The Lakes in Central Oregon

Teenage girl kayaks on Paulina Lake in Newberry National Volcanic Monument

Ask anyone in Central Oregon, and they’ll have a favorite lake. Maybe they grew up paddling on Sparks Lake, basking in the views of South Sister. Perhaps they camp each summer at Paulina Lake, deep in the heart of Newberry National Volcanic Monument. They might even love boating on Lake Billy Chinook, an oasis-like reservoir in the Central Oregon high desert.

Whatever the lake, locals and visitors alike have plenty to choose from. So here’s a look at the many lakes in Central Oregon, along with what each is best known for. Who knows? You might even find your own favorite lake on this list.

Top Lakes Near Bend, Oregon

It would be irresponsible, if not outright impossible, to discuss the top lakes near Bend without singling out the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway—perhaps the most scenic collection of lakes anywhere in Oregon, if not the Pacific Northwest altogether.

The Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway is a 66-mile driving tour that begins in Bend and heads southwest—into the heart of the Cascade Range, beyond the base of Mt. Bachelor, and past more than a dozen of the region’s best-loved lakes.

In particular, a handful stand out as local favorites.

Todd Lake, just a half-hour west of Bend, is one of the first lakes visitors arrive at after leaving town. The lake itself, a short walk from the parking area, affords dramatic views of nearby Broken Top and is a popular place to picnic, hike, and fish in summer; a walk-in campground hosts three sites near the lake, as well.

Couple in their 20s paddleboards on Devils Lake in Central Oregon

A few minutes west, Sparks Lake boasts one of the most photographed viewpoints along the entire byway; just a short walk from the day-use area, visitors can spy South Sister and Broken Top (some of the most iconic mountains in Central Oregon) rising above the lake and surrounding marshland. Naturally, Spark Lake is popular with kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders in summer—but a hiking trail heads through the forest around the lake, and anglers enjoy fishing for cutthroat trout in its shallow waters. (Just across the road is the Green Lakes Trailhead, which leads into a popular lakes basin; hikers wishing to tackle the trek will need a Central Cascades Wilderness Permit between late May and September.)

Sitting at a bend in the road where the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway turns south, Devils Lake measures just 23 acres—but a rich turquoise hue makes it a popular stop for picnickers, paddlers, and anglers fishing for rainbow and brook trout.

Further on, Elk Lake affords views of the Three Sisters to the north and Mt. Bachelor to the east. With such great views, it’s no wonder paddlers and anglers (fishing for kokanee) enjoy playing in its crystal-clear (if chilly) waters. On the lake’s western shore, Elk Lake Resort hosts a variety of cabins (available to rent year-round and accessible by snowmobile in winter), along with a summertime campground; boat rentals are available in summer, snowmobile and snowshoe rentals are available in winter, and scenic mountain views abound all year long.

If you’re planning a trip on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, note that the road is always open to Mount Bachelor; beyond that point, it is only open seasonally, usually between late May or early June and October. Gas is only available at Elk Lake Resort along the byway, so fuel up before leaving Bend. And if possible, try to get on the highway by 8 a.m., or opt for a midweek trip, to enjoy your best chance for quieter viewpoints, easier parking, and less-crowded trails.

Some of the trails along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway require a permit for day hikes and overnight outings throughout the summer. Learn more about the Central Cascades Wilderness Permit System to see which trails require the permit, when a permit is needed, and how it might impact your next outing.

Lakes to Check Out Near Sunriver
and La Pine, Oregon

Looking for a low-key reservoir where you can fish far from Central Oregon’s bustling cities? Want to camp near a lake in the midst of an active volcano? Believe it or not, you can have both experiences at lakes near Sunriver and La Pine.

View of Paulina and East Lake in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument

At the western edge of the region are a pair of popular reservoirs: Crane Prairie Reservoir and Wickiup Reservoir, both a half-hour west of Sunriver and La Pine—and both acclaimed for their natural wonder.

Crane Prairie Reservoir offers some of Central Oregon’s best bird-watching opportunities. The man-made reservoir, originally dammed to store irrigation water, attracts thousands of nesting and migrating birds year round—including eagles and osprey. (An osprey nesting platform has even been constructed to host the majestic bird.) Elsewhere around the reservoir, anglers enjoy fishing for “cranebows”—rainbow trout that can grow up to two inches per month in summer and reach 10 pounds or more as adults. A large campground on Crane Prairie’s eastern shore hosts more than 100 tent and RV campsites each summer.

