Top Five Lakes by Bend, Oregon
Bend, Oregon is one of the all-time great outdoor-lover destinations. In the summer, not only is there the Deschutes River to float or paddle down, which runs right through the center of town (literally dividing its east & west sections) ~ but once you head up the Cascade Lakes Highway, you’ve got literally hundreds of lakes to enjoy. In this article, I’m detailing my picks for the “Top Five Lakes by Bend.” Each is within about a 30-minute drive of downtown Bend, & will give you opportunities to swim, kayak, paddle board, hike, take the dog for a stroll, or simply enjoy the stunning mountain scenery.
GWTW Tip: If you’re hungry after an epic day at the lake, check out some of my favorite food trucks in Bend….
Map of Great Lakes by Bend
In this article, I’m listing lakes in order of their distance from Bend ~ starting with the shortest distance, which is Todd Lake. You’ll find all these lakes along the Cascade Lakes Highway (also called Century Drive), & all have easily accessible parking lots close to the highway.
Top Five Lakes by Bend, Oregon
1. Todd Lake
Todd Lake is the first lake you’ll come to on the Cascade Lakes Highway, & is just past the Mount Bachelor ski area. At MP 23, turn right onto a dirt road; there will be a sign for “Todd Lake.” Park in the small dirt lot, & note that the lake is not visible from here. Walk about a 1/4 mile to reach the lake, which makes it a little trickier to kayak or paddle board here, as you’ll need to carry your gear out & back. That’s why Todd Lake gets my vote for one of the best places to hike: take the easy, 1.3 mile stroll around the lake (dogs must be on leash in summer). Or if you prefer harder hikes, head up the steeper ridge trail which will give you INSANE views of Mt. Bachelor!
Todd Lake is Perfect For: Hiking with Kids & Dogs
2. Sparks Lake
Sparks Lake is THE iconic lake in Bend, & has graced many a travel brochure. Go past Todd Lake, & at MP 25, turn left at the “Sparks” sign. Keep left, & stay on a bumpy road for about 1.5 miles. The rewards will be worth it!! This lake is the shallowest on this list (at 8 feet), making it one of the warmest, great for kids & swimming. You can also kayak & paddle board here, but just know that late in the season, the lake can get SO shallow it can make paddling very difficult! My friends got “stuck” there last summer ; ). There are also easy 1-2 mile loops around the lake that are ideal for photographers, as you’ll get panoramic vistas of the surrounding mountains.
Note: There’s no fishing at Sparks Lake.
Sparks Lake is Perfect For: Photography, Families, & Swimming
3. Devils Lake
In terms of the beauty of its water: Devils Lake is my favorite on the list. I first visited it when my friend & I hiked South Sister (one of the hardest hikes by Bend) ~ the South Sister Trailhead is located at Devils Lake. Here, you can kayak, paddle board, or take in one of the many hikes that begin here: the short circle loop, hikes to Tyee Spring or Hell Springs, or to Devil’s Garden. Take note: if you want to swim in this lake, it is FREEZING!!! It’s one of the coldest on this list, due to its mountain spring sources.
Devils Lake is Perfect For: Kayaking & Photographers
For more details & photos of Devils Lake, read this article.
Best Lakes by Bend, Oregon
4. Elk Lake
Of all the lakes we’ll discuss today, Elk Lake is far & away the most POPULAR lake on the Cascade Lakes Highway. And there are a lot more services here than at other lakes: you can rent kayaks & paddle boards right at the marina (you only carry the board about 10 feet!), there’s a rustic little restaurant & ice cream shop steps from the marina; people enjoy sailing & pontoon boats here, & swimming is H-E-A-V-E-N in this water!! I just swam there last week on a hot summer day, & it was divine. Because the lake is so popular, dogs are strongly discouraged from swimming or using the lake, due to sanitation issues.
But they’re welcome at pretty much every other lake on the list!
Elk Lake is Perfect For: Learning to Paddle Board & Kayak, Swimming, Eating/Lodging (But NO DOGS)
5. Hosmer Lake
Hosmer is the lake I really don’t want to tell you about. At present, in its “hidden” location behind the far more popular (& larger) Elk Lake, it seems to be a real local’s-only spot. And it’s nice ramp, right at the edge of the parking lot, makes it a perfect place for kayakers & paddle boarders to set their gear in the water. My puppy, Charlie, also came on this adventure ~ & because she couldn’t “sit still” in one of our kayaks, she kept jumping in the water & ended up swimming pretty much the whole lake! I cannot express how BEAUTIFUL this lake is: & you’ll really only be able to appreciate is beauty with a kayak or paddle board.
Hosmer Lake is Perfