The lakes in Oregon are arguably some of the most beautiful (and deepest) in the country. Believe me when I tell you that in a state like Oregon, the bar is high for any natural wonder and lakes are no exception.
If you’re a lifelong Oregonian or a new-comer (welcome!), I wanted to share my personal list of the best lakes in Oregon for escaping the summer heat.
Summer 2020 has been setting records with extremely high temperatures so this seems like a very fitting time to share the list.
As a lifelong Oregonian, I’ve been fortunate enough to spend countless summer evenings at epic Oregon lakes. Nothing beats an easy-going weekend with friends on a boat or huddled around a campfire.
To that end, allow me to share the best lakes in Oregon for anyone in need of escape from the city.
Who am I and why should you trust my list of the best lakes in Oregon?
I’m a lifelong Oregonian! I was raised in Portland and spent most of my childhood exploring the natural wonders of Oregon.
Shortly after meeting my husband we embarked on a whirlwind tour of Oregon state — visiting every corner and popping off at every small town we passed.
My husband films national parks and forests for a living (I know, I can’t believe that’s a real job either) and so we hike a lot.
We both thoroughly enjoy hiking (and living in Oregon) and took it upon ourselves to find the best lakes in Oregon to share with anyone interested in planning a trip to our beloved state.
Tips for visiting the best Oregon lakes
Practice Leave No Trace
- If you’re unfamiliar with Leave No Trace, it’s a measure to be a good steward of the land. You can read about the seven principals of Leave No Trace here.
You + Sunscreen = Best Friends (Forever)
- I swear by this sunscreen (and so do 5,000+ other people), I discovered it in France and now buy it in bulk. It works like a charm and doesn’t leave strange residue or smells, you’ll NEVER catch me without it!
- Mosquitos are a common site at Oregon lakes during the summer. You won’t regret packing insect repellent, I can guarantee that — this is the insect repellent we use and swear by it.
Pack your hammock
- What better way to spend a day at a lake than in a hammock? Here’s the hammock we use and love.
Best Lakes in Oregon
#12. Diamond Lake
Chances are pretty good that when most folks think of beautiful Oregon lakes, Diamond Lake comes to mind.
This stunning lake is located between Mount Bailey and Mount Thielsen in the Upmqua National Forest. Engulfed by conifers on all sides, this Oregon lake feels removed from civilization in the best way possible.
Various trails act as connections between the lake and mountains and visitors are able to stretch their legs by hiking, spend a day swimming, boating, reading or bird watching.
Note: With more than 700,000 visitors a year, Diamond Lake is a very popular lake in Oregon during the summer. If you plan to camp at the Diamond Lake Campground, make sure to make reservations in advance.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
#11. Owyhee Lake
At 52-miles, Owyhee Lake is the longest reservoir in Oregon and the dramatic landscape is downright breathtaking. The vibrant volcanic rock formations make this a popular spot for Oregonians looking for reprieve from the summer heat.
Since this Oregon lake is located near the eastern border of Oregon, touching the Idaho border, it’s a remote destination few make an effort to see.
Don’t make the same mistake, especially if you know how to appreciate an epic desert landscape. Offering camping and boating for visitors, this is a great weekend lake trip for anyone eager to escape the bustle of city living.
Photo credit Travel Oregon
#10. Detroit Lake
Named after the adjacent city, Detroit Lake is the second-deepest lake in Oregon, reaching depths of 440 feet.
Technically Detroit Lake is a reservoir that stores water for Salem and nearby communities. Managed by the United States Forest Service, the purpose of this Oregon lake is no ensure flood control, water conservation and ample recreational opportunities.
Popular activities at Detroit Lake include swimming, year-round fishing, boating, paddle-boarding and kayaking.
The lake covers 3,500 acres and spans 9-miles, making is one of the largest lakes in Oregon. It’s a popular spot for camping and the 300 campground sites are known to sell like hotcakes during summer, so book early!
#9. Clear Lake
This lake in Oregon has crystal-clear waters (akin to a swimming pool) that are the result of a very fascinating past.
Reaching depths of 175 feet, Clear Lake’s lake-bed is home to an impressive forest of petrified trees.
