In the shadow of towering South Sister Mountain, Elk Lake in Central Oregon attracts hundreds of kayakers from near and far every year. Just a stone's throw outside Bend, Oregon, this local fan favorite is reachable via Cascade Lakes HWY, about 30 minutes from town. Despite the lake's ubiquitous popularity, it has a remote feel. Surrounded by a lodgepole pine forest, lava flows and pebble beaches, paddlers are surprised to find themselves immersed in warm weather during the summertime, despite the high altitude and cold-water subalpine landscape. Here’s what makes Elk Lake a great place to paddle!
The drive from Bend to Elk Lake is unrivaled in Pacific Northwest scenery. You’ll pass epic views of Mount Bachelor, the other Sisters (North and Middle), and Broken Top, all active volcanoes in the Cascade Range. Besides rocky giants, emerald green waters like Sparks and Devils Lake (both great for paddling) will call out to you from the terrain.
Elk Lake has very transparent waters and isn’t super deep which means you can see all the way to the bottom anywhere on the lake. Fisher-persons can also easily see the Kokanee they aim to catch, which are commonly 7 to 10 inches long. For more fishing information, see the Forest Service webpage.
Once you reach Elk Lake it’s unlikely you’ll see any power boats on the water. Although they are allowed, they are rarely seen. What’s more likely to spot is the charming and very local pontoon party barge for rent through Elk Lake Resort, or sail boats. Because of the catch available across the broad surface of the water, sailing smaller crafts is popular.
Option to sleep-over
Camping at Elk Lake or Little Fawn Campgrounds mean you’ll have the feeling of a kayaking multi-day expedition without all the fuss of carrying your gear. Wake up each morning and hit the water for adventure, but return to your camp for meals and rest. Another option is staying in a rustic cabin or room at Elk Lake Resort. Boat ramps are available at each of these campgrounds as well as the lodge.
Elk Lake Resort
Amenities like a restaurant and live music are pretty luxurious and unusual for most paddling excursions. Elk Lake boasts both. Paddle right up to the boat ramp at the lodge, stow your boat on shore and sidle up to the bar for a favorite beverage or head to the dining room or deck for a table. A full menu of satisfying cuisine and tons of microbrews on tap might make it hard for you to get back into your boat. Call ahead to check on details for live concerts with local bands which tend to happen weekly in the summer.
Remember, Elk Lake is frozen over in the winter time. By the time Cascade Lakes HWY is reopened in the spring for travel, the lake will be melted and you’ll be able to enjoy a paddle. Access will close again when the winter comes back around. Check on Cascade Lakes HWY closures through the Cascade Lakes Welcome Station. And don’t forget to stop in there to grab a Deschutes National Forest Recreation Pass on your way up to Elk Lake!