15 of the Most Striking Crater Lakes on Earth

crater like with green water and tall left side
Named for the traditional cooking pot it resembles, Okama Lake was formed by a volcanic eruption in the 1720s.

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Crater lakes are some of Earth's most beautiful accidents. The craters form in a number of ways—volcanic eruptions, the collapse of volcanic cones, meteorite impacts—but they all provide invaluable insight into the geological history of the planet. Once filled with water, these lakes become tourist hotspots, settings for legends, and even NASA training sites.

What Is a Crater Lake?

Crater lakes are bodies of water found in depressions formed by either volcanic activity or, less commonly, meteorite impact. Some crater lakes occur in calderas, a particular kind of crater that is created when part of a volcano collapses.

Read on to learn about 15 of the most beautiful crater lakes in the world.

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Crater Lake

aerial view of expansive lake with island in the middle on sunny day

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Likely the best-known caldera in the United States, Crater Lake (and the national park established around it) is found in Oregon. It was formed 7,700 years ago after the eruption and subsequent collapse of Mount Mazama, a tall volcano with a history of explosive activity. The resulting nearly 2,000-foot-deep lake is the deepest in the country and the ninth deepest in the world.

The Klamath Native American tribe in the area has a legend regarding Mount Mazama and the creation of Crater Lake. Oral history says that Llao, chief of the Below World, rose through the volcano's opening and battled Skell, chief of the Above World. When Skell defeated Llao, Mount Mazama fell in on him and created the caldera that became Crater Lake.

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Ijen Crater

top view of Kawah Ijen crater lake with turquoise water and dead tree as foreground

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At the top of Kawah Ijen, a volcano found on the Indonesian island of Java, is a crater lake filled with turquoise-colored water. Though picturesque, the water's color is due to the extreme amounts of hydrochloric and sulfuric acids present. In fact, thanks to its size and pH of just 0.3, the pool is the largest acidic lake in the world.

In addition to coloring the water, the amount of sulfur in the Ijen Crater has established it as an active sulfur mine. It's common to see miners hand-carrying large baskets full of bright yellow chunks of solid sulfur uphill from the lake's shore.

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Kaali Crater

green-tinted circular lake surrounded by forest of trees

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Located on the Estonian island of Saaremaa is the Kaali Crater Field, a collection of nine individual craters caused by a violent meteorite impact approximately 7,500 years ago. The energy of the impact is believed to have been brutal—it is often compared to the explosion of an atomic bomb and likely killed inhabitants of the area.

The largest of these craters, simply called the Kaali Crater, has since filled with water and become a large lake. It has a diameter of 361 feet and is between 52 and 72 feet deep. Archaeologists believe this crater lake was considered a sacred site and place of sacrifice. Some scholars mention the impact event inspiring a number of mythological stories, and others describe it as a likely stronghold for an ancient cult settlement.

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Mount Katmai

distance view of crater lake in snowy volcano

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Another crater lake in the United States can be found in southern Alaska. Mount Katmai is a 6,716-foot-tall volcano that neighbors another volcano called Novarupta. It last erupted in 1912, and it was the world's largest eruption of the 20th century. One result was the formation of Mount Katmai's caldera, which eventually filled with water to become a crater lake.

The rim of the massive caldera measures 2.6 by 1.5 miles in area, and the lake is approximately 800 feet deep.

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Rano Kau

large circular crater lake covered by floating grass

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While most people associate Chile's Easter Island (indigenous name Rapa Nui) with its iconic moai statues, there are other features to be seen. One such site is Rano Kau, a dormant volcano that is home to a crater lake. The crater itself was formed as a result of Rano Kau's last eruption. Once it filled with rainwater, it became the largest of the island's three freshwater lakes, though it is covered by floating totora reeds.

Rano Kau and its crater lake are contained within Rapa Nui National Park, a designated UNESCO World Heritage site since 1995.

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Okama Lake

crater lake with raised side among mountains on cloudy day

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On the border of the Yamagata and Miyagi prefectures of Japan is a volcanic range called Mount Zaō. This range is popular as a picturesque winter holiday destination, but it also contains a beautiful crater lake called Okama Lake.

Formed as a result of a volcanic eruption in the 1720s, Okama Lake is approximately 3,300 feet in circumference and 86 feet deep. It is named after the traditional Japanese cooking pot it resembles. It is also known as the Five-Color Pond because its acidic water changes color from turquoise to emerald green depending on the sunlight.

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Lake Tritriva

oblong lake surrounded by tan rock wall on one side

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Located in the Vàkinankàratra region of Madagascar, Lake Tritriva is surrounded by beautiful cliffs of gneiss rock. Up to 164 feet below is a pool of emerald green water that is 525 feet deep.

Lake Tritriva plays a pivotal role in one Malagasy legend. In what is essentially their own version of "Romeo and Juliet," the story says that two lovers took their lives by jumping off the cliffs into the lake after their families forbade them from being together. They reincarnated on the lake's shore as a tree with an intertwined trunk, and according to legend, if a branch is cut, it will drip the red blood of the lovers.

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Lake Segara Anak

distance view of deep blue crater lake and volcano that extends into it

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In 1257, the island of Lombok, Indonesia, experienced the most powerful volcanic eruption of the last millennium. The explosion of Mount Samalas was so large that its effect likely contributed to the start of the Little Ice Age, a global cooling. There was one positive outcome, however: a beautiful crater lake.

