Author Archives: Nicole Meier

Nicole Meier

About Nicole Meier

Nicole Meier is a writer, travel blogger and social media consultant. The Source Weekly named her travel blog, Have Tote Will Travel, (www.havetotewilltravel.com) among the best local blogs of Central Oregon in 2013. When she’s not running her three kids from pillar to post, Nicole and her husband can be found skate skiing, paddle boarding or camping in Central Oregon’s playground.

Casual Family Weekend in Sunriver

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Imagine this: you’re riding your bike through a rolling meadow, the Cascade mountain range in the background, and the only sound is from the whir of a prop plane taking off against a crisp blue sky. Up ahead, your children pull carrots from their pockets and present them to a gathering of friendly horses in an adjacent pasture.

Sound like the setting of a movie? It’s actually a scene from my family’s idyllic weekend in Sunriver. Because of the accessible outdoor activities and pristine setting, Sunriver remains a favorite getaway spot for my family of five.

Interior view vacation home in Sunriver, Oregon

While we usually stay at the resort, this time we went for a more relaxed trip and booked a house through Discover Sunriver Vacation Rentals. There are many lodging options to choose from, but since our three kids wanted to bring friends and spread out, we picked a four-bedroom house complete with a large kitchen, hot tub and killer views.

Renting a house is great for cooking in. I stopped at The Village at Sunriver and bought our groceries at Sunriver Country Store. I love this IGA grocer for its fresh produce and healthy choices (a big variety of gluten-free goods too).

Sunriver Country Store Near Bend Oregon

The house was stocked with a handful of bikes for all ages and sizes. Upon arrival,we quickly unloaded and claimed bikes and helmets before heading out to the local paths. My family and I rode through the village, out behind the lodge, across golf course bridges, and past the airport, marina and stables all within under an hour.

The paths are flat and well paved, making it an easy trek for all abilities. After lunch and a hot tub soak, the kids stretched out in the living room to play board games while my husband and I were free to lounge and unwind from a busy week.

Feeling too lazy to cook dinner for the group that night, I ordered delivery from Blondie’s Pizza. The pizza and salads were tasty. I also appreciated that there wasn’t a delivery charge for their speedy service.

The next morning, my husband made a swift trip into the village and brought back some coffee. It might have been cheating to go out for lattes, but we couldn’t resist.

Sunriver Brewing Company in Sunriver, Oregon

Our second day was just as pleasurable with more bike rides and time in the village for window-shopping and a casual dinner at the Sunriver Brewing Company. The kids loved their natural, Angus beef burgers. My husband and I ordered refreshing summer salads loaded with berries, followed by tacos with blackened cod. The selection of local draft beers was impressive, a draw for any beer aficionado. After dinner we strolled into Goodies for ice cream cones and a to-go bag of yummy caramel corn.

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Our last day in Sunriver ended with a scenic trail ride courtesy of Sunriver Stables. My two girls and I opted for the thirty-minute “Bald Eagle Loop,” which took us along the Deschutes River and out across the Sunriver Meadows. The staff was very welcoming as they helped us choose equally affable horses. My only complaint was that photos aren’t allowed on the ride. The views were so stunning that I would have liked to capture them with my camera. We will definitely plan for a longer ride on our next visit.

I can’t wait to go back.

Central Oregon Hotels Receives Trip Advisor Award

Central Oregon draws visitors from all over because of its beauty and wide range of outdoor activities. Between winter snow sports and warm weather fun, the region is packed with extraordinary choices. Central Oregon’s lodging choices are just as exceptional. How exceptional? TripAdvisor has named The Oxford Hotel in downtown Bend among its Top 3 hotels in the U.S. It’s the fourth time in the last 10 years The Oxford has been ranked in the Top 10.

The Oxford Hotel, one of the area’s AAA Four Diamond accommodations, is just steps away from upscale boutiques a variety of tantalizing eateries. Known for its luxurious Eco-friendly room designs and excellent service, The Oxford is the perfect respite for outdoor enthusiasts. With its own urban chic organic restaurant, 10 Below, guests can partake of culinary delights after a day in Central Oregon’s outdoor playground.

What guests are saying:

THE Best Place to Stay in Bend, Hands Down!

