: Wallowa Lake by Leon Werdinger

Cool Lakes for Summer Retreats

Freshwater escapes for paddling, hiking, swimming, fishing, camping and more.
May 31, 2018 (Updated July 26, 2022)

Oregonians wait all year for summer, when there are so few clouds in the sapphire-blue sky that we forget they were ever overcast. But on the dog days when the heat becomes too much to bear, we head for the lakes to cool our worries in still waters. From a painterly alpine lake in the Wallowas to a quiet multifingered lake on the Coast, here are a few lake retreats all across Oregon, where you can paddle, motor boat, hike, cast a line — or do nothing but chill on the shore with a cold drink in hand.

Before You Go: When you head outdoors this season, keep in mind that you can help prevent human-caused wildfires. Before hitting the road, check out these quick fire-prevention tips — and especially take care to enjoy campfires safely. And whether you’re swimming, boating or merely lounging by a lake, keep water safety in mind — never swim alone, know your limits and don’t mix alcohol with recreation.

Here are more simple steps you can take to keep your whole crew safe in the water:

  • Wear a properly fitted life jacket — it’s required for ages 13 and under and highly recommended for others regardless of age. It may just save your life if you end up splashing into the water unexpectedly, especially in cold water temperatures. Many lake areas have free life jacket loaner kiosks if you don’t have your own.
  • Once you’re on the water, beware of changing winds or other boats creating large waves or wakes. Know how to maneuver into waves to avoid being swamped.
  • Ask an expert about the right type of leash to purchase for your board, since the wrong type can be fatal if you fall and get tangled. Quick-release leashes attach to your life jacket and board, and are highly recommended when paddling on any moving water with obstructions like fallen trees from riverbanks.
  • Stay close to shore and avoid fast-moving waters if you’re newer to boating.
  • Finally, paddlers with boats 10 feet and longer are required to purchase and have on hand their Waterway Access Permit, which can be purchased online.

Load up your family along with your sense of adventure and enjoy those lake vibes.

three girls wear life vests and jump from boat into water
Courtesy of Oregon State Marine Board / Water Sports Foundation

Cascade Lakes

Central Oregon

Any Oregon summer would be incomplete without an easy road trip to a campsite offering mountain views and lake access. And you’ll find all of that and more along Central Oregon’s Cascade Lakes. Accessible starting in May by the breathtaking 66-mile historic Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, each of the 12 alpine lakes offers something for all summertime jaunts. Cushy weekend escapists should head to Elk, Cultus, or the North and South Twin lakes, which all offer cabin rentals just off their picturesque waters, in addition to on-site restaurants, grocery stores and plenty of space for cruising the lake. Campers, hikers and photographers should look to Todd, Sparks or Devils lakes, which come alive with wildflowers as the weather warms and offer impeccable mountain views. Fisherpeople will find themselves at home at Hosmer and Davis lakes or the Wickiup Reservoir, which have fish-flush waters perfect for tranquil fly and barbless-hook fishing. Campgrounds around the lakes offer reservable sites for both North and South Cascade Lakes areas, as well as first-come, first-serve spaces that fill up quickly on weekends during the summer.

By Leon Werdinger

Wallowa Lake

Eastern Oregon

A pristine ribbon lake with crystal-clear waters surrounded by the snowcapped Wallowa Mountains, Wallowa Lake State Park is a must-visit for all Oregonians and any visitors who can make the trip for the sheer beauty alone. Bring a boat for paddling, and don’t forget your swimsuit for a midpaddle dip. You can hike through miles of nearby trails that finish with brilliant panoramas. Or you can simply sit along the shore and bask in the magnificence of the towering, snowy peaks in the distance. Any visitors who need a hook-up site or yurt will want to make reservations ASAP, because spaces are limited. Campers, too, will want to plan on reserving before arriving to snag one of the highly coveted sites.

