Katmai Crater Lake, Alaska, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Alaska - Southwest -

Little known and seldom seen, Katmai Crater Lake is an example of nature’s handiwork at its most impressive. Located on the Alaskan Peninsula within Katmai Park and Wilderness, the crater lake is young by geological standards: The caldera was created as a result of the eruption of lava from Novarupta Volcano in 1912. It was thought at the time that Katmai volcano itself had erupted in an explosion ten times as powerful as Mount St. Helen, raining an estimated 3 cubic miles of magma over a wide area for over 60 hours. Drifts of ash reached ten feet deep in nearby villages, and the resulting ash fell as far away as Seattle. Pumice still floats on Naknek Lake, a few miles away.

When an expedition reached the site in 1916, the entire top of the mountain had collapsed, leaving a crater that was quickly filling with water. It wasn’t until the 1950s that it was discovered that Katmai itself didn’t explode, but Novarupta, a small vent six miles to the east had erupted, draining so much molten rock from beneath the mountain that the cone caved in, removing 800 feet from the top of the summit. The molten lava and ash created one of Alaska’s best-known geological features: the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.

Little is known of the lake itself. Reaching the lake’s surface is dangerous, and at least ten deaths have been reported from escaping gases. Visitors can view Katmai Crater Lake on “flightseeing tours” by float plane. Small glaciers have formed inside the rim, and it is thought that most of the lake’s water is derived from them. The lake has the beautiful blue-turquoise color of glacial lakes, caused by fine glacier-ground rock flour, and is estimated to be about 800 feet deep at this point. When first discovered, the lake had a horseshoe-shaped island in the center, since covered with water. Reports from 1923 say the water had disappeared completely, leaving only fumaroles, mud pots, and a large mud geyser at the bottom of the caldera. It has since refilled. Although the rim of the crater is 6,716 feet above sea level, the lake’s surface is at less than 4000 feet but likely still growing. To protect the fragile area for further study, the Katmai Park was created in 1918: 4,021,327 acres encompassing not only Katmai but 13 other volcanoes and a rugged and mostly untouched wilderness visited only by float plane and the hardiest of back country hikers.

The past hundred years have added considerably to scientific understanding of how volcanoes develop and erupt. Many discoveries in the Katmai Crater Lake area have added to that knowledge. For instance, with the 1912 eruption filling nearby Ukak Valley with hundreds of feet of ash, thousands of jets of steam began escaping. Originally scientists believed that an area similar to the permanent thermal vents in Yellowstone National Park had been created. Since that time, most of the water creating the steam has dissipated, and there are few wisps of steam escaping. The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes is nearly smokeless and is used as a migratory route by brown bears which are numerous in the area. The entire wilderness is bear-heaven: 2100 brown bears are thought to live within the protected wilderness. Bear viewing is now one of the largest attractions to the park. More active visitors enjoy mountaineering, ice-climbing and hiking.

Seven back-country lodges are open within the park, with more planned for the future. Brooks Camp is closest to Katmai Crater Lake and can be reached by air or by boat during high water from King Salmon, the Park headquarters. At Brooks Camp, buses take tourists to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, traveling through the boreal forest and crossing streams before arriving at the alpine tundra; an optional hike is available down to the Valley floor for an up-close view of the ash layer. Rangers accompany each bus, educating visitors about the area’s cultural history, geology of the area and, of course, the bears. From the Three Forks Overlook, hikers can venture into the valley on their own, with appropriate permits and equipment. Two camping shelters exist in the valley, but they are not staffed. Camping regulations are strictly enforced, particularly the proper storage containers for all foodstuffs. Bears here are accustomed to people but do not associate them with food due to these rules. Because of this, visitors can get within 50 yards of bears, but bears ALWAYS have the ‘right-of-way’. On busy summer days, ‘bear-jams’ caused by a bears napping on the path can force visitors to wait a couple of hours at times . . . until they awake and amble on. Bear viewing is best in this area in late June, July and September. Another popular viewing spot overlooks Brooks Falls, where dozens of brown bears can be seen fishing for salmon during one of the world’s largest salmon runs.

One campground is located near Brooks Camp with limited facilities. Backcountry camping is allowed, but camps must be established over a mile-and-a-half from Brooks Camp outside of the Development Zone. Many visitors arrange to stay at Brooks Lodge and can enjoy several different package tours, including guided fly-fishing trips into the park. Sport fishing is a big attraction, with rainbow trout, sockeye (red) salmon, silver (coho) salmon, Dolly Varden, and lake trout all being caught. Day trips can be arranged from Anchorage or several days can be included in the stay.

Many of the trails near Brooks Camp are wheelchair accessible and allow every visitor to experience the spectacular scenery of snow-capped peaks, rugged valleys, and lakes large and small. Kayaks and canoes can be rented at Brooks Camp, and a restaurant and showers are available to visitors. The tiny village of King Salmon has several hotels, lodges and bed-and-breakfasts serving the tourism trade. Located on the Naknek River, a single road reaches the 15 miles to the even smaller village of Naknek, but most visitors prefer to come by air. There is no connection by road to any major Alaskan city. This truly is the Alaskan Bush-difficult to get to but well worth the effort.

Katmai Park and Wilderness area is the trip of a lifetime, even if you don’t hike to the rim of Katmai Crater Lake or view the lake by air. Nowhere else can one see this many bears in their natural habitat. The rainbow trout are eager for the well-cast fly. And the picture-perfect scenery will fill albums of vacation pictures. If you’ve ever dreamed of visiting Alaska, this is the place to start.

Things to do at Katmai Crater Lake

  • Fishing
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Campground
  • Hiking
  • Ice Climbing
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • National Park

Fish species found at Katmai Crater Lake

  • Chinook Salmon
  • Dolly Varden Trout
  • Lake Trout
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Salmon
  • Trout

Katmai Crater Lake Photo Gallery

Katmai Crater Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Shoreline Length: 6 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 3,955 feet

Maximum Depth: 800 feet

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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