Your Guide to an Epic Lake Billy Chinook Day (plus time well spent in Culver)

Just 35 miles north of Bend and 10 miles south of Madras lies Culver, Oregon—the staging ground for adventures on sparkling Lake Billy Chinook and The Cove Palisades State Park. And while the options on the expansive lake are many, Culver, a sleepy town of less than 2,000, also sits surrounded by world-class golfing, quiet camping, jaw-dropping scenery and excellent wine tasting. Here’s what you need to know for enjoying a jam-packed day or thrilling weekend around Culver and Lake Billy Chinook.

Hit Up Culver for Coffee & Ice for Your Cooler

First things first—morning beverages. Central Oregon explorers seeking caffeine and Culver charm should swing by Carolyn’s Coffee, conveniently located in the middle of town, adjacent to the city park. In addition to the usual espresso drinks, Carolyn’s serves teas, smoothies and fresh baked goods. Quick breakfast and lunch options are also available for those on the go.

Next, head a couple blocks north to Culver Market, where you can fill the cooler with ice, stock up on cold drinks and grab last-minute sunscreen before heading west to beautiful Lake Billy Chinook. Named for a member of the Wasco tribe who traveled with European-American explorers in the mid-1800s, the summer hot spot sits at the confluence of the Deschutes, Crooked and Metolius Rivers—and is beloved for water sports, scenic hikes, fishing and lakeside lounging.

Rent a Boat and Spend the Day Fishing, Swimming or Wakeboarding

Lake Billy Chinook fishing is some of the best in the Northwest, and all that’s needed before you start casting your line is an Oregon fishing license. Expect to find kokanee, trout—including bull trout—and bass lurking below the lake’s 4,000-acre surface. Fish from a boat (rental info below) or along the lake’s rocky shore.

At Cove Palisades Resort and Marina, visitors can rent boats, water skis, tubes, life jackets and more. Those rolling with their own vessels can get on the water from boat ramps at three day-use areas—Lower Deschutes, Upper Deschutes and Crooked River; in addition, all three areas boast beaches perfect for swimming. To extend your time at the lake, The Cove Palisades State Park offers 271 reservable tent and RV sites, a picnic shelter and boat moorages.

Boating on Lake Billy Chinook

Stay the Night in a Houseboat on Billy Chinook or Cabin at Cove Palisades State Park

Madras

If you want to combine water fun with an overnight stay, there’s no better way than by renting a fully featured Lake Billy Chinook houseboat. Cove Palisades Resort and Marina happily rents houseboats which can accommodate up to 15 people and, of course, they have all the modern amenities you’d expect from a luxury line: satellite TV, refrigerator and freezer, two private staterooms, a wet bar, water slide and more. Two-story party barges—replete with covered awnings and a water slide—are another fun option.

Is cabin life more your speed? Rent one of three wood cabins near the Cove Palisades Marina and enjoy beautiful views, golden silence and easy lakeside access to kayaking, fishing or simply unwinding by the water. The rustic but cozy cabins come equipped with plenty of amenities—including a shower, refrigerator, grill and deck chairs—to ensure your stay is as relaxing as possible.

Paddling and Hiking Around Billy Chinook

For those more interested in human-powered endeavors, we recommend taking a kayak paddling tour along the six-mile Crooked River Water Trail (on the Crooked River arm of the reservoir) or the more remote two-mile stretch south of where a bridge crosses the river on the park’s east side. In addition to scenic beauty, the paddling trips offer excellent opportunities to spy eagles, herons and other species of wildlife.

There are also multiple hiking options, which range from the two-mile Crooked River Rim Trail to the steeper Tam-a-láu Trail. Perhaps the most popular hike in The Cove Palisades State Park, the Tam-a-láu Trail climbs a plateau before flattening out—where hikers enjoy photo-worthy views of the Cascade peaks to the west, dramatic canyon walls on three sides and glittering blue-green water below.

Tam-a-láu Trail at The Cove Palisades State Park

More Fun Things to Do In and Around Culver

Crooked River Ranch Golf Club

Aside from Lake Billy Chinook, the Culver area has a number of hidden gems. Among them is the quiet Haystack Reservoir, just 10 minutes southeast of Culver, where visitors can camp, fish, swim and enjoy views of Gray Butte and the hills surrounding Smith Rock State Park.

Similarly stellar is the golfing at Crooked River Ranch Golf Club. Crooked River Ranch sits surrounded by dramatic buttes and the snowy Cascades—and has unsurprisingly become famous for its stunning scenery. Of particular note is the course’s legendary fifth hole, where golfers can straight-line their tee shot to the green—but doing so requires shooting over the edge of the canyon wall!

After a few hours on the green, quench your thirst and satisfy your hunger at the nearby Over the Edge Taphouse. Enjoy the eatery’s weekend mimosa bar, colorful greenhouse outdoor dining area and hearty pub fare.

If you’re looking to relax after a big day on the water or on the links, look no further than Maragas Winery. Founded in 1999 by Doug and Gina Maragas, this Culver winery is Central Oregon’s oldest and arguably most loved. With views of both Smith Rock State Park and the Cascade Range, visitors revel in the captivating scenery while enjoying the organic, old-world, barrel-aged techniques employed by the Maragas (rhymes with “asparagus”) crew.

Maragas—which recently won 11 awards at the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle blind tasting competition—nurtures 35 types of vines at their vineyard, including cabernet franc, tempranillo, syrah, sauvignon blanc and multiple clones of pinot and chardonnay. Stop in, enjoy a glass and buy a bottle or two; we really like their Red Blend and Tally Tempranillo.

Finally, those visiting Culver in August should most certainly add the Culver Crawdad Festival to their calendars. The popular community festival honors the humble crustacean with a parade and day-long festival that includes crawdad races, food and drink vendors and (of course) a hearty crawdad dinner.

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