The Best of Bend Hospitality-

One of the best hotels in the Pacific North West

Oxford Hotel in downtown Bend, Oregon

In 2014, Guests named both Five Pine Lodge and Conference Center and The Oxford Hotel as favorites.

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Five Pine Lodge, located in the quaint western town of Sisters, offers the personal touch of a bed and breakfast, the privacy of romantic cozy cabins and all the amenities of a resort. Stay for a weekend or longer and indulge at the Shibui Spa with a facial or body wrap. Head next door to sample some of the region’s best craft beer at Three Creeks Brewing, followed by a movie at the Sisters Movie House.

So, whether your choice of vacation involves a cabin in the woods or a boutique hotel in town, Central Oregon’s got you covered.

Broaden Your Horizon at BendFilm

BendFilm 1

Photo Courtesy Barb Gonzales

One of the events that I most look forward to each fall is Central Oregon’s independent film festival.

For 13 straight years, BendFilm has been wowing movie lovers with a plethora of smart, funny and thought-provoking films, both long and short, and doing so in a creative way.

During this four-day festival, downtown Bend buzzes with energy. I love being on the streets during this time, amongst all the filmmakers, directors, actors and moviegoers. The autumn air is full of excitement as locals and visitors alike come together and support the arts. If you haven’t been to a BendFilm festival before, now’s your chance.

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Photo Courtesy Steven Addington

This year the festival runs from October 6-9 at venues such as the historic Tower Theater, the eclectic McMenamins at the Old St. Francis School, the edgy Volcanic Theater Pub and even the Tin Pan Theater will feature films from around the country. The line-up promises something for everyone.

For example, a couple of years ago I viewed a feature depicting a long distance love long story, a film about a struggling New York business owner, a wild skateboard documentary and a psychological thriller. The great part about all of it was each film was shown in a different spot. Afterwards the folks at BendFilm encourage you to vote on what you’ve seen and stick around to hear the directors and writers discuss their work. The experience makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger, not just a spectator viewing art from afar.

Mcmenamins Theater

McMenamins Old St. Francis School

Here’s a list of things to remember if you go:

• Reserve Lodging Early: I recommend staying downtown at The Oxford Hotel or the Double Tree. The Old Mill’s Hilton Garden Inn is also a good location as it’s near the larger theaters.

View of king guest room at motel in Bend, Oregon

Hilton Garden Inn

• Dine Out: From Pacific Northwest cuisine to Japanese fusion, there’s a long list of restaurants from which to choose. Make reservations at 900 Wall, 5 Fusion and Sushi Bar or Greg’s Grill to name just a few.

• Stroll the Streets: Between the vibrant fall colors and mix of happy people, wandering both downtown and the Old Mill District is half the fun of attending the festival. Get out and mingle with fellow moviegoers!

5 Fusion & Sushi Bar

5 Fusion and Sushi Bar

• Try Something New: This is a good time to view films with varied perspectives.

Sit back and take in a genre you might not normally go see. It’s also a perfect time to poke around in establishments that you don’t typically frequent.

Check out the Festival Guide online and plan your visit soon. I hope to see you there!

Pumpkin Patches + Petting Zoos = Fall Family Fun

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As soon as the first hint of autumn rolls around, my three kids ask on a regular basis when we can go to the pumpkin patch. This is not simply because they’re eager to gather Halloween décor. To my kids (all under the age of 12), fall means visiting the farm and getting all the animal petting, ropes course playing and barbecue eating they can squeeze into one afternoon.

This is because Central Oregon is home to more than one terrific spot to celebrate fall.

The first place for some true family fun is Smith Rock Ranch. Known for its ever-changing, intricately designed corn maze (this year is Godzilla), this ranch offers heaps of harvest amusement for all ages. Another big draw for kids is the pumpkin cannon. Who doesn’t want to launch a pumpkin and see it fly? There are more activities here than you can shake a stick at, from wagon rides to archery and barnyard golf. Parents like to purchase seasonal produce from the Harvest Market too. Families can easily spend an entire day at this festive locale.

