while for a fresh tree to become waterlogged enough to partially sink.

  16. That story about tourists jumping from their boats sounds apocryphal.

    The only boats in the lake are run by the park service and operated by park rangers. I’m having trouble believing that the rangers politely obliged tourist douchebags by pulling one of their boats alongside so that they could jump on it.

    • They’ve got several boats, for tourists to get out to Wizard Island. They’ve had boats there for decades. I was lucky enough to get a ride out to the island when my family went there when I was in 6th grade. I need to go back.

  17. “You foolsssss! Now that we control the Old Man of the Lake, we shall unleash a hurricane that will dessssstroy Oregon – unless you hand over all of the gold in Fort Knox! COOOOOBRAAAAAAA!”

  18. anyone else got a mad mad mad will to go there and tear that shit apart? I still don’t know how, but I’ll think of a plan.

    since it’s a dead tree and all, no crime, instant internet fame!

    if I ever do it (and I sooooo want to now), perhaps this summer, I’ll post it to youtube and here, stay tuned.

    • It’s a National Park. That would be destruction of federal property, and land you in big boy prison for a very long time.

    • i’m sure you would, if it were a simple matter to get a log that could easily weigh over 1000 pounds out of a lake. I’d be willing to bet that removing the Old Man would require some advance planning and/or heavy machines, not to mention the fact that it needs to be found first and moved to where you have your winch set up.

      • You’d have to use a helicopter, there are no roads leading down to the lake, only a single walking path. The only boat on the lake is used for tourism and got there itself by being airlifted in.

      • Crater lake is pretty isolated. Even when you get to the park it’s about another 12 miles up a very windy road to get to the rim. Once there, you’re too dumbfounded to do much of anything besides stare breathlessly. If you want to go to the surface, you walk down a pretty steep trail. Earlier this month, the rim drive wasn’t open yet, so you would have to walk a few miles to get to the trail head. There are ranger stations that have a complete view of the lake, so you’d have to manage to not be seen by them. It would be far too much work.

  19. The photo where you can see the underwater part creeped me out. I don’t know why, but things in deep water just make me uncomfortable.

  20. Last fall I learned that the water in Crater Lake is a mix of rain and snow and when you jump in off of a 30 foot rock, it’s almost enough to put you into shock.

    • 1. Plan trip to beautiful island resort with clear water
      2. Snorkel for 5 minutes, notice things swimming down below you
      3. Realize the bottom is very, very deep and in some areas there appear to be bottomless pits
      4. Get out and refuse to go into the sea for rest of vacation. Finish a lot of books.

      • Yeah, why does this happen? Is it some form of vertigo? Or maybe some form of afraid-of-the-dark?

      • That feeling is very very chilling and uncomfortable. This past summer I was diving in the Bahamas, I was diving by the edge of a very very steep drop off. You can see nothing but dark and very creepy water. I probably wouldn’t mind it as much if I was in an enclosure or a vessel of some kind but swimming beside it made it very eerie.

      • I refer to it as ‘aquaacrophobia’. I first encountered it while swimming alone in the caribbean. I swam out just a bit too far, looked down and realized there was an entire world below me and I was just floating — Wile E. Coyote-style — in glassy water. I don’t have regular acrophobia, but I do in clear water.

      • I’m the opposite. I’ll swim in clear water where I can see things, but hate dark water. Lakes…blugh.

      • the park ranger was there and said it was said (unofficially) that it was safe. I was just making the point that the water is REALLY COLD.

      • I put a toe in that water once, once. When I was a kid. No way would I jump in. And I was used to really cold water.

  21. Having been to the Crater Lake I can easily say it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. If you ever have a chance to go don’t pass it up.

  22. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by chrissandoval. chrissandoval said: The Old Man of the Lake: <- very cool story about a floating tree trunk. you'll just have to trust me on this one.[…]

  23. Hi, I’m from England but my daughter is married to an American and lives in Seattle. My wife and I were privileged to have visited and stayed at Crater Lake and I agree it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to (including the Grand Canyon). If you get a chance then book a short stay at the Hotel on the rim of the Lake – you’ll not regret it.
    As others have said, I have had a chance to travel on the Lake but do not remember “The Old man” but it’s a good story.