Lava flow that ran from Sand Mountain’s eruption created a natural basin that filled with water and slowly drowned out surrounding forests, resulting in the interesting petrified wood we see today.
Sitting at an elevation of 3,000 feet, this is one of the chilliest lakes in the Cascades. It’s too cold for swimming but is one of the best lakes in Oregon for diving because of the visibility and incredible scenery.
The clarity of the water is attributed to the way water enters the lake. Snow and ice melt from the nearby mountains gets filtered through lava via underground springs before reaching Clear Lake.
Motors are prohibited at this Oregon lake, but visitors can kayak, canoe, paddle-board or rent row boats.
If you’re in a hiking mood, take your boots for a spin around the lake via the Clear Lake Trail, an easy 5-mile loop that better explains the fascinating formation of the lake and surrounding area.
Getting to Clear Lake: Park at Clear Lake Day Use Area, day use pass required $5 per vehicle.
#8. Paulina Lake
Paulina Lake is exceptional because it is located within the caldera of a volcano.
The Newberry Caldera is known the world over for its alien-like landscape caused by 500,000 years of volcanic activity.
You may notice another large lake neighboring Paulina Lake, that is East Lake. The lakes are considered twin crater lakes.
Sitting at a whopping 6,331 feet about sea level, Paulina Lake’s main inflow comes from East Lake, snow-melt and rain. Even more impressive is the fact that Paulina Lake is 250 feet deep.
If you’re looking for great fishing lakes in Oregon, look no further than this bad boy. The lake is regularly stocked with Kokanee salmon and trout.
In fact, Paulina lake was home to the largest brown trout caught on record in Oregon state. Weighing 28 pounds and 5 ounces, the catch set the record in 2002.
Getting to Paulina Lake: Park at Paulina Lake Day Use Area, $5 fee per vehicle. Picnic sites and boat launch available, speed limit on lake is 10 MPH.
Photo by kvddesigns (Depositphotos)
Deschutes National Forest Film
My husband and I traveled through Bend extensively because he was commissioned to create a film on the Deschutes National Forest. The film features Paulina Lake, if you’d like to see I’ll post the film below.
#7. Lost Lake
Imagine a warm summer day spent at a picturesque lake that overlooks the majestic Mt. Hood.
By day, you and your friends pass the waking hours on kayaks and canoes. By night, the group is huddled around a comforting fire at Lost Lake Campground watching the stars slowly peak through the pitch-dark sky.
Sitting within a strictly-protected wilderness area at 3,100 feet, this is one of the best lakes in Oregon to escape the summer heat.
The lake is 175 feet deep and offers ample recreational opportunities like paddle boarding, row boating, kayaking and canoeing.
Motor crafts are not allowed on this lake, which means you can expect to squeeze in some quiet relaxation during your day at the lake.
In the dense old-growth forest surrounding Lost Lake, you are welcome to hike a scenic 3.2-mile look around the lake.
Image courtesy of Recreation.gov
#6. Waldo Lake (one of my favorite lakes in Oregon)
It’s no surprise that the second largest freshwater lake in the state would be considered one of the best Oregon lakes to spend a summer day.
The wild Cascade Mountains offer a stunning backdrop to this high-elevation lake that is easily accessible by car. This nearly 10-square-mile Oregon lake is one of the purest lakes in the world (nearly as pure as distilled water).
There are no inlets carrying nutrients to the lake, therefore plants don’t grow – which is the reason for the lake’s clarity. On a calm day, you can see to impressive depths of 120 feet.
To preserve the purity of the water, motorized boats were banned in 2010. So we spent the day in floats and hammocks to the sound of nature and nothing more – it was heavenly.
#5. Devil’s Lake
If you’re an avid birder that likes to enjoy birding from the comfort of a beach towel, might I suggest Devil’s Lake?
Located in Lincoln City (along the Oregon coast) but sheltered from the trying coastal winds, this freshwater Oregon lake is great for water recreation like fishing, boating and paddle-boarding.
The abundant wetland that encloses the lake is a popular spot to watch flocks of migrating geese and ducks. Bald eagles and osprey are also known to frequent the area.
Heads up: Devil’s Lake Campground is a popular camping spot along the Oregon coast. If you’d like to stay here, book early.