Philip Kuntz

Philip Kuntz

All of this is conveniently down the road from Smith Rock State Park. My family likes to take advantage of our outing with a scenic hike on one of the many trails. Because the summer heat is gone by this time, it’s a great chance to walk along the river and view all of the climbers who scale the surrounding rock walls. This area never fails to astound me with its pristine beauty.

On the way home, you can stop for dinner at Terrebonne Depot. Located just minutes from Smith Rock, this American cuisine restaurant is housed in a 100-year-old former train station. Dining here is the perfect way to complete your visit to the area.

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Another local favorite is DD Ranch (known to locals as the ‘D and D’). Located three miles east of Terrebonne, on NE Smith Rock Way, is a quintessential family ranch complete with petting zoo, pony rides, hay maze, playground and more.

Being at the DD Ranch feels like spending the day at an old-fashioned fair complete with cotton candy, kettle corn and face painting. The kids have their run of the place as they pick their own pumpkins from the patch (everyone gets the use of a red wagon to help with their load). You can jump on a tractor-guided hayride and tour the property. There’s also a place to snuggle baby bunnies and feed the lamas and chickens. The ropes course area also offers slides and lots of climbing.

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What farm experience would be complete without a home cooked BBQ? The Cafe BBQ Grill will cook you a tasty hamburger or hot dog made from beef and pork raised right there on the ranch. They also cook up potato chips, made from potatoes grown right on the farm. You can even dig up your own potatoes to take home.

Our visit always includes a purchase of their 100% grass fed beef, natural pork, raw honey and farm-raised eggs. It’s the easiest way to stock our kitchen with some wholesome organic food.

Central Oregon Getaway for Back to School Bargains

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Tetherow Lodges

I don’t know about you, but I love a good fall shopping trip. It’s an excuse for one last summer escape before daily life gets hectic again. If you’re planning to visit Central Oregon, might I recommend a stay at Tetherow Resort and a weekend of shopping – tax free shopping – in Bend? (Bring the family..leave them at home and make it a girls trip – your call. )

Tetherow is Central Oregon’s newest boutique hotel, offering 50 deluxe rooms that overlook one of the nation’s Top 100 golf courses and a national forest that’s home to mountain biking and running trails. You’re also just a short distance from all the hiking and biking to be had along the Deschutes River Trail.

Old Mill District Shops - Bend, Oregon

Bend’s Old Mill District

Along with outdoor fun and relaxation at Tetherow, save room for a day of shopping in Bend’s Old Mill District. This outdoor mall along the Deschutes River has terrific finds at stores such as Banana Republic, Gap and American Eagle. Make sure to seek out one-of-a-kind treasures at local favorites like Vanilla Urban Threads and Nashelle jewelry too. (Here’s a link to check out the weekly specials at Old Mill shops.)

Once there, have lunch on the patio of Greg’s Grill. Enjoy Pacific Northwest cuisine a s you watch paddleboarders and kayakers float down the river while the sun’s rays highlight the majestic Cascades. It’s truly a serene setting. Afterwards stroll down to Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shop for a warm weather treat.

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After lunch, head a little farther south in Bend to find some great back-to-school deals at the Bend Factory Stores. There’s a Carter’s for the little ones, Eddie Bauer, Izod, Columbia Nike and Van Heusen and much more in the open-air mall. Treat yourself while you’re there to a little decadence at The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.

You’ll also find some good deals at the Cascade Village Shopping Center, home to Famous Footwear, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Rue 21, Ross, Best Buy and more.

After a full day of retail therapy and indulgence, head into downtown Bend for some dinner. You can go upscale at 5 Fusion and Sushi Bar, home to two-time James Beard Award finalist Chef Joe Kim – or find a brewpub with award-winning craft beers and amazing food. (You can’t go wrong with Deschutes Brewery or Bend Brewing Company, two local’s favorites.)

Chef Joe Kim, sushi, Bend, Oregon

Chef Joe Kim of 5 Fusion and Sushi Bar

So go on, you deserve it. Get out there and enjoy all the beauty and fun that only Central Oregon can provide. Make your travel reservations now. With all the back-to-school deals going on, it’s the perfect time for a little spree!

tetherow family biking

Girls’ Getaway in Bend: Retail & Spa Therapy Included

The entrance to the Oxford Hotel in downtown Bend, Oregon

The Oxford Hotel

With fall right around the corner, it’s a good time to grab a few friends and escape for a girls’ getaway. On such trips my girlfriends and I like to splurge a little with a day of shopping and spa treatments. And what better location to do so than downtown Bend?