  24. That’s crazy, one of the photos is by S. Diller, who did a lot of the preliminary geologic studies in southern Oregon where my masters research is focused.

    See Snoke & Barnes, 2006 for a summary of his and other early geologist’s work.

  25. I have an inexplicable and very powerful fear of that tree. No idea why, and I’ve never even seen it in person.

  26. And that is why I won’t go into the ocean, and I hate swimming in lakes. All that stuff floating just below you….dead bodies, zombies,sea monsters. The mind reels.

    • Oh thank god, I’m not the only person waiting for a dead body to float up when I go swimming. As soon as I get past waist-deep in water, I just wait to get tangled in some god-awful corpse-y abomination.

  27. I have nightmares about deep water sometimes. I can’t stand the ocean, lakes, Olympic-sized pools, and some rivers. shudder Ugh, I just…hate them. I don’t mind hanging out on the shore, but I refuse to swim in them and I think I would be paralyzed by fear on a boat. That photo makes me want to throw up. 😦

  28. the most beautiful lake in the world? No. Check Lake Atitlan, in Guatemala. That is indeed the most beautiful one in the whole world.

  29. A very cool perspective to something we never got to see on our visit back in 2007. It is definitely a spectacular site and more beautiful than ever in early morning!

  30. I hate the fact that as an outdoorsman I’ve lived in Oregon now for 8 years and still have never been there.

  31. What an incredible article! And as someone else stated, I have to add Crater Lake to my list of places to visit some day, haha. Aside from that, you have a very nice looking blog!

  32. That thing is beautiful. It looks like something you’d see in a water level of a video game. Tell me you swim in it.

  33. You can. I’ve been to Crater Lake quite a few times, and swam in it. Crater Lake has some of the clearest water in the world. Here’s someone swimming in it.

    The only issue with swimming in Crater Lake is that it’s very, very cold.. Max temperature is 66 in the summer. When you dive down 20 feet, it’s a lot colder than that.

    • Oh yes, I’ve done this many times! This cliff is at the bottom of the Cleetwood Cove trail, and is only ~25-30ft high.. If you’re there on a sunny day, the water below the cliff is so clear it looks like you’re jumping into a 4 foot deep pool… only it’s 30-40 feet deep.

      Amazing place!

  34. There’s a great plan. Threaten to hold Oregon hostage by controlling their weather. I’m sure this will work out.

    TL;DR: In Orygun, the weather is more spastic than my colon.

    • No kidding, only in Oregon is the weather so determined to rain it will do it in mid summer with no clouds in the sky.

      • Hey, it’s sunny and warm right now!! Oh, no, wait, it’s about to rain. Well, glad I saw it while it lasted.

  35. now, imagine running a half marathon (13.1 miles) around that beast. my friend and i decided to start running last summer, and trained for a half marathon. we thought we’d start with a bang, and go for the race that is touted as one of the “most beautiful” in the nation to run, which is one around crater lake. my friend lives in oregon, so we thought it would be great motivation to get to run it. well there ended up being many problems with that theory. one, the elevation changes by around 4000 feet during the course of the race (i believe starting at around 7000 feet and ending at 11000 feet) making it extremely difficult and exhausting to run….and i trained (and live) in minnesota. bad idea. i ended up getting pretty sick and “strongly encouraged” by the medic to stop racing at mile 11. it was a huge disappointment to get my ass kicked by elevation. i came back to minnesota the following week, signed up for another half marathon (here), and kicked its ass out of spite.

  36. We were there two summers ago and it was absolutely stunning – in the way that perfection is stunning.

  37. Why did I read that as “a car has been bobbing around, vertically, in Crater Lake, Orgon for almost 120 years.”

    I then called bullshit, since a car would have rusted long ago. And then I called doublebullshit because a car would have sunk to the bottom. And then I called triple bullshit because that tree looks nothing like a car.

    I need coffee.

  38. Don’t go to Oregon it is a wild place where only savages roam and there is no sign of modern civilization. Or if you actually go there be prepared to be creeped out by how nice we are.

  39. Last time I visited C.L. it was after spending 6 weeks doing geology field work to the SW. After some of those mine and forest service roads, the roads in the park were luxuriously wide, free of rubble and felt really safe.

