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12 Best Lakes in Oregon

Written by Brad Lane
Jun 15, 2020

Looking for the best lake in Oregon to paddle, fish, or swim? The top lakes in the state cater to every aquatic activity under the sun. From lakes near Portland to Crater Lake in southern Oregon, fun places to access the water span the entire state. East of the Cascade Mountains, within the high desert region near Bend, several great lakes offer a warm-weather respite and place to bring a boat.

It's not just on-the-water activities at Oregon's best lakes that draw a crowd. Some of the best campgrounds and hiking trails in Oregon also surround the top lakes, not to mention drool-inducing Cascade Mountain scenery like Mt. Hood, South Sister, and Broken Top. These scenic amenities make the best Oregon Lakes a joy to visit, even if you never get your feet wet.

The Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, in the central part of the state highlights several glistening bodies of water. This aptly named roadway travels for 66 miles and connects several elevated lakes that the whole family can enjoy. The true postcard lake of Oregon, Crater Lake is near the southern city of Ashland, surrounded by Oregon's only national park.

Explore the state's most beautiful bodies of water with our list of the best lakes in Oregon.

1. Crater Lake, Klamath County

Crater Lake

Nearly 2,000 feet deep, Crater Lake, in southern Oregon, is the deepest lake in the United States. This must-see Oregon attraction is the result of the ancient Mount Mazama erupting over 7,000 years ago and collapsing into itself. This volcanic history makes Crater Lake a caldera, and not a crater, as its name implies. However formed, Crater Lake today is one of the most beautiful national parks in the country and a true natural wonder that deserves a visit.

On the southern rim of Crater Lake, the Rim Village and Rim Visitor Center are an excellent place to start exploring the national park. The 33-mile Rim Drive extends from the visitor center to reveal panoramic vistas of Crater Lake. Rim Drive is curvy and potentially congested in the summer months. Bicyclists also share the route.

A popular hiking trail also heads west from the Rim Visitor Center and provides expansive views of features like Wizard Island. No streams or inlets flow into the ancient caldera, and only rain and snowmelt add to the enchanting blue water of Crater Lake. An alternative route on the cross-country Pacific Crest Trail also skirts the southeast edge of the rim.

Cleetwood Cove is the only place where swimming is allowed in Crater Lake. To access the shoreline, hikers head down the 1.1-mile Cleetwood Cove Trail on the northeast rim. No personal watercraft is allowed on Crater Lake, but the park does offer guided ferry rides to Wizard Island throughout the summer.

2. Detroit Lake, Linn & Marion Counties

Detroit Lake

Sixty miles east of Salem, Detroit Lake is a massive reservoir on the North Santiam River. The best place to access this 3,500-acre lake is the Detroit Lake State Recreation Area on the northeast shore. The Recreation Area provides boat ramps, a visitor center, and over 250 campsites. The campground facilitates RV and tent camping, and all overnight users share access to flushing restrooms and showers.

The encompassing Willamette National Forest operates several other campgrounds surrounding the lake. The Piety Island Campground in the middle of the lake is perhaps the most unique and is only accessible by boat. Other popular Forest Service campgrounds include Cove Creek Campground and Southshore Campground.

Fishing is a popular activity at Detroit Lake. Anglers often aim for rainbow trout thanks to the many hatcheries nearby. Two marinas, both in the adjacent city of Detroit, offer boat rentals, as well as bait and fishing supplies.

3. Timothy Lake, Clackamas County

Timothy Lake and Mt. Hood

South of Mt. Hood in northern Oregon, Timothy Lake is a heavily used man-made lake and recreation destination. Hikers, mountain bikers, and horse riders flock to this aquatic attraction to use the variety of trails near the water.

The 12-mile Timothy Lake Loop circumnavigates the water and is the most traveled trail of the area. Also lining the shoreline of Timothy Lake are seven campgrounds with over 200 sites total.

Timothy Lake is one of few lakes in Mt. Hood National Forest that allow motorized boating. Still, the most popular way to experience the water is on a canoe, kayak, or paddleboard. While on the lake, it's hard to miss the great, glaciated view of Mount Hood on the northern horizon. Swimming from the shoreline is also a popular summertime activity.