If you’re going to stay overnight, check out The Oxford Hotel. The vibe is eco-chic, with emphasis on the chic, the rooms are oh-so-comfortable and the hotel bar/restaurant, 10 Below, is one of the swankiest places in town. Plus, this hotel’s locale is ideal for a day of strolling the streets sans car. Another great option downtown is the Double Tree by Hilton. Newly remodeled, this hotel offers plush rooms and a hip little restaurant and bar. (Not to mention complimentary, warm chocolate chip cookies upon check in.)

The Treatment room at Jinsei Spa

You might want to start your day with spa treatments from Jinsei Spa. With a view of Mirror Pond, this spa has a very Zen feel with massages ranging from hot stone to the more exotic Indonesian treatments. It’s also a welcome reprieve for expecting mothers because Jinsei offers unique prenatal pampering. In addition to massages, enjoy some downtime in the quiet steam room and finish your stay with a top-notch mani/pedi. This isn’t your average spa!

From there, walk a short distance back into downtown. Once on Wall Street, your first stop should be Oregon Body and Bath. Not only will you discover luxurious sleepwear here, but if you’re like me, you’ll also enjoy wandering the store smelling all of the decadent soaps and lotions.

Retail clothing photo by Jill Rosell in Bend, Oregon

Stroll a bit farther and find a plethora of boutique clothing shops. Cascade Cottons is the best spot to pick up Bend T-shirts as souvenirs for little ones waiting back home. My favorite store for gifts is Jubeelee. This eclectic little shop has some of the best, and most affordable jewelry and accessories in Central Oregon. It’s a terrific place to find that something special.

Right next store is Hot Box Betty. As featured in Lucky Magazine, this women’s wear boutique is for the fashionistas of the group. If you love high-end style, this store is for you. After stopping for a latte at neighboring Bellatazza, walk the breezeway that leads to the alley behind the coffee shop. Any gal who loves Western boots will be delighted at the finds inside Cowgirl Cash.

Cowgirl boots for sale at store in downtown Bend, Oregon

It’s well worth a quick diversion from the main streets.From there, head down Minnesota Avenue to find Lulu’s Boutique for trendy, yet unique, fashion. Lulu’s has great customer service and the owner is happy to help you put together a fun outfit for an evening on the town.

Indulge in a late lunch over a glass of wine and conversation at one of the many downtown restaurants. 900 Wall has a warm atmosphere and friendly bar. Drake has gourmet comfort food in a diner-like setting, and 5 Fusion and Sushi Bar has the best nigiri and sushi rolls around. There are no bad choices here!

Interior view of dining area at 900 Wall in downtown Bend, Oregon

Whether you stay for the day or an entire weekend, Bend has the right amount of charm and choices to keep your girl group happy. My friends have their list of favorites and when they visit they make sure to carve out enough time for a little retail damage. I bet you’ll find the same.

Bend Wins the Battle Against Boredom

Family Visits Chock Full of Adventure and Relaxation

Float the River - credit Jill Rosell

Recently, we found ourselves with back-to-back families visiting us for some Central Oregon summer fun. With three kids of our own (all under the age of 12-years-old) my husband and I were full of ideas on entertaining all the cousins and friends who occupied our much-used guest room. After all, Bend is one of the best spots for warm weather vacationing. Between downtown shopping, floating the river and the many activities along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, there was no way our guests would have a chance for boredom.

On the first day, the temperature was pushing 90 degrees and we were looking to keep cool. What better way to introduce our friends to Bend and Central Oregon than to head to Riverbend Park and float the Deschutes River? Located next to the Old Mill District, Riverbend Park is the one with a giant kayak art structure in the parking lot. This is the best place to not only put in, but rent sturdy float tubes from Sun Country Tours. For a couple of free floating hours, you can rent tubes for adults and kids (life jackets included) and meander along the river for either a quick 30 minute float that lets off near the park, or a longer float that lets off at downtown’s Drake Park.