    Edit: example road – Many were sketchier. I developed a very good sense of where each tire was

  40. That drive is amazing. I’d swear the temperature drops a solid 20 degrees going from the bottom to the top. And the view from the top, especially looking south, down the slope and out to the Sierras is unbelievable.

  41. […] The most widely accepted theory suggests that when the tree fell into the lake – carried there, presumably, by some forgotten landslide – it took with it just sufficient rocks, trapped among its roots, to weigh it down and set it bobbing. Over time, the roots decayed and the rocks tumbled into the depths, but by then the trunk had become waterlogged, and the weight of that water kept it vertical. Meanwhile the sun, drying out the first five feet, gave the Old Man just sufficient buoyancy to remain afloat indefinitely; and the cold of the lake preserved it. […]

    This isn’t even plausible. If the waterlogged part is heavy and the dry part is buoyant, then the up-and-down bobbing motion would rapidly waterlog more and more of the dry part until it’s completely underwater.

  42. Proud Oregonian here. Crater Lake is one of the most phenomenal things I’ve ever seen in person. Absolutely beautiful. Looks like a massive, real life version of Lake Hylia.

    Is there any doubt that Oregon is a fucking amazing state?

  43. The ant colony that lives on the wood is pretty freakin’ cool. On my last trip to the lake the boat came up right next to the log. Definitely an amazing phenomenon.

  44. This articule is a bit frustrating. I love the story about the Old Man. But, Crater Lake is NOT a crater. Its a caldera. The people that named it didnt know the difference.

  45. There is a certain spot that is unadvertised that you can cliffdive off of, I’d say it’s about 30ish feet above the water. You can recognize it by the changing rooms present near it. I would highly recommend it, it was exhilarating, and the water that you fall into is crystal clear and amazing (if a bit cold). I’d recommend watching someone else jump off it first for the exact jump location (or I’m sure you can find an image or so online)

  46. Beckies Cafe in Union Creek, right outside of CL has some of the most amazing local berry pies I have ever tasted and the restaurant is so tiny and quaint, spooky almost, like stepping back in time

  47. I visited Crater Lake when I was about 8 years old. Of all of the places I’ve seen in my lifetime, this is the one I want to see again.

    It’s quite a drive from Seattle or Portland, which is probably a good thing. It is WELL worth it.

  48. i have been to crater lake once when i was about 10. 20 years later and i havent ever been back, but that changes this august; i am going back with my wife and i plan on spending the night on wizard island. i am so god damn excited i can not wait to go.

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  50. more likely the pressure changes in the weather effect how it rises and lowers in the lake and depending on the current flow inside the lake determines where it will pop up.

  51. […] It you get close you can see 30 feet down the Old Man’s length […]

    Yup, definitely sexual.

    Maybe I’ll steal it to become e-famous.

    Actually, I don’t think a 30 foot log will fit on my pickup truck.

    Maybe I’ll make it disappear by attaching weights to it.

    Or maybe I’ll make it stick out of the water more by attaching balloons to it.

  52. You have to see the lake – the sides of the cauldron are perilously steep. There is really only one place on the rim that you can get down and it is (IIRC) about 800′ vertical on a switchback. So bringing a boat much bigger than a kayak would be a tremendous effort.

    The boats the park service has were brought in by helicopter.

    I don’t know if boats were previously allowed, but I doubt they were ever commonplace.

  53. They are not allowed. Crater Lake is the clearest natural body of water on the planet. They work reasonably hard to keep it that way.

  54. What would make it more creepy is if MORE trees started appearing…

    What if after every full moon, another petrified old man emerged from the deep, until there was an army of “Old Men”. The trees would appear and disappear without notice, sometimes only a few are needed, but sometimes large numbers of the trees would emerge, and if you ever saw this amazing site it would be the last thing you ever saw!

    What if you went swimming one sunny day in crater lake, and all the sudden the logs started appearing from underneath you. You try to swim away but they surround you, the sky darkens and more lifeless zombie trees encircle you and you quickly become ensnared in their seaweed arms. Their arms gets stronger and turn into branches, then limbs, and you are dragged down into the deep center of crater lake never to be seen again.

    Yes, this is the last time you are seen in your human form, but you have learned the secret of crater lake. The meteor at the bottom of crater lake has petrified you as well, and on the next full moon it is you that emerges as another member of the old man of the lake army! You have been transformed into one of the zombie trees, time means nothing to you now, you live for hundreds of years stuck swimming around this petri dish of a lake.


