Your Ultimate Guide to Prineville Reservoir

Prineville Reservoir sits where the high-desert terrain and grassy farmland of Central Oregon meets the foothills of the rolling Ochoco Mountains. A 3,000-acre, human-made lake snaking its way through dusty landscapes, forests of gnarled juniper, and dramatic rock formations; there’s nowhere else quite like it in Central Oregon, and the natural wonders at the reservoir’s shore bring thousands of visitors to the area every year.

As streams, creeks, and rivers flow out of the Ochoco Mountains, they converge on the reservoir, which itself eventually empties into the Crooked River. That unique topography makes Prineville Reservoir a popular getaway—one that retains a quiet charm, even at the height of summer—and its namesake state park is ground zero for boating, wildlife-watching, fishing, stargazing, and other fun activities.

If you’re interested in visiting one of the most dramatic lakes in Central Oregon, here’s how to get started:

Ready to plan your next scenic getaway? Read on for everything you need to know about visiting Prineville Reservoir.

Getting to Prineville Reservoir

Prineville Reservoir State Park provides the easiest access to its namesake body of water and offers the most amenities—including restrooms, a boat ramp, a fishing pier, a fish-cleaning station, and picnic tables. From Prineville, the nearest city to the park, the 16-mile drive takes about 25 minutes via Southeast Juniper Canyon Road; from Bend, the 52-mile drive takes just over an hour via Highway 97, State Route 126, and Southeast Juniper Canyon Road.

There is no day-use fee to visit Prineville Reservoir State Park or launch a boat from any of its six ramps—but if you’re stargazing at the park, you must print a Stargazing Permit, fill it out, and display it on your vehicle’s dashboard when parking.

If boating brings you to the lake, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind. The park hosts six main boat ramps across the lake, and most are usable between Memorial Day and Labor Day; the park’s primary boat ramp is long enough to allow launches all year long, but the reservoir may get icy in winter—which cuts off access to the water. Most types of boats are permitted, but house boats are not allowed.

Aerial view of Prineville Reservoir State Park

Recreational Activities

Stargazing at Prineville Reservoir State Park near Prineville, Oregon

Outdoor recreation brings thousands of visitors to the shores of Prineville Reservoir every year. Here’s a sampling of the best adventures in the area:

Boating: With 3,000 acres and 43 miles of shoreline to explore, it’s little wonder that boating is one of the biggest draws at Prineville Reservoir. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, visitors can launch motorboats, kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddleboards, and other watercraft from six ramps at various points around the lake. Once on the lake, water skiing and wakeboarding is a popular pastime.

Fishing: All year long, anglers can get on the water or kick back on a wheelchair-accessible pier—and go fishing at Prineville Reservoir for rainbow trout, smallmouth and largemouth bass, catfish, and several other species. (Trout fishing, in particular, is stellar in the winter.) A fish-cleaning station in the day-use area makes it easy to prepare your day’s catch.

Stargazing: Prineville Reservoir State Park has been designated an official International Dark Sky Park by DarkSky International—and is popular among astronomers and stargazers for its lack of light pollution and clear night skies. Occasional interpretive programs educate visitors on the cosmos above, but even walking to the day-use area and looking upward can reveal planets, shooting stars, and other wonders on clear evenings.

Wildlife-watching: A rich variety of wildlife calls the Prineville Reservoir area home. Keep an eye out for mule deer (especially in winter), Rocky Mountain elk, bald eagles, coyotes, golden eagles, and osprey.

Camping and Accommodations

The best Prineville Reservoir camping is, unsurprisingly, at the well-maintained Prineville Reservoir State Park; there, a year-round campground features nearly 70 tent and RV sites (more than 20 of which are full-hookup sites), along with five well-appointed log cabins (one of which is pet-friendly). Two of the park’s campsites and two of its log cabins are wheelchair-accessible. Amenities include flush toilets, hot showers, and on-site ice and firewood sales. Sites open for booking six months out, and would-be visitors should make reservations soon after the booking window opens—especially if angling for a summer weekend. Some sites fit RVs and trailers up to 53 feet long. Learn more about camping at Prineville Reservoir.

Three miles away, the park’s Jasper Point Campground is open May-September and hosts 28 electrical sites and one pet-friendly log cabin; the campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and reservations are required for the log cabin.

The Bureau of Land Management also hosts nearly a dozen small campgrounds along the Crooked Wild and Scenic River—with tent and RV sites all available on a first-come, first-served basis—that sit 40-50 minutes from Prineville Reservoir State Park’s day-use areas and boat ramps. You’ll also find a handful of hotels just 20 minutes north of the reservoir in the community of Prineville.

Local Attractions & Amenities

The fun doesn’t stop at the Prineville Reservoir State Park border. You’ll find plenty of fun when you visit Prineville, Oregon, throughout the high desert, and in the foothills of the Ochoco Mountains. Here’s a sampling of what to do in the area:

Steins Pillar: Follow a four-mile (round-trip) hiking path from the Steins Pillar Trailhead to the base of a 350-foot-tall rock formation in the Ochoco National Forest. The popular Steins Pillar hike heads through forests of ponderosa pine and, in April and May, meadows dotted with colorful wildflowers.

A.R. Bowman Museum: Prineville is the oldest city in Central Oregon—so step back in time to learn about its earliest days at the A.R. Bowman Museum. The educational outpost showcases the region’s rich history through exhibits, vintage artifacts, and replica buildings.

Cycling the Crooked River Canyon Scenic Bikeway near Prineville, Oregon

Ochoco Wayside State Park: Though not an official state park, this roadside pullout sits just above Prineville on the city’s western edge and offers sweeping views of the growing community and surrounding landscapes (including the Ochoco Mountains). On a clear evening, this is an excellent place to view the sunset.

Crooked River Canyon Scenic Bikeway: Avid cyclists love riding the Crooked River Canyon Scenic Bikeway—a 37-mile (round-trip) route that runs north-south between Prineville and the western edge of Prineville Reservoir. Along the way, the moderately challenging route heads past farms and ranches, showcases the rugged Crooked River Canyon, and winds past basalt cliffs.

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