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Drake Park

A handy shuttle comes every 20 minutes to drive you and your tubes back to the beginning. Instant fun. (Side note: I don’t recommend sending any child younger than seven by themselves on a tube because halfway down the river is a spillway that calls for avoidance. My son shared my tube so I could ensure he wouldn’t have difficulty getting to shore at the right time).

For lunch, we cleaned up and drove a short distance to a favorite local joint, Jackson’s Corner. You can sit inside or out, at large picnic style tables and order everything from pizza to hot sandwiches, accompanied with lemonade and great brews on tap. The kids love it because they can play checkers or run around in the mini-playground area while they wait for food.

The SHARC Aquatic Center in Sunriver, Oregon

SHARC

The rest of the afternoon consisted of a lazy stroll around downtown for ice cream cones from Goody’s and window-shopping the boutiques located between the streets of Wall and Bond. The second day with visitors included picking up pastries and coffee from Newport Market and making the twenty-minute drive to scenic Sunriver for the day. The kids spent hours at SHARC(Sunriver’s aquatic and recreation center) taking endless turns on the water slides and floating the lazy river. At the end of the afternoon, they headed across the parking lot to the tubing hill for one last thrill of the day.

Interior view of dining area at 900 Wall in downtown Bend, Oregon

900 Wall, Downtown Bend

Back in Bend, we made reservations at 900 Wall where the adults enjoyed refreshing cocktails and the kids ordered everything from Draper Valley rotisserie chicken with mashed potatoes to gooey cheese pizza. There’s a great gluten-free menu there as well! On the last day, we drove the families to Todd Lake for a picnic and afternoon of frog catching and mini hikes.

This stunning setting, with a full view of the Cascade range, always makes for happy visitors. Upon their departure, our guests vowed to return next summer and do it all over again. We’re looking forward to it!

Central Oregon Dining: Gluten Free Options

Zydeco Restaaunt

Zydeco in Bend

When it comes to eating gluten-free in Central Oregon, my family has tried it all. Having an eleven-year-old who’s very sensitive to gluten, we’ve spent the past decade researching recipes, grocery stores and restaurants. I’m happy to report that Central Oregon has some of the best choices around for gluten-free dining. While we have a growing list of eateries that we like to frequent, I’ve narrowed it down to a few favorites.

Zydeco Kitchen and Cocktails

This is our special occasion place. Located on Bond Street, in downtown Bend, Zydeco offers a hip, urban vibe with a southern flare. I love the contemporary menu, complete with a separate gluten-free menu that includes French fries (they have a dedicated fryer unlike most places). Hands down, the best appetizer is the BBQ shrimp. From the ribs to jambalaya, Zydeco is definitely a crowd pleaser.

Flatbread Pizzeria

Located in the Old Mill District is a family favorite for lunch or dinner. Actually, if you asked my three pizza-loving kids, they’d chose to visit Flatbread any time of day. They enjoy eating at Flatbread because of the opportunity to make their own pizza right at the table. After ordering up all kinds of toppings like bacon, sausage and pepperoni, they eagerly fix their child-sized crust with shredded mozzarella, tomato sauce and the works before handing over their culinary creation to servers who then deliver them a wood-fired oven. Even better, Flatbread also offers a gluten-free crust for my daughter. The restaurant makes sure to bake this dough on a separate tray, doing their best to avoid cross contamination. At the end of the meal, all the kids get a big cookie or gluten-free gelato. Happy kids makes for happy parents.

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Pasta Pastini in Bend’s Old Mill District

Pasta Pastini

Right next door to Flatbread is another family restaurant serving yummy Italian fare. Pastini is decorated with cozy booths and window tables with a view of the Deschutes River. The restaurant serves up several nice choices of gluten-free pastas and sauces. Dine here in the warm seasons and ask to sit outside. You can watch paddle boarders and kayakers float down the river as the sun sets behind the Cascades Range. A truly picturesque setting. An added bonus is the fairly good-sized lawn out front, which allows for kids to run and play tag while you’re waiting for a table!