#4. Trillium Lake
You might be asking yourself how a lake so picture-perfect could possibly exist. I mean, even in a state like Oregon where lake standards are high, Trillium Lake is easily one of the most stunning lakes in the state.
The secret? Trillium Lake is man-made.
It’s a hard pill to swallow, but you know what else in man-made? New York City’s Central Park and we all know that doesn’t stop anyone from visiting.
But I digress.
Trillium Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes in Oregon and is well worth a visit during the warm summer months. Take a swim or merely dip your toes in the water to cool off.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure you catch sunset here because it is downright epic. Mt. Hood looms proudly overhead while the sky morphs into pleasant warm shades of orange, pink and red.
It’s exactly this type of scenery and unparalleled access to nature that makes living in Oregon such a joy.
P.S. Trillium Lake is stocked with trout ever summer, if you have a fishing license bring your pole. This is a great fishing lake in Oregon for all skill levels.
#3. Sparks Lake
Located along the breathtaking Cascades Lakes Scenic Byway, Sparks Lake is often considered the most beautiful lake in Oregon.
Sparks Lake is surrounded by three towering peaks: South Sister, Broken Top and Bachelor Butte. But be forewarned, the secret it out.
This area gets very busy during the weekends (full parking lot) so arrive early if you want some semblance of solitude.
I suggest catching sunrise from the Ray Atkeson Memorial Trail to avoid the crowds. Plus, the hike is very little effort for great reward, the views are something spectacular!
The entire trail is a 2.5-mile loop that hugs the lake, but I normally hike to the viewpoint located less than a mile in. I’ve lost count of the number of sunrises and sunsets I caught from this viewpoint, gets me every time!
#2. Wallowa Lake
I am absolutely smitten by Wallowa Lake and consider it my personal favorite lake in Oregon. The entire Wallow Mountain range feels like a slice of heaven and my love for the region practically warrants a disclaimer because there’s no way I can be unbiased.
During my visit to the Wallowas I couldn’t help but notice how much the sweeping mountain views reminded me of the breathtaking alpine wilderness in Switzerland.
Sitting at an impressive elevation of 4,300 feet, Wallow Lake takes center stage as a pristine water body of water surrounded by jaw-dropping mountains. Visitors are encouraged to explore the lake by boat (which are easy to rent onsite), swimming, paddle boarding or canoeing.
The adventure is completely up to you!
#1. Crater Lake
We can’t talk about the best lakes in Oregon without listing the most EPIC lake in Oregon.
Crater Lake formed thousands of years ago when Mount Mazama, a massive volcano, erupted and collapsed. The caldera filled with rainwater and snow melt, which eventually formed the lake we see today.
Clocking in at a depth of 1,943 feet, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in America and the ninth deepest lake in the world.
In fact, Crater Lake is deeper than the One World Trade Center in New York City is tall. In fact, if the building were submerged in the lake, there would still be 200′ of water above the One World Trade Center. That definitely puts the depth into perspective for me!
If that’s not impressive enough, Crater lake is also one of the purest and clearest lakes in the world because there’s no inlets, meaning there’s no sediment or mineral deposits being introduced to the lake.
Best time to visit: Crater Lake National Park is open year-round, but the best time to visit is between July – September when the temperatures are favorable and chance of rainfall is minimal.
Best Oregon Lakes (Post Summary)
In sum, these are the best lakes in Oregon
- Crater Lake
- Wallowa Lake
- Sparks Lake
- Trillium Lake
- Devil’s Lake
- Waldo Lake
- Lost Lake
- Paulina Lake
- Clear Lake
- Detroit Lake
- Owyhee Lake
- Diamond Lake
Map of the best lakes in Oregon
Love exploring Oregon?
If you love exploring Oregon here’s some reading suggestions you may find interesting.
- The 7 Wonders of Oregon (& 4 More We Should Add ASAP)
- 20 JAW-DROPPING Oregon Hikes (For All Skill Levels)
- 15+ EPIC Things to Do in Bend, Oregon
I hope this post inspires you to explore our incredible backyard, please don’t hesitate to reach out with questions. I’d love to help out any way I can.
And now to you, what did I miss? Any great Oregon lakes you want to see on this list? Let me know if the comments below!
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Until next time,