The Best Lakes to Camp by in Oregon

Crater Lake National Park

Published: August 11, 2021

Oregon offers so many unique options for lakeside camping that deciding where you want to pitch your tent, cast your fishing line, launch your canoe or kayak, swim, soak up the sun, or park your RV might seem challenging. Indeed, the state is rich in geographical features, with its wild coastline, rainforests, and old-growth forests to its high deserts and lava fields, so finding a lakeside campsite near any of these natural wonders won’t be a problem—although deciding on which lake you want to explore might be!

With so many unique lakeside camping options in the beautiful state of Oregon, we’ve done the groundwork for you and have come up with the top nine destinations that will surely offer a stellar lakeside camping experience. Read on to learn which lakes earned a spot on our list and why.

 

Crater Lake National Park

Listed as “one of the seven natural wonders” in Oregon, Crater Lake makes for a genuinely unique camping experience. The lake is the deepest in America and among the deepest in the world. Viewing Crater Lake is most certainly the main reason for a visit; however, the area has so much more to offer.

A hike along the rim or driving Rim Drive offers the most spectacular views of Crater Lake. At the west end of the lake, surrounded by clear and clean, stunning blue water sits a volcanic cinder cone called Wizard Island, near the southern shore is Phantom Island’s rock pillar. The lake has no rivers leading in or out, and the water level is maintained by rain and snow.

There are two campgrounds in the park, Mazama Campsite and Lost Creek. Here are the things to keep in mind about those campsites:

  • They are only open from June through September and require reservations.
  • There are sites for both tents and RVs.
  • The weather conditions can change rapidly, so make sure you are prepared with rain gear and additional layers for extra warmth.

 

These campgrounds are only two of the many lodging options in the area! Crater Lake is a popular destination not only for its unique beauty but also for the many activities you can partake in year-round, from hiking and camping to snowshoeing and skiing. It’s definitely not a wonder to miss.

 

Floras Lake State Park

For a lakeside camping experience on the road less traveled, Floras Lake State Park has so much to offer off the beaten path. Located in a remote part of the southern Oregonian coast, Floras Lake is separated from the wild Pacific by meadows, forest, and estuaries.

Hiking, fishing, and boating are popular activities there, and the area is rich in flora and fauna. The lake is well known as an excellent spot for windsurfing and kiteboarding. If you are a beginner, lessons are available to learn at these water sports. The campground, Boice Cope County Park, offers sites for tents and RVs and is open year-round.

If you find you’re looking for a low-key and quiet lakeside camping experience, Floras Lake State Park is an excellent choice with many activities to pursue.

 

Cascade Lakes

On the east side of the Cascade Mountains, in central Oregon, is a chain of 12 lakes and two reservoirs. The possibility of camping right by one of these lakes is just a matter of making a choice!

Many of the Cascade Lakes are considered alpine due to their high altitude. This also makes the water cold but very clear as the cold water temperature slows moss and algae growth. The region is also unique for its volcanic landscape, beautiful forests, and stunning mountain views.

The possibilities to camp by one of these lakes are endless. There, you can find primitive camping sites, as well as campgrounds with amenities. Here is an interpretive guide for the area, describing each lake and its unique qualities so you can decide which lake—or lakes—to visit!

All Cascade Lakes can be viewed and accessed from the historical Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, which consists of sixty-six miles winding through and around the lakes. The Cascades chain of lakes offers many outdoor activities, from excellent photographic opportunities to hiking, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, and mountain biking, as well as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

 

Lake of the Woods

Lake of the Woods is a natural lake located in Fremont-Winema National Forest, in southern Oregon. It is surrounded by the Cascade Mountains on all sides, making the mountain views and reflections on the lake nothing short of stunning. Lake of the Woods is a beautiful setting for year-round camping and outdoor activities.

A popular lodging choice there is this resort, which opened many years ago as a lakeside fishing camp and has remained a popular destination spot ever since. This area offers year-round fishing and swimming, boating in the summer, and snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing in the winter.

If resorts aren’t your thing, the Aspen Point Campground offers a more primitive camping experience at Lake of the Woods.

 

Strawberry Lake

Strawberry Lake is a shallow lake located in Malheur National Forest, in eastern Oregon. Camping and hiking are popular activities there. If you observe rock ledges around the lake, you might catch a glimpse at the deer, elks, and mountain goats that inhabit the area. You can hike from Strawberry Lake to Little Strawberry Lake and take in Strawberry Falls.

