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Sparks Lake

Sparks Lake is one of the first alpine lakes that visitors come to along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway—and is among the most iconic destinations anywhere in Central Oregon. At various points around the lake, views include Mt. Bachelor, Broken Top, and (most famously) South Sister—the tallest peak in the region and the third-tallest in all of Oregon.

From the Sparks Lake Day-Use Area, several days worth of outdoor adventures await. If you’re paddling or boating, set off from the boat launch to explore the marshlands and wetlands that cover much of the 370-acre lake; from there, sweeping views of nearby peaks tower over the horizon in every direction. (Staying the night? Pitch a tent at boat-in dispersed sites along the Sparks Lake shore.)

Hikers, meanwhile, can set off on the 2.5-mile Ray Atkeson Loop Trail (a portion of which is paved and wheelchair-accessible); the popular footpath affords wide-open lake views, heads past lava flows, and passes through a peaceful forest of fir and pine. A few picnic tables back at the day-use area invite visitors to linger a little longer around the scenic site.

Fair warning: Sparks Lake is worth a visit all summer long, but mosquitos are abundant in June and early July.

Open Season

Late May-Nov.

Dog Friendly and/or Leash Rules

Leashed dogs are permitted—but can go off-leash while swimming in the lake.

Best time to visit


Don’t Miss

Sunset views from Sparks Lake, where the water lights up in vibrant hues of pink and purple below South Sister, are among the best in Central Oregon.

Fees or Pass Needed

A Forest Pass ($5 per day pass or $30 per annual pass) or America the Beautiful pass ($80 per annual pass) is accepted.


Horses and mountain bikes are prohibited on the Ray Atkeson Loop Trail. Also note that camping is not permitted at the boat ramp or the day-use area. Low-clearance vehicles should also take caution on the gravel road toward Sparks Lake, which can be rutted and nearly impassable until July. Snow may linger on the road and on trails until late June.





Paddling Water Sports


Parking is available at the trailhead—but try to arrive by 9 a.m. to secure a spot on summer weekends.


From Bend, the 27-mile drive to the Sparks Lake Day Use Area takes about 45 minutes via SW Century Drive, which becomes the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway.

Other stories

More inspiring stories, adventures, and tips & tricks for planning and experiencing the best Central Oregon has to offer.

  • Local's Guide to the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway
    Local's Guide to the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway

    Views of the Cascade Range abound all over Central Oregon, but are never more dramatic than from along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway—a seasonal highway that heads southwest of Bend and into the heart of the mountains. Along the way, visitors can swim or paddle in more than a dozen alpine lakes, admire views of the snow-capped peaks that seem to rise from their shorelines, camp under starry night skies and traverse some of the region’s best-loved hiking trails.

  • Explaining the Central Cascades Wilderness Permit Program
    Explaining the Central Cascades Wilderness Permit Program

    Summer in the Central Oregon outdoors will look different this year, due largely to the unveiling of the Central Cascades Wilderness Permit System. Years in the making, the new system will cap the number of day-use and overnight visitors to some of the region’s most popular trails — including Green Lakes and Soda Creek, Broken Top, South Sister, and the Tam MacArthur Rim trails.