Mt. Hood National Forest isn't short on amazing bodies of water. Trillium Lake is another popular lake in the area that provides one of the most iconic images of Mt. Hood. This mirror-like lake is 20 miles north of Timothy Lake and near the town of Government Camp.

4. Paulina Lake, Deschutes County

Paulina Lake | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Paulina Lake is one of a pair of crater lakes in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument of central Oregon. Like other crater lakes in the state, rainwater and snowmelt are the only contributors to the water of Paulina Lake. These clean sources give the lake a hypnotizing shade of blue that lures visitors throughout the summer.

Approximately 25 miles south of Bend, Paulina Lake and the surrounding Volcanic Monument are popular for boating, swimming, hiking, and camping. An inviting hot spring is on the north shore of the lake and is only accessible via boat or shoreline hiking trail. Motorized and non-motorized boats are allowed on Paulina Lake. The lake also has a healthy population of rainbow trout and kokanee salmon.

The adjacent lake in the Newberry Caldera, East Lake is well regarded for the big brown trout that get pulled from its water. The East Lake Resort is on the southeast shore and provides cabin rentals, tent sites, and RV parking spots. The resort also features boat rentals.

A must-stop when visiting either lake in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument is the nearby Lava Lands Visitor Center. This educational space offers an encompassing perspective on the surrounding environment.

5. Emigrant Lake, Jackson County

Emigrant Lake | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

A great place to beat the heat of southern Oregon, Emigrant Lake is accessible from both Ashland and Medford in Jackson County. The lake is a popular day trip and overnight destination with an expansive shoreline and lakeside campground. One of the unique attractions of the lake is a 280-foot twin flume waterslide operated by the county.

All types of boating are welcome at Emigrant Lake. Any given day in the summer, visitors should expect to see kayaks and water-skiers skimming across the water. Fishing is also a visitor favorite at Emigrant Lake, with anglers casting lines for bass, crappie, and trout. The boat ramp at Emigrant Lake is on the northern shore within Emigrant Lake County Park.

Emigrant Lake Campground is also within Emigrant Lake County Park. Thirty-two sites at the campground support RVs, with full hookups available. An additional 40 sites cater more towards tent camping and small camping trailers. All campsites at Emigrant Lake have access to shower and restroom facilities, as well as excellent views of the water.

6. Elk Lake, Deschutes County

Elk Lake with South Sister Volcano in the distance

Near the inspiring peak of Mount Bachelor within Deschutes National Forest, and a 45-mile drive from Bend in central Oregon, Elk Lake delivers with a postcard setting. This crystal-clear lake is a summer hot spot for boating, fishing, and swimming. Kokanee Salmon is the most abundant species in Elk Lake, and anglers should head to the southern shore to cast their lines.

On the northern shore, the National Forest Service operates Elk Lake Campground with 26 reservable sites. The adjacent Elk Lake Resort also features campsites, as well as cabins and a lodge restaurant. The resort also features pontoon boat rentals and other services like scenic cruises and private dock rentals.

7. Wallowa Lake, Wallowa County

Wallowa Lake

At the base of the glaciated Wallowa Mountains in eastern Oregon, Wallowa Lake is a popular getaway with a great backdrop. The entire region surrounding Wallowa Lake offers a unique alpine experience in this less populated region of the state.

Wallowa Lake State Park, on the southern shore, is an excellent base camp for exploring this wild region. The state park features boat ramps, a campground, and an extensive day-use area. For boat rentals and local tips on fishing, head to the adjacent Wallowa Lake Marina.

The nearby Wallowa Lake Tramway is a Swiss-made tram that transports visitors to the top of Mt. Howard. From this high vantage point, alongside great views of the Wallowa Lake basin, a small network of trails reveals impressive views of the surrounding glaciers. The adjacent Eagle Cap Wilderness is also accessible by taking the tram.

8. Lake Billy Chinook

Lake Billy Chinook

In the high desert region of eastern Oregon, this massive reservoir is a first-class recreation destination. Incorporating waters of the Deschutes, Crooked, and Metolius Rivers, Lake Billy Chinook encompasses more than 70 miles of shoreline. Impressive canyon walls line much of the lake for extra scenic appeal while boating, fishing, or camping near the shore.