To learn more about camping at Strawberry Lake, click here. Note that there are warnings about driving the last mile to the site. If you are concerned about driving, there are many other options for camping in the vicinity.

 

Paulina Lake

Paulina Lake is a crater lake located in Newberry National Volcanic Monument, in central Oregon. A crater lake is a unique geological feature where a body of water in a crater or caldera is formed by volcanic activity. Like all alpine lakes, Paulina has a vibrant, deep blue color and is cold.

Besides the possibilities to hike, swim, and boat, Paulina Lake offers hot springs and thermal vents on the northeast side, as well as Paulina Creek Falls, a bit of a hike that is well worth the effort to view these twin falls.

For detailed information about the area and camping options at Paulina Lake, check out this link. You’ll find daily updates, general descriptions, and activities.

 

Billy Chinook Lake

Billy Chinook Lake is a canyon reservoir located in Cove Palisades State Park. The lake was created when the Round Butte Dam was built in 1964. The reservoir is gigantic, and the most fantastic feature is the 400-foot cliffs that surround the lake. These towering cliffs are a visual wonder and stunning backdrop to the canyon lake.

Cove Palisades State Park, also known as The Cove, is located on top of the cliffs, thus surrounding the lake. It has an extensive campground with many amenities. The view of the Billy Chinook from there is spectacular!

 

The Cove Palisades State Park features:

  • Tent and RV sites, as well as rustic cabins
  • Boat launches, rentals (including houseboat rentals), and moorings
  • Swimming sites
  • A marina with a cafe and store for provisions

An impressive geological feature of this area is the cliffs surrounding Billy Chinook. These were created by Newberry Volcano when it erupted about a million years ago!

 

Wallowa Lake

Wallowa Lake is a ribbon lake nestled in Wallowa Mountains, in northeastern Oregon. A ribbon lake is a long and deep lake that rests in a trough formed by glacial activity. The picturesque Wallowa Lake and the surrounding area are often referred to as Oregon’s “Swiss Alps.” Breathtakingly beautiful and remote, lakeside camping there is a unique experience.

 

Wallowa Lake State Park is a great resource to start your exploration of camping options. The park offers:

  • Year-round campsites
  • A marina that is open seasonally
  • Moorage slips

Wallowa Lake is a great place to relax, fish, hike, go boating, and swim. With so much to do right at your fingertips, there’s no reason to leave! But, if you want to further explore the area, you might want to stop by Hells Canyon Scenic Byway and the Wallowa Lake Tramway.

 

Timothy Lake

With breathtaking views of the majestic Mount Hood, Timothy Lake has the distinction of being the largest body of water in Mount Hood National Forest. The lake is a reservoir created in 1956, when a dam was built to regulate downstream water flow. The lake is named after the Timothy grass that grew in the meadow that was flooded.

Here are a few of the campsites available at Timothy Lake:

  • Meditation Point Campground
  • Hoodview Campground
  • North Arm Camping
  • Gone Creek Campground

 

It’s worth noting that Timothy Lake allows motorized boats, which is not a common feature of most lakes in the Mount Hood National Forest.

 

Where Can You Camp for Free in Oregon?

Camping for free, or dispersed camping, is possible at some of the lakes mentioned above. These sites can usually be found last minute if that’s how you roll. However, you may need a permit for the spot and one for your vehicle—check out the requirements for where you plan on camping beforehand.

  • Timothy Lake offers at least 40 dispersed campsites that are available on a first-come, first-served basis and require self-registration and a permit for your vehicle.
  • For dispersed sites around Crater Lake, here’s a helpful list that also includes some useful tips about the area and dispersed camping in general.
  • Mount Hood National Forest offers dispersed campsites. Here is an excellent resource with locations and extra helpful information.

There are also plenty of dispersed campsites for RVs. This guide is full of information that you might enjoy if you are RVing your way through Oregon.

As you can see, there are many options to camp at a low to no cost if you are exploring the great outdoors on a budget. All it takes is a bit of research to figure out where these sites are located.

 

Conclusion

Camping next to a lake in the beautiful state of Oregon is just a matter of picking one of the many intriguing options. In this state, there’s a lake for everyone, regardless of one’s preferences. From primitive-style camping and rustic cabins to those RVing it, you’ll surely find the perfect lakeside camping spot!

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