The Oldest Lake in North America Sits Right Here in Northern California

We have plenty of beautiful and unique lakes throughout Northern California. From man-made lakes like Shasta and Oroville, to natural high-alpine lakes like Castle Lake and Lake Tahoe, there’s a water experience for everyone in the area. But did you know that there’s a lake in NorCal that’s nearly a half a million years old, staking claim to the oldest lake in North America?

Clear Lake in Lake County is one of the most geologically unique lakes on the planet, sitting at 480,000 years old and being formed on top of a volcano deep below the earth’s surface. There’s volcanic activity such as fumaroles and boiling hot springs all around the area, a reminder of the lake’s storied past.

So how has Clear Lake sat in its same spot for this long? It’s actually a geological anomaly. The molten rock that sits deep below the lake is remnant from the volcano that once sat at the location, now dormant. That rock tilts a little bit every year, allowing water to seep through at a slow rate and keep the water level consistent for hundreds of thousands of years.

Water level with that consistency is rarely seen in nature. Most natural lakes have a lifespan around 10,000 years, but the geological characteristics of Clear Lake have allowed it to remain consistent no matter how the climate has changed over the past half a million years. In fact, scientists believe a lake has sat in that area for nearly 2.5 million years.

Due to the 480,000 years of sediment flowing through the lake, a rich environment has been created to nurture some of the most beautiful and diverse wildlife in Northern California. The area is home to some of the most stunning bird watching on the west coast and is frequently listed as one of the best bass fishing lakes in the United States.

If you’ve ever visited Clear Lake, you’ve probably said to yourself “that water isn’t very clear.” That’s actually true. The lake’s name doesn’t come from its water but rather the air that sits above it, which statistically has the cleanest air in California. Its location between the mountains in the region give it clear skies 265 days a year, which is why 1800’s settlers named it Clear Lake.

You may prefer the recreational activities on Shasta Lake, beautiful views of Lake Tahoe or wildlife viewings at Trinity Lake, but there might not be a more interesting lake in NorCal than Clear Lake.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California


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  4. Been to Clear Lake many times and could never figure how it could be called what it is. Far from clear.

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