The Cove Palisades State Park, on the Deschutes and Crooked River portions of the lake, is the best spot to enjoy Lake Billy Chinook. The State Park features over 160 campsites ranging from full hookup RV spots to tent-only camping areas. The State Park also provides several ways to access the water, including a boat ramp, fishing pier, and guided kayak tours.

9. Todd Lake, Deschutes County

Todd Lake

Todd Lake is a popular high mountain body of water located near Bend in Deschutes National Forest. The lake is easily accessible from the 66-mile Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. This scenic roadway is open to traffic from late spring to early fall.

With limited hiking needed to reach the shoreline, Todd Lake is a great place for families looking for easy alpine adventures. Motorized boats are not allowed on Todd Lake, but other activities like kayaking, hiking, and photography flourish.

The Todd Lake Day Use Area is the most common spot for getting on the water. Facilities include picnic tables, restrooms, and places to fish from the shoreline. Visitors can access the Three Sisters Wilderness from the Todd Lake Trailhead. The nearby Todd Lake Campground features less than five lakeside tent sites available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

10. Siltcoos Lake

Siltcoos Lake

Two hours west of Eugene, Siltcoos Lake is the largest lake on the Oregon Coast. This freshwater lake is a popular destination for fishing and boating, as well as camping and hiking. While salmon, trout, and crappie also inhabit the lake, anglers often flock to the warm water of Siltcoos Lake to cast for largemouth bass.

Much of the Siltcoos Lake shoreline is inaccessible, so bringing a boat is the best way to enjoy the water. For those without a boat, land activities at Siltcoos Lake are also abundant. Several campgrounds line the banks of the nearby Siltcoos River, like the 55-site Waxmyrtle Campground. Several hiking trails, like the Waxmyrtle Trail, also span the area and lead to the ocean.

11. Sparks Lake

Kayaker on Sparks Lake

A popular day trip and weekend getaway in Central Oregon, Sparks Lake is a 30-mile drive west of Bend. Within the Deschutes National Forest, the lake is accessible via the stunning Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. The 360 acres of Sparks Lake has a beautiful backdrop of South Sister and features a vibrant environment to explore on and off the water.

Motorized and non-motorized boats make a gentle wake across Sparks Lake throughout the summer. Sparks Lake is not a spot for water-skiing or tubing, however, as the speed limit is 10 miles per hour. Fly fishing is the only type of angling allowed on the lake. Boating tends to be the most popular way to cast a line because of the ancient lava flows that obstruct the shoreline.

This distinct shoreline and other vibrant Cascade Mountain features also attract a lot of visitors to Sparks Lake. The 2.5-mile Ray Atkeson Memorial Trail offers a great interpretive path to explore the scenic environment. The trail begins near the Sparks Lake boat ramp and traverses through lava flows and lodgepole pines.

12. Upper Klamath Lake

Upper Klamath Lake at sunrise

Upper Klamath Lake is the largest freshwater lake in the state. This impressive body of water connects to the city of Klamath Falls and is a southern Oregon vacation destination. The Rocky Point Resort, on a far northwest arm of the lake, is a great gathering place with boat rentals, cabins, and a lodge restaurant.

Activities at Upper Klamath Lake range from boating and fishing to hiking and camping. Stunning views of Cascade Mountain scenery go along with all things to do at the lake. An abundance of wildlife also often makes an appearance, particularly birds due to the lake's vicinity to the Pacific Flyway.

The lake experiences environmental transformations that affect how visitors use the water. Seasonal algae blooms occur on the lake, which can be harmful to people and pets if swallowed. These blooms are well reported, and visitors should check lake conditions before visiting. Activities like hiking, camping, and fishing are still prevalent during these seasonal algae blooms.

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More Places to Visit in Oregon: Our article covering the top tourist attractions in Oregon goes into great detail on many of the most popular things to see and do. For some Polaroid inspiration, our eye-catching guide to Oregon in Pictures: Best Places to Photograph will keep your camera busy on your next visit. For more details on what to do on the Oregon Coast, check out our article on the top attractions on the Oregon Coast.

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