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You could live in Oregon your whole life and never visit the Cascade Lakes. That would be unwise, however, with some of the best Oregon Camping around. Unless you’re specifically looking for these lakes while you’re making your way around the central part of the state (Sunriver, Bend, and Mt. Bachelor much more popular destinations), you might just overlook these somewhat-hidden gems. But the lakes scattered throughout the Cascade Range offer tons of great adventure — and some seriously breathtaking Oregon camping. Check out the list below of three of our favorite lakeside campgrounds, as well as some of our tips about how to make the most of your trips. But no matter which campground you choose, one unfortunate tip applies to all three: The Cascades are notorious for their mosquitoes (with beautiful fresh water, often comes the bugs) so make sure to bring insect repellant.

 

Elk Lake with Mt. Bachelor in the background

Elk Lake with Mt. Bachelor in the background

Elk Lake Campground

Elk Lake Campground is the place to go if you want a livelier, more exciting Cascade Lakes experience; in addition to overnight stays, the site is also hugely popular as a day-use area because of its great swimming, well-maintained dock, and active lodge/restaurant that regularly hosts live music in the summer. That said, if you’re looking to spend your day floating on the lake in peace and quiet, and away from motorized boats and the noise that comes with them, you’re better off at one of the other two Oregon camping options mentioned here. But if those things don’t bother you much, then you’re in for a great experience. Elk Lake Campground itself has some features that help it stand out from the dozens of other options in the area, including rustic cabins for rent (i.e. no electricity or running water), and a couple of small tent-only sites reserved for hikers who need a place to crash on their way along the Pacific Crest Trail.

It even has a rustic amphitheater, complete with wooden benches, that is primed for a lakeside wedding. With the majestic view of Mt. Bachelor in the background, who could resist?

See what our readers have to say about Elk Lake here.

Crane Prairie Lake

Crane Prairie Lake

Crane Prairie Campground

Don’t let Crane Prairie’s size fool you — even though the campground is on the larger end of the spectrum (we’re talking 100+ camp sites), it doesn’t feel that way. When we stayed here we were located near the end of the Green Loop; while the campsites themselves are pretty close to each other, it still felt somehow smaller and more remote than Elk Lake, thanks in part to our distance from the main lodge and central dock. Speaking of docks: Want to do some boating while you’re there? You can rent a variety of boats and kayaks to keep yourself occupied on the water all day, but don’t count on doing any paddleboarding unless you bring your own board. You’ll probably find yourself spending a lot of time in and on the water at Crane Prairie; while it’s a man-made reservoir, the lake is big enough that you’d never now it — and the water isn’t quite as ice-cold as some of the others on this list (we’re looking at you, Elk Lake).

And because central Oregon can be dry and dusty, if you need to wash away some of that mountain dirt, you’ll find showers at the lodge. Sometimes it’s the small comforts that help — especially if you’re camping more than just a couple nights. This campground is also very RV-friendly, which is great to keep in mind for when the idea of roughing it doesn’t really float your boat.

Check out our users’ reviews of Crane Prairie Campground here.

 

Little Cultus Lake at Sunset

Little Cultus Lake at Sunset

Little Cultus Campground

The first thing that sets Little Cultus apart from the other campgrounds is one of our favorite features: Motorized boats aren’t allowed on the lake. As you can imagine, the result is pure serenity and an exquisite Oregon camping experience. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, this is where you’re going to find it — perfect for paddleboarding, kayaking, fishing, or just floating in an innertube.

When it comes to the camp sites, you have your pick of a wide variety of sizes and levels of shade. If you’re bringing a larger party, you won’t have any trouble fitting everyone into the sites at Little Cultus. There are no cabins, and just a handful of RVs here and there, making Little Cultus feel like the truest down-to-earth camping spot on this list. But if you run out of ice thanks to the hot, Central Oregon sun, Cultus Lake Resort is just a few minutes away. The main resort has a full restaurant, a small store, and another lake (this time with motorized boats).

Check out our users’ reviews of Little Cultus Campground here.


Although these campgrounds may be a touch off the beaten path, they’re really not too far from other Bend, Oregon camping alternatives. Central Oregon has a lot to offer with summer recreation, and we think that camping near pristine, high-altitude lakes in the Cascade Range should be near the top of everyone’s list.