  55. As an Oregonian who has been there before, Crater Lake is probably the most beautiful piece of natural scenery I’ve ever seen. You can look into the water and see fish, then darker blue water, and then blackness. If you don’t know, the lake is almost 2000 feet deep.

    Also if you want a good wallpaper, here’s a nice panorama from Wiki 🙂

    • Can someone explain to me where the fish came from? I got the impression from the article that people were fishing in the lake.
      I mean, if the only way water gets in is through rain or snow….how in the world did the fish get in?

    • Without the help of the park rangers the only way to steal it would be to hike a boat down from the crater rim to the lake edge, then fetch the giant, water logged hunk of wood out of the water, then hike it back up to the crater rim (1,000 ft elevation gain over rough terrain) and into a vehicle large enough to carry it. Suffice it to say, it’s not an easy task.

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  57. Friends and I once went skinny dipping in Crater Lake. I didn’t see the old man, but I bet more than a few old men, and women, saw us through binoculars. Purest, clearest water I’ve ever been in, and shrinkage is guaranteed!

    • Minderbinder are you a woman ?…did you come out shorter, smaller ? Did the old men and women need binoculars before you went for a swim ?
      My brain shrinks when I try to figure out what 30 feet look like….over here in the rest of the world we measure things in metricness ! Its like your money system, all in decimal and SO easy. I actually remember when our money system was not decimal, 12 pence made a shilling, 20 shillings made a pound, 21 shillings made a guinea..really weird when you think back…bit like 12 inches make a foot, 3 feet make a yard, 6 feet make a fathom, cant remember how many whats make a chain. Something like 1734 feet or yards make a mile…..ha, if you USA people ever move into the 21st century with your gallons, miles, and acres, you will find it so much easier.

  58. “(it used to project five feet above the surface, but now, thanks largely to the habit tourists had of jumping from their boats onto its tip…”

    How the HELL do you get a boat up there??

  59. I find this really creepy, kind of frightening in a way I can’t quite justify. Does that make me crazy? Anybody else feel anything disconcerting when you imagine bumping into this thing?

    Maybe it’s its contradictory nature. It seems so unnatural, yet apparently entirely natural. Also, it’s a thing which belongs on land, become a thing of the water, and a thing which should have decomposed long ago, remaining…

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  61. I’ve also seen this, and it’s very weird. But Crater Lake is very weird. (It does have fish, which the Park Service wants gone, so fishing is not just allowed but encouraged.)

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  63. That’s pretty groovy overall. I love this kind of thing. I sure hope it doesn’t end up being ruined as more people learn about it. (I think about people cutting down THE Joshua Tree and bullshit like that.)

    Fascinating. Thanks for posting!

    • I know! Seriously, Crater Lake is weird*. Incredibly beautiful, and the drive around the rim can be completely terrifying no matter which direction you go (because you could fall down the cliff into the lake, or you could fall down the other cliff and roll down the outside of the crater). The lot where we parked to walk down to the boat launch was also home to the largest, bitey-est mosquitoes I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve lived in Maine, Vermont, Maryland, and DC.

      We kept stopping and staring at the views, because we couldn’t believe how much it looked like all the postcards (except, you know, more). We had a drink on the patio of the lodge and just gazed out at the spectacular beauty of the place.

      *This is par for the course for Oregon, which is full of weird. And I’m not even talking about Portland. If you’re a fan of strange, naked geology, Oregon is for you.

      • rtha – “The lot where we parked to walk down to the boat launch was also home to the largest, bitey-est mosquitoes I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve lived in Maine, Vermont, Maryland, and DC.”

        I encountered this, too. The mosquitos were oppressive in the first weeks of summer.

        Then, suddenly, they all just vanished.

        I didn’t really understand why they vanished until, while hiking Garfield Peak one morning, I encountered millions (?) of dragonflies hovering in the breeze from the lake. Literally hovering. They were pointed into the breeze. Simply floating. Barely moving their wings.

        That place is inhabited by the miraculous.

      • > If you’re a fan of strange, naked geology, Oregon is for you.

        And boy, who isn’t!

        If the land shapes the people, then Oregon is the prime example of it. Strange and naked both of them are.

