Shortly after you pass Mount Bachelor, you’ll find the turnoff to the exceptionally beautiful but equally rustic National Forest Service campground at Todd Lake. It’s a short walk up the trail from a parking area to the campsites at this 6,200-foot-high alpine lake. While tables, fire grills, and pit toilets are provided, you will need to pack in your own water and supplies, as no vehicles are allowed—a good thing, because the drone of a Winnebago generator into the wee hours of the night would definitely detract from the grandeur of this pristine spot.
You’ll find good swimming and wading on the sandy shoal on the south end of the lake, and you can’t miss the captivating views of Broken Top to the north. Hardy explorers can portage a canoe up the trail for a paddle around Todd Lake. Because of the lake’s high elevation, it is often socked in by snow until about the Fourth of July. A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park at the Todd Lake trailhead, but there is no additional camping fee.
Clear and shallow Sparks Lake, located about 25 miles west of Bend, was a favorite of Oregon photographer Ray Atkeson, and most visitors can’t resist trying to capture views of Mount Bachelor, South Sister, and Broken Top reflected in the lake. Broken volcanic rock forms the lakebed, and water slowly drains out during the course of the summer, leaving not much more than a marsh by late summer. This is a good place to let go of the idea of a formal trail and just explore the lakeshore on foot or in a canoe.
There is a campground, Soda Creek (mid-June–Oct., $10); bring your own drinking water, or be prepared to filter lake water. The lake is open to fly-fishing only for the local brook trout and cutthroat trout, and the use of barbless hooks is encouraged.
Green Lakes Trailhead
Begin a hike into the Three Sisters Wilderness Area from this trailhead, 27 miles west of Bend. It’s about 4.5 miles from the trailhead along waterfall-studded Fall Creek, past a big lava flow, to Green Lakes. From Green Lakes the trail continues to the pass between Broken Top and South Sister. This trail is extremely popular, so it’s best to hike it on a weekday.
The eerily green Devils Lake (29 miles west of Bend) is home to a very nice campground (Northwest Forest Pass required, no piped water) and an easy lakeside trail. Just across the highway from the lake is a popular trailhead used by South Sister climbers. The climb up 10,358-foot South Sister (Oregon’s third-highest peak) is challenging but not technical. Many choose to do this 11-mile round-trip as an overnight backpacking trip. Many more hike the trail just as far as the pretty Moraine Lake area (about 3.5 miles), then return along the same route.
A resort and a marina mean that this is not the quietest lake in the Cascades. Elk Lake is just about the only place along this road that you’ll see sailboats, and it’s also a good swimming lake by about August. The cabins at the Elk Lake Resort (541/480-7228, www.elklakeresort.net, $58 and up) make a good base for exploring the local trails if you are not up for camping. Accommodations range from small rustic cabins to larger, though still fairly rustic, cabins ($199) and modern homes ($299). Rates drop by about half during the late fall. The resort is open during the winter for cross-country skiers and snowmobilers. During the summer a campground ($14) and marina are open.
Just off the highway, Hosmer Lake (39 miles from Bend) is a favorite fishing and canoeing lake. It’s stocked with Atlantic salmon, but don’t count on eating them. Fishing is limited to catch-and-release fly-fishing with barbless hooks.
Even if you don’t fish and don’t have a canoe, it’s worth visiting Hosmer Lake for its spectacular views of Mount Bachelor, South Sister, and Broken Top. Of the two campgrounds on the lake, South ($10, no drinking water) has the best views and the best lake access.
Lava flows formed a dam that created Lava Lake, which is fed largely by underground springs. Rainbow trout, brook trout, whitefish, and illegally introduced tui chub live in the lake, which is 30 feet deep at its deepest point and open to bait fishing as well as fly-fishing. A lakeside lodge (541/382-9443) rents boats and operates an RV park; there is also a Forest Service campground (Apr.–Oct., $14, drinking water) near the resort.
Little Lava Lake
Visiting Little Lava Lake is a bit like making a pilgrimage, for this is the headwaters of the Deschutes River. Groundwater from the snowpack percolates down from the Mount Bachelor and Three Sisters area to fill the lake (it’s thought that a large groundwater reservoir exists upstream from the lake); the Deschutes exits the lake as a meandering stream, flowing south about 8.4 miles to Crane Prairie Reservoir.
Diehard Oregon windsurfers tow their sailboards up into the Cascades to catch a breeze on glacier-formed Cultus Lake. The lake is also popular with campers, swimmers, boaters, water-skiers, and Jet Skiers. Anglers go for the big lake trout, also called mackinaw. An easy hiking trail follows the northern shore of the lake and then heads north along the Winopee Lake Trail to Teddy Lakes. From the trailhead to Teddy Lakes is about 4 miles.
The Cultus Lake Resort (541/389-3230, May–Sept.) rents cabins ($80 and up, no linens provided), motorboats, canoes, kayaks, and Jet Skis; it also operates a restaurant.
Crane Prairie Reservoir
Crane Prairie Reservoir, an artificial lake, is a breeding ground for ospreys. These large birds, sometimes known as fish hawks, nest in the snags surrounding the lake and fish by plunging headfirst into the water from great heights. Cormorants, terns, bald eagles, and a variety of ducks are also commonly seen. Humans also like to fish—the most-prized fish is a “cranebow,” a rainbow trout that grows almost freakishly large in this shallow nutrient-rich reservoir.
A Forest Service campground (reservations at www.recreation.gov, $16, drinking water) and the private Crane Prairie Resort RV park and fishing guide service (541/383-3939) are located here.
The area of the Deschutes River around present-day Wickiup Reservoir was a traditional Native American camping area during the fall. When the dam was completed in 1949, these campsites were flooded. Today, the reservoir (about 60 miles from Bend) is known for its relatively warm water and its good fishing, especially for brown trout, which can weigh in at over 20 pounds.
Kokanee and coho salmon as well as rainbow trout, brook trout, whitefish, and the nasty invasive tui chub also live here. Campgrounds are at Wickiup Reservoir ($5, no drinking water) and across an access road at North ($12, no drinking water) and South ($16, drinking water) Twin Lakes, small natural lakes that flank the large reservoir.
It takes a little doing to get to large and shallow Davis Lake, and many of those who make it come for fly-fishing. It’s known for large rainbow trout as well as illegally introduced largemouth bass. Most anglers use boats or float tubes because the vegetation along the shoreline and the muddy lake bottom make it difficult to wade.
Davis Lake was formed about 6,000 years ago when a lava flow cut off Odell Creek. A fire in 2003 wiped out the West Davis campground; the East Davis campground ($12, drinking water), though reduced in size by the fire, still exists. Davis Lake is a good spot for bird-watching—expect to see waterfowl, woodpeckers, owls, and ospreys.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel