You've got the sunscreen and the towels and the swimsuits. You packed the cooler filled with cold drinks and snacks. Maybe your stand-up paddleboard or kayak is strapped to the rig. But hey—did you remember the mask? With orders around face coverings in place for outdoor spaces where social distancing is not possible, packing that mask is an important part of the summer swim-fun checklist. That is, unless you find a swim spot with few to no other people.
- yellowbkpk / Flickr
- Little Cultus Lake is full of mini-beaches to relax on.
In Central Oregon? In the summer? Yes. To both. It is possible—but it's not going to happen at Riverbend Park or Todd Lake.
While it's always possible that these lakes, too, will be occupied by more people than you'd like, these are some spots we've found to be heavy on the chill, light on the crowds.
Little Cultus Lake
Cultus Lake gets a lot of attention, and its parking lot is a behemoth—evidence that it's not the place to go to avoid the crowds. But for those willing to drive a little bit down a bouncy gravel road, Little Cultus is a gem. The beach near the campground is probably the busiest spot, but even then, you won't find throngs of people. To get even more chill, head west when you get to the sign announcing the lake, and you'll find a few pull-offs and private mini-beaches to relax.
Want to earn your swim? Blue Lake—located west of Suttle Lake—offers that option, but word of warning: This excursion involves 4 miles of hiking and a steep descent/ascent in and out of the caldera that forms the lake. Located at Elliott Corbett Memorial State Park, the area used to have more public access—but these days, those looking to visit this hidden lake will need to locate Forest Service Road 2076, along the south side of Highway 20, about 14 miles west of Sisters. At a trailhead about ¾ of a mile along the forest road, park and hike the 2 miles to the park. Accessing the lake itself requires the intrepid traveler to hike the caldera. There's also a trail to the lake from the Caldera arts facility—but that side is private property.
- Lee Siebert / Wikimedia
- Getting to Blue Lake is well worth the 4 mile hike.
With lots of lava surrounding the shore, Davis Lake doesn't provide massive stretches of beaches to sun yourself—but it does have some awesome views of the mountains and gets a thumbs up from fly fisher-people for its fishing. For those looking for a less-crowded place to put in a kayak or other paddlecraft, start at one of the campgrounds, such as East Davis, or circle the lake for other secluded put-ins of your own—being careful not to damage riparian areas or other vegetation that might be there, of course.
- Bonnie Moreland / Flickr
- Davis Lake, with its lava shores and mountain views, offers a respite from summer crowds.
Wherever you happen to land this summer, remember to pack it in and pack it out—and that includes human waste. With so many more people opting to use public lands to recreate this summer, locals are finding a lot more human waste near waterways, both buried and unburied. If you have to go, Leave No Trace principles recommend going no closer than 100 feet from a waterway, and digging a hole at least 6 to 8 inches deep in which to bury your waste. And of course, don't leave that disposable mask or other trash behind, either.