  64. Went to Crater Lake for the first time last summer and did the drive around it. It was breathtaking. Hopefully if we go back this year, we’ll do the boat tour.

  65. Is it at all possible that this thing could get waterlogged enough that it dips below the surface but not so much that it sinks to the bottom? Because seeing it suspended in mid-water would be even creepier.

    • Most definitely; even just loss of mass could make it neutrally buoyant, and just a few feet below the surface could make it a big hazard for boats. It sounds like the water doesn’t change temperature much, but it could vary enough that the Old Man rises in the winter and sinks in the summer due to the density of the water.

  66. I worked at Crater Lake — at the lodge — through the summer of 1996. The most amazing summer of my life: full of highs and lows and more than a few massive head-spinning context switches.

    I’m a painter. Living at the edge of Crater Lake was like living upon the world’s greatest painting. Each day brought a new variation in the color of the water. The color could shift from blue to purple to a deep black in the course of a single hour or a single day. Only twice did I see it become a perfect mirror of the sky above. In time, I began apprehending these variations as the shifting moods of a living entity. I’d spend hours some mornings just studying the motion of the water from the edge of the rim.

    In all those months, I took a boat ride only once. ( The boat landing was almost halfway around the rim from the dormitories in which the lodge workers stayed at that time — and I had no car. ) At one point, the boat passed quite close to the Old Man. I distinctly recall seeing the skeleton of that great tree magnified beneath the lens of the water, a sudden sense of displacement as I lost visual contact with the world above.

    The summer I was there was kind of rare in that no one committed suicide by jumping in the lake from one of the surrounding cliffs. ( A few teenagers did manage slide down the scree which lined the caldera walls near Wizard Island. They were rescued without incident. ) I only mention this because the Old Man was regularly mistaken for — and reported as — someone drowning in the lake.

    ( I did also swim in the lake briefly. The water is cold — not as cold as I initially expected, just cold — and absolutely, stunningly clear. It felt like a proper baptism after everything that happened there. A rite of passage. )

    • No way! No stinking way!! The world is so small… Kikkoman, I worked at the Rim Gift Shop in the summer of 1996, May to the first week of September! You roomed in the staff dormitory out back? I slept up under the rafters with a few other women. Holy cow, there’s a good chance we met, I ate at the lodge every morning and evening with other people who worked in the lodge and the gift shop. Played cards with some men and women once or twice a week in the evenings.

      I was at Information Desk in the shop. View straight out onto the lake, every day. Gorgeous. I love Crater Lake. It never inspired fear in me, but then, I grew up in the outdoors, went on a walkabout when I was three years old (our family dog saved my life, led me to a house where the man looked at the dog tag and phoned my parents), nature’s always made me feel “ooh pretty what’s over there?” Two bear encounters in my life, same sort of thing – “gosh they’re beautiful. They could eat me, heh. Wow, they move so gracefully…” Ran across a mother and cubs checking out campsites one time I took a “vacation” downhill at the campground. Cubs are freaking adorable, my Maine Coon reminds me of the way they moved, like rollicking balls of carefree paws and ears and mouths. (But do NOT approach a mother bear. Don’t move, keep calm, let her get her little ‘uns together and ramble out at her own pace. That’s what the one I saw did.)

      I did the announcements for boat rides on the lake – the company that runs the lodge and gift shops also runs the boats. Also had the pleasure of warning people not to take any path to the lake other than the one trail down. Almost every year someone dies by trying to climb down the crater’s side.

      I mostly remember the questions. “Can we hike down to the lake?” “On the designated trail, yes. Please don’t take any others.”
      “When do chipmunks turn into squirrels?” “Well, ah, they’re different species…”
      “When do deer turn into elk?” [see above]
      “When do deer turn into moose?” [see above]
      My favorite, though: “WHERE’S THE LAKE??? WE CAN’T FIND THE LAKE!!” I’d take my arm and do a “turn around and look behind you motion” with a smile comprehensive of their impatience. “What? Where is it?” Me: “It’s that big blue thing.” “OH! HOLY COW IT’S BIG!” heh.

      One evening in summer I was counting out the tills (I balanced my till to the penny often enough that I earned the privilege, heh) with our manager. My head in dollar bills, she suddenly exclaimed, “Oh my God.” She was someone who never took the Lord’s name in vain, so I wondered what was going on. “Anna,” she told me, “look out the window.”

