Thursday, September 8, 2022

On the Sunny Side: Suttle Lake (And a Bonus)

Just east of the Cascade summit, below the combined highways 20, 22, and 126, a glacier-carved valley holds a beautiful mountain lake. No secret in the communities of Sisters and Bend, this 253-acre lake draws visitors like a magnet, especially in the heat of summer. There is always something to do here, though, and quieter, cooler days mean fewer visitors. Drive about 2 hours from the central Willamette valley and explore one of the highlights of central Oregon, just barely on the sunny side of the mountains.

The lake is named for John Settle, one of the organizers of the Santiam Wagon Road. Settle discovered the lake in 1866 and was rewarded by having his name misspelled when it was recorded. The misspelling remains to this day.

This lake has been protected since 1898. The Forest Service first allowed some development for recreation in the 1920s, and today the area boasts three campgrounds and a resort. 

Driving in, head toward the day use area to find an excellent swimming beach for all ages; this also is a great place to launch kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards (please note that a Northwest Forest Pass or a day-use fee is required). Families hang out here and picnic in the sun, the water spreading out like glass and dotted with folks of all ages floating on whatever they can get to float. But there is another side: when the wind comes up, and this close to the summit it does come up, the water can rise and fling foam like ocean breakers. Not so much fun to swim in, but lovely to watch, and certain bloggers have ridden the chop in their inflatable U-boat (no bloggers were harmed in the making of this article).

While at the day-use area, follow the shore to your right to find a well-maintained trail that encircles the entire lake. This makes a nice, fairly level hike that is also used by anglers and mountain bikers. The path passes through forest, campgrounds, and an area burned in the B and B fire in its 3.6-mile course around the lake.

On the other side of the day-use area lies the resort. A remarkable patchwork of buildings, this facility offers a modern lodge, a tavern, darling little rustic cabins (equipped with Traeger grills but not bathrooms), and a selection of lovely cottages dating from 1925 all the way to nearly-new. You will also find a cafe here, as well as a small shop. Kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards are rented from the boathouse, and the docks in their sheltered cove are a perfect spot to enjoy the lake view. it's worth noting that most of these amenities close for the season in mid to late fall.

Continue driving around the lake to find three excellent campgrounds, each with their own day-use area and boat ramp: South ShoreBlue Bay, and Link Creek. While all three have some lake access, Link Creek is our favorite, with easy boat launching, nice docks, and a lovely creek. This campground even offers a few yurts, and it is open earlier and later than the other two. That being said, all three are great places to camp, boat, fish, and watch wildlife.

After all, it's about the lake: over 250 acres of cool, clear mountain water, up to 75 feet deep. Motorized and non-motorized boating. Water skiing, windsurfing, and now wing foiling. Anglers seek kokanee, brown trout, rainbow trout, and whitefish while whole families bob about on air mattresses. If the weather turns, head to your campsite, where you can relax by the campfire and watch vehicles creep beetle-like along the highway halfway up the hillside opposite. Bird watchers are especially successful on the more sheltered western end; bald eagles, ospreys, loons, goldeneyes, mergansers, and a variety of ducks are found here. Vine maples display their vibrant colors in early fall, making this an excellent time to visit.

All of this would be enough, but for those who like quieter water, there is a bonus: a left turn from the lakeside road leads to Scout Lake, a small gem set in a little basin in a high, sparse forest. Only non-motorized boating is allowed here, and dogs are prohibited; since this popular little lake has no outlet, sanitation is a concern. It is a lovely spot for paddling and photography, and a swimming area with a crumbly pumice beach is popular with kids, although the lake has deep areas, too. The campground here is set in the trees away from the lake, and it only operates until mid-September, but with a Forest Pass or day-use fee you can visit the lake and then head back to your campsite or yurt at Suttle Lake.

Summer may be winding down, but Oregon offers outdoor activities all year long. During the quiet days of early fall, head to the sunny side of the pass to explore Suttle Lake and its little brother, Scout Lake. If the wind comes up, you may even see a couple of bloggers bounding over the waves in their faithful inflatable. Wave as we go by...

Docks at the resort

View from the U-boat

Black Butte

Getting choppy

Mt. Washington background, remains of the B&B Complex Fire foreground

You thought we were kidding about the breakers, didntcha?

A relatively new sport, wing foiling involves a hydrofoil on a SUP board, propelled by a
hand-held kite. Ideally, the board moves above the water, as seen here.

Finding refuge at quiet Scout Lake
Pick your lake and plan your trip, we'll see you there!

No comments:

Post a Comment