Formed in the resulting caldera next to Mount Rinjani, Lake Segara Anak has an area of 6.8 miles and a depth of 755 feet. The crescent-shaped crater lake boasts unusually warm water that ranges from 68 to 72 degrees—at least 10 degrees warmer than the mountain air that surrounds it. This temperate water is thanks to magma chambers below the lake that leak hot water.

Segara Anak's name translates from Sasak to "child of the sea" and was chosen because of the water's blue color and resemblance to the ocean.

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Kerid Crater

wide crater lake with slopes of bright red rock and light green moss

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Approximately 3,000 years old, Kerid crater and its lake in Grímsnes, Iceland, is unique for a number of reasons. First, unlike most volcanic crater lakes, it was not formed by an eruption despite its location in the country's Western Volcanic Zone. Instead, back when Kerid was its original volcanic cone, it likely caved in on itself after depleting its magma reserve, creating the caldera. The crater lake also has an especially vibrant appearance, which can be attributed to the surrounding red volcanic rock.

Kerid itself is 180 feet deep, but the lake's depth fluctuates between 23 and 46 feet, depending on the time of year and quantity of rainfall.

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Heaven Lake

panoramic view of deep blue crater lake surrounded by irregular tan hills

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Situated on the border of China and North Korea, this pristine crater lake was created in the year 946 when a major eruption formed a caldera atop Baekdu Mountain. It goes by a number of names, including Tianchi in China, Cheonji in North and South Korea, and, of course, Heaven Lake. The people of both North and South Korea view it with a kind of religious reverence; it is even mentioned in the South Korean national anthem.

There are many legends regarding Heaven Lake that persist to this day. For one, the late Kim Jong-il claimed he was born on the mountain near the lake. Upon his death, the North Korean news media reported that as he died, the lake ice cracked "so loud, it seemed to shake the heavens and the Earth." Additionally, the lake is rumored to be the home of the mysterious Lake Tianchi Monster.

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Kelimutu Lakes

aerial view of two steaming crater lakes with aquamarine water

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On Flores Island in Indonesia is the volcano Kelimutu, a major tourist hot spot because it houses three separate crater lakes. Two of them—Tiwu Ko'o Fai Nuwa Muri (Lake of Young Men and Maidens) and Tiwu Ata Polo (Bewitched Lake)—are side by side. On the west side is Tiwu Ata Bupu (Lake of Old People). It is believed that the lakes serve as resting places for departed souls.

Although the lakes exist in the same volcano, the water within them is different colors and changes randomly. There is a trend: Tiwu Ko'o Fai Nuwa Muri is often green, and Tiwu Ata Polo is often red, and Tiwu Ata Bupu is often blue. However, over time, the colors have included white, brown, and innumerable shades of blue and green. This is likely due to a combination of water oxidation, the quantity of minerals, and volcanic gas from below.

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Öskjuvatn and Lake Víti

crater lake filled with murky teal water on cloudy day

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Like Kelimutu, one volcano in Iceland has multiple crater lakes. When Askja erupted in 1875, the effects were so severe and vast that it induced a mass emigration from Iceland. It also created a massive caldera that would become two crater lakes: Öskjuvatn and Lake Víti. Öskjuvatn's name literally means "lake of Askja," and at 722 feet, it is the second-deepest lake in the country. Nearby Lake Víti is much smaller and popular among tourists for bathing and swimming.

Interestingly, because the environment around Askja is cold and barren, NASA saw it as a prime location for training astronauts for moon missions. A number of Apollo astronauts spent time around Öskjuvatn and Lake Víti as a way to adjust to what they might experience when on the moon.

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Pingualuit Crater (Canada)

dark, small circular crater formed in light tan uneven earth

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Found on the Ungava Peninsula in Quebec, Canada, Pingualuit was formed by a meteorite impact 1.4 million years ago. It wasn't discovered until the 1950s. Pingualuit was initially named the Chubb Crater after Frederick W. Chubb, a prospector who was the first to show interest in it.

Filled solely by rainwater, the Pingualuit crater lake is one of the deepest lakes in North America at 876 feet. The water is also exceptionally pure and clear: A secchi disc (an object used to measure water transparency) can be seen as far down as 115 feet below the surface.

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Quilotoa Lake

crater lake surrounded by rocky hills on overcast, cloudy day

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A catastrophic volcanic eruption approximately 800 years ago resulted in the caldera that would eventually contain Quilotoa Lake. Located within the Ecuadorian Andes, this crater lake is almost two miles wide and 787 feet deep.

A number of heat-releasing fumaroles can be found at the bottom of Quilotoa Lake as well as hot springs on the eastern side. The water itself is highly acidic, so although hiking along the rim of the crater is popular, swimming is not allowed.

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Lonar Lake

murky crater lake surrounded by grassland on dark day

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Within the Buldhana district of Maharashtra, India, is Lonar Lake, a designated National Geological Heritage Monument site. This crater lake was the result of a meteorite impact 35,000–50,000 years ago. It is considered to be a "soda lake" because its water is both saline and alkaline, which also makes it hospitable for microorganisms.

In June 2020, Lonar Lake made headlines when its water mysteriously briefly turned pink. After examination, the color change was attributed to the presence of haloarchaea, which are saline-water-loving microorganisms that produce pink pigment.