      And there… there was a rainbow. A double rainbow. From one edge of the caldera to the other. Reflected in the deep blue waters. I have never seen anything so indescribably beautiful. “Beautiful” hardly even touches it. We stood in silence, watching the double rainbow, the mountains around the lake reflected in it with the palette of colors draped across.

      • We did indeed know each other 🙂 I don’t remember any names from that time, but I do remember going on morning walks and hikes and often passing a guy I recognized as an employee, sitting and watching the lake with a sketchbook – that would be Kikkoman!

        And I’m pretty sure we chatted in the cafeteria.

        I entirely agree with what he says about coming to see the lake as a living thing, by the way. What I’ll say will sound corny and new-agey on the Internet, but it’s one of those places with a profound… sigh. Words escape me, they’re too small. The immensity, the peace, the incredible variety of fauna and flora, the lake’s otherworldly yet unmistakeably Earthly waters, they touch you on a very deep level. I think you have to visit to “get” it; it’s the same sort of thing visitors expressed with their awkward “HOLY COW IT’S BIG!” It’s not something you can prepare to experience unless you’ve already seen it in person. My brother, who’s a flight mechanic, got to fly over the lake in a small plane and took a photo. Those blues are true to life. She’s breathtaking, that lake. Living there, you get to know her and see how she slips from one dress to another.

        As a point of comparison, I do live on the French Riviera currently 🙂 It comes nowhere near Crater Lake. Sometimes the Mediterranean gets colors that remind me of the lake, but it’s the quiet and wilderness that lack. The only experiences I’ve had approaching it were visiting Yellowstone and the Grand Teton National Parks.

      • Fraula’s inspired me to dig out some photographs from my time at the lake. They’re fairly awful as such things go now, but I see few imperfections in the memories they evoke.

        Looking through those photos today, I remembered something else about the lake — which Fraula touches on in her most recent comment.

        On many days — due to the clarity of the air at that altitude — there was no perceptible atmospheric perspective. The most distant objects — for example, the far rim of the lake — seemed as clear, saturated, and close as the end of my arm. That’s not uncommon in much of the west, I suppose, but it shook me for weeks after I arrived there (from far smoky Appalachia).

  67. For some reason, any submerged object visible from the surface of a great stretch of water – be it a shopping trolley or a ship wreck – gives me a vertiginous fear. If I ever saw the Old Man, I think I’d probably die.

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  69. I grew up within a couple hours drive of Crater Lake, but for some reason don’t really remember getting up there much as a kid. But I did visit about 5-6 years ago, with some family and friends. It was a beautiful day, and as anyone can see, the scenery is gorgeous. We took so many great pictures, and then I lost my camera. For some reason it’s very painful for me to lose photos, and I still get bummed out about those. I definitely hope to get back there soon.

    Also, hnnrs, I concur about submerged objects. Terrifying!

  70. Does wanting to paddle out to it in a canoe with a power drill and one of those sets of screw-in tree faces make me a bad person?

  71. While in high school we took a trip every year down to Ashland for the Shakespeare Festival, and every year we stopped by Crater Lake on the way home. Every year it was completely socked in by fog. The running joke was that there was a ranger out there with a supply of dry ice and a big tub of water, and that it was all just a ruse to sell postcards. My senior year we finally got to see the lake in all its glory, and our theory was dispelled. I really need to get back down there.

  72. Crater lake is amazing. I too have met the old man, but the lake itself is a fantastic sight. We joked that everyone would assume we cheated the saturation in our photos, but on a good day the water really was that blue.

    Go see it if you have the chance, but by all means find out when kikkoman’s dragonflies are on the hunt. When we went the mosquitoes were fierce.

  73. My family visited Crater Lake when I was a kid. Sadly we didn’t get to see the Old Man of the Lake because it WAS SNOWING!!!! in the summer!!!!!

  74. rtha: “We kept stopping and staring at the views, because we couldn’t believe how much it looked like all the postcards (except, you know, more).”

    That exactly describes my feeling on seeing Crater Lake a few years ago. That drive was really wonderful in that my grandfather was with us (brother, mother and me) and knew all about the local geology, plants and animals (he was a long time Oregon resident). It also covers the way I felt seeing the Grand Canyon.