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The Owl’s Nest in Sunriver’s Great Lodge

Owl’s Nest

Some of the best weekends we’ve spent as a family, have been on our mini-vacations at Sunriver Resort. No matter what our activity of choice is, whether it’s bike riding or paddle boarding, we usually end our day with a sunset dinner at the Owl’s Nest. Located in the main lodge, with stunning views of the Cascades, this restaurant and bar is a great stop for visitors of all ages. Even if the temperature is dropping, our family likes to wrap up in sweaters and sit outside on the patio to enjoy a view of the rolling meadows and beyond. Our kids order burgers while my husband and I usually chose seared salmon and flat iron steak. My eleven-year-old loves that the menu includes gluten-free items for her needs as well. The service is friendly and the setting is unmatched by anything else around. It’s truly a treat.

(editor’s note: Most Central Oregon eateries include several gluten free options on their menus now – some of the region’s award-winning brewpubs even offer gluten free beers.)

SUP Adventures in Central Oregon

A few years ago, while on a group camping trip at Crane Prairie Resort and RV Park, my family and I tried paddle boarding for the first time. Our friends were having fun paddling around the reservoir, so we jumped at the chance when they offered to lend us their equipment.

With my then nine-year-old eagerly straddling the front of the board, I stood behind her and asked a few questions before pushing off from shore. Right away, I noticed how easy it was to balance. I dipped my paddle into the clear water and we drifted along at a leisurely pace. Five minutes into our journey, my daughter looked back and gave me a thumbs-up, her sun kissed cheeks pushed back into a huge grin. Her feet dangled in the warm water as she pointed to fish swimming beneath her wriggling toes.

I was equally excited. We had made it into the middle of the reservoir with hardly any effort and surrounding us was one of the best views of the Cascades that we’d seen in awhile. As we eased further out, enjoying the summer breeze and quietness of the lake, I knew we had found our new favorite activity. Paddle boarding was fun, easy and oh-so-relaxing.

stand up paddling

Stand up paddle (or SUP) has become a popular summer pastime in Central Oregon. Because the difficulty factor is not very great and because there are so many lakes and parts of the Deschutes River to enjoy, it’s an easily accessible warm weather activity. Outside Magazine even recently named Bend as the number one spot in the world for an SUP vacation.

Since that first day out at Crane Prairie, my family now has a short list of favorite spots to bring our boards. Thanks to the folks at Stand on Liquid, we purchased both a 12-foot board for my husband and me, and a smaller sturdier child-sized board for our three kids.

SUP at Sparks Lake - Central Oregon

One of our top picks for paddle boarding is Sparks Lake. Located just off the Cascade Lakes Highway, this stunning body of water sits in full view of Mount Bachelor, the Three Sisters and Broken Top. The water is warm, shallow and clear. It’s a great place for beginner paddle boarders and not-so-seasoned kayakers who just want to float along and take in the beautiful surroundings.

We like to gather here in the morning, armed with a couple of camp chairs and sack lunches, and hang out for the first half of the day. While there isn’t an official beach spot to use at Sparks, there are little inlets and sometimes open campsites that are nice for settling in for the day. Dogs are welcome too because the area is perfect for throwing sticks and lounging in the sun. Parking can be tricky at peak times of the afternoon. Just have patience and plan ahead so you can find a day use spot that’s right for you.

stand up paddling

Another family favorite for SUP is Suttle Lake. Nestled in the heart of the Deschutes National Forest, just outside Sisters, is scenic Suttle Lake. We like to spend a few days camping at the Blue Bay campground, which has gorgeous views and is on the slow end of the lake. While the opposite side of the lake is more for speed enthusiasts with water skiing and power boats, we choose our end for hours of paddle boarding, fishing, and relaxing at the water’s edge. If you don’t own paddleboards it’s no problem. Head to the marina, located on the west side of the lake, for rental equipment. There’s also a beachhead near the lodge, which offers a place to bring a picnic and take in the lakeside activities.

Elk Lake sailboats in Central Oregon

This summer, we plan to take our boards to Elk Lake Resort, also located just off the Cascades Lakes Highway, because of its family friendly marina and lodge. Elk Lake is known for its pristine waters and warm temperatures, which are the right ingredients for a summer afternoon of paddle boarding with the family.

Where will you SUP this season?