Nearby Wickiup Reservoir is similarly lauded for its wildlife-viewing opportunities. The reservoir is known today for its populations of migrating birds and waterfowl (including tundra swans, sandpipers, and falcons), as well as excellent fishing opportunities; angling season lasts from April to October, with brown trout (which can reach 20 pounds or more in spring), coho salmon, and kokanee patrolling the reservoir’s cool, deep channels. Keep an eye out for deer, elk, and raccoons around Wickiup’s shore, as well.

To the east, a pair of lakes sit within the Newberry caldera at Newberry National Volcanic Monument—and offer a classic summertime experience just a half-hour east of La Pine.

The fascinating history of Newberry dates back more than 400,000 years, when the first in a series of eruptions began to give the volcano its broad, shield-like shape. A more recent eruption—just 75,000 years ago—led to Newberry’s collapse … and the creation of a miles-wide caldera within the (still active) volcano. Since then, a pair of lakes have formed, side-by-side, in the caldera. (Fun fact: The lakes are fed partly by active hot springs heated by magma far below the caldera’s surface.)

The lakes in question are Paulina Lake and East Lake—the latter sitting at a slightly higher elevation. Come summer, the lakes are the heartbeat of outdoor recreation within the monument. Six campgrounds can be found at the lakes (not to mention the busy East Lake Resort), hiking and biking trails circle the lakes, paddlers enjoy taking in Newberry’s sites from the water, and anglers fish for brown trout that can easily reach 10 pounds or more.

Couple sits in hot spring next to the lake in Newberry National Volcanic Monument

Best Lakes to Visit Near Redmond
and Sisters, Oregon

Some of the best lakes around Redmond and Sisters are a study in contrasts. Lakes around Redmond showcase the Central Oregon high desert in all its stark beauty, while lakes plunge visitors into the forested Cascade foothills outside Sisters.

A half-hour north of Redmond is The Cove Palisades State Park, centered around where the Deschutes, Metolius, and Crooked rivers meet to form the massive Lake Billy Chinook. In all, the lake hosts 72 miles of shoreline where visitors swim, fish (smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, bull trout, and kokanee salmon can all be found in the lake), and go boating—from placid paddling to luxurious houseboat outings. (Read more about boating in Central Oregon if you’d like to hit the water soon.) Hiking trails also offer excellent views if you’d rather stay on shore. The park’s two campgrounds host roughly 275 tent and RV sites (and a trio of well-appointed cabins) between them; learn more about popular parks in the region at our page about national and state parks in Central Oregon.

And just about 45 minutes southeast of Redmond, Prineville Reservoir State Park abuts the curvy, 15-mile-long lake for which it is named. A roped-off swimming area invites visitors to cool off in summer, and fishing for rainbow trout, smallmouth and largemouth bass, catfish, and crappie (from shore and via boat ramps) is available year-round. The park has also been designated an International Dark Sky Park, owing to its clear night skies and lack of light pollution, which makes it an excellent destination for stargazing. For other memorable outdoor opportunities, visit our page on nature attractions in Central Oregon.

Meanwhile, Suttle Lake is 20 minutes northwest of Sisters in the verdant Cascades. The clear, deep lake offers boating opportunities (whether paddling or piloting a motorized craft), colorful foliage displays in September and October, and plenty of fishing (kokanee, brown trout, and whitefish all inhabit the lake). A scenic hiking (and, in winter, snowshoeing) trail circles the lake and shows off nearby Cascade peak views. At the lake’s eastern shore, the hip Suttle Lodge & Boathouse offers rustic accommodations, a cozy cocktail lounge, seasonal boat rentals, and other fun attractions.

Looking for other ideas to get on the water soon? Check out our page on rivers in Central Oregon for boating, fishing, swimming, and floating inspiration, tips, recommendations, and more.

Explore Nature’s Beauty

From the sagebrush-covered plains of the high desert to the towering pines and majestic mountain peaks, discover the diverse landscape Central Oregon has to offer.