  75. A few weeks after our trip, a car with the family dog inside fell 1100 feet off the rim. 1100 feet. And the dog survived by jumping off the sunroof.

    This was in September and I remember the Park Rangers were worried about getting the car out before the snow closed down the park. I think the park is closed most of the year due to snow now that I think about it.

  76. We did a summer road trip into Oregon. People were very surprised when we told them we weren’t going to the coast but in towards Bend. It was a volcano trip. We did Newberry and Crater Lake as well as a few other odds and ends. I really recommend it. Bend is a great place and we enjoyed seeing all the weirdness the volcanoes have etched into the landscape. Also, there were woodchucks eating the grass in front of a strip mall on Bend’s main drag whenever we passed by. Dunno about that.

    Anyways, yes, oddness abounds. I loved it.

  77. What a great article! I also immensely enjoyed the ensuing posts & photos. Hopefully I can make it there myself one day.

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  80. My great swimmer husband swam in Crater Lake – twice! First time was bone-chilling freezing and he immediately got out. A few minutes later his wife encouraged him to try again saying, “It’s always warmer the second time.” Bad idea. His first swim stirred up the surface water with the reallly cold stuff below and the frigidity cramped his muscles so that he had quite some difficulty stroking his way back to safety. The Old Man of the Lake nearly had some permanent company.

  81. Logs like this aren’t that uncommon… we just call them deadheads where I’m from. Most large bodies of water get regular boat traffic though, so the respective agency in charge of safety usually pulls them from the water. If they don’t get yoinked, they just wash on shore as driftwood.

    Crater has only a couple of allowed boats from what I understand, so they just let it be.

    • also, in most places they eventually just wash up on shore, but Crater Lake has steep sides and doesn’t have flat beaches, and coupled with the unique vertical orientation it would just “bounce” of the sides and be pushed back out into the lake.

      • There is even an underwater logging industry.

        Most old growth timber has already been cut, or if it still stands it has been banned from commercial harvest (at least in the USA). The only way to legally acquire old growth timber is from salvaged timber that has been locked away underwater for decades.

  82. The lower part of the underwater image creeps me out me for some odd reason. Not to the point that it scares me, but it definitely makes me feel uncomfortable. There’s just something eerie about things slightly submerged under water.. shudder

      • I used to live in a small town where there is an old stone quarry that has filled in. It was active in the late 19th century, but when the digging equipment reached low enough to break through the water table they just evacuated and abandoned the quarry and let it fill up, leaving cranes and equipment too large to remove at the bottom. The water is black as night and around a hundred feet deep in some parts (and cold as hell year round) and has steep stone sides around it on several sides and people like to dive from very high up. Lots of people get the heebie-jeebies at the idea of the cranes and whatnot down there for a hundred years, as if you would caught down there if you dove too deep.

        For a long time it was fenced off and illegal to enter, but people would climb the fence anyway and go swim there.

        Eventually they spent a lot of money to turn it into a park and added a shallow kiddie pool by filling in a very shallow part that is separate and fenced off, but the main swimming area is right in the middle of the quarry.

  83. One of the most surreal sights. There is only one path down into the crater. No motor boats are allowed on the lake except some very low emissions passenger cruisers for tourism. Most definitely something to put on the bucket list if you’ve never been.

  84. It is definitely worth visiting. It is a gamble because the roads aren’t too well taken care of as it isn’t a major thoroughfare but Crater Lake in Winter (or at least late or early winter) is breathtaking.

    I moved to Reno which is close to Lake Tahoe, the second deepest lake in North America at 1,645 ft (501m). Tahoe is also known for it’s clarity. if you like big, deep, clear lakes then Tahoe should also be on your list.

  85. My grandparents owned the lodge at Crater Lake for many years and both my dad and uncle ran the boats out to Wizard Island many summers.

    My dad has a picture of himself standing on the Old Man of the Lake at our house. Wish I wasn’t 4 states away or I would scan it in and post it – it’s pretty baller.

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  87. Someone probably already said this, but they could core the “old man of the lake” (which wouldn’t disturb it) and compare the rings to tree ring records. If it was in the last 1000-2000 years, they might be able to determine exactly when it was alive.

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