By Greg Vaughn

Timothy Lake

Mt. Hood

While away a warm summer afternoon on the banks of one of the largest lakes in the Mt. Hood National Forest. Surrounded by a dense conifer forest, the 1,400-acre Timothy Lake is a paddler’s paradise, with wide-open water for cruising and cozy coves for exploring and taking refuge from the hot afternoon sun. (Pack a hammock if you’ve got the space!) More than 11 miles of surrounding trails circumnavigate the lake and branch off to the nearby Little Crater Lake, a tourmaline-hued artesian spring. Overnight campers must reserve a site in advance. Campgrounds near the lake include Gone Creek, Hoodview, Meditation Point, North Arm, Oak Fork and Pine Point.

Courtesy of Stephanie Ames / Eugene, Cascades & Coast

Siltcoos Lake

Oregon Coast

Skip the crowds and the chilly Pacific Ocean water in favor of the freshwater Siltcoos Lake (at Dunes City), the largest on the Oregon Coast. Another popular fishing spot — its expansive waters are home to salmon, steelhead, bass and more — the multifingered lake is perfect for all-day exploration and easy days on the shore. Post up at a nearby campsite with a drink, rent an upscale yurt steps off the water or hike the nearby Siltcoos Lake Trail. And if the salty air is too enticing, the beach is only a short drive away.

By age fotostock / Alamy Stock Photo

Sturgeon Lake

Portland Region

Grab your ’yak, SUP or canoe and make a quick getaway to the largest lake on the largest fluvial island in the country. Located 20 miles north of downtown Portland, the 3,000-acre Sturgeon Lake offers hundreds of secluded inlets and coves to explore by boat, often with few motorized boat sightings. On clear days, paddlers will be blessed with expansive views of Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams, along with more than 200 species of birds, including bald eagles and great blue herons. There’s limited shoreline to get out of the water for lunch or a stretch, so you’ll want to bring snacks, sunscreen and drinks in the boat with you for a true on-the-water dining experience.

By Greg Vaughn

Fish and Summit Lakes

Southern Oregon

Fish and float amidst old-growth forest at the base of Mt. McLoughlin at Fish Lake. Motor boats are limited to a 10 mph speed limit, making this lake a tranquil refuge in the Southern Cascades and a must-visit for avid lake fishers. Filled with rainbow, eastern brook and tiger trout, and chinook salmon, Fish Lake offers some of the best fishing in the area. Paired with nearby campgroundsresort lodging with cabins and RV hook-up sites, year-round activities and extensive hiking trails, this is a popular summertime hang and worth a midweek trip to avoid the crowds. Those seeking a more solitudinous retreat should visit the harder-to-reach Summit Lake, which offers primitive campgrounds and crystal-clear sapphire waters.

Jim Shea / tualatinvalley.org

Henry Hagg Lake

Willamette Valley

Tucked into the foothills of the Oregon Coast Range in the Willamette Valley, Henry Hagg Lake is another boater’s paradise. Kayakers, canoers and SUPers will appreciate the designated no-wake area while motor boaters still have large swaths to cruise around in. Paired with more than 13 miles of trails, a picnic area, multiple boat launches and fishing spots (the lake is fully stocked with warm-water fish like smallmouth bass and rainbow trout), there’s plenty of space to carve out your own private paradise. Visitors should be mindful of severe drop-offs in the lake, and all children and non-swimmers are recommended to wear life jackets, even when only wading. Free loaner life jackets are available at kiosks around the park.

For more:

For a one-of-a-kind summer experience, consider booking a regenerative paddling trip with First Nature Tours. This series of events (including Sept. 17-18, 2022) includes a guided kayaking excursion on the Willamette River, watershed service projects alongside a local nonprofit, cozy craft beverage tastings and modern accommodations, as well as all meals and transportation between Portland and the Salem-Independence area. Sign up soon; spots will fill quickly.

About The

Samantha Bakall
Samantha Bakall is a freelance journalist and photographer specializing in diversity-based food issues. She currently calls Portland home. A Chinese-American native of Chicago, Bakall has been obsessively eating, writing and making people wait while she takes pictures of their food since she was a teenager. Her work has appeared in The Oregonian, where she was the food and dining writer for more than four years; The Takeout; The San Francisco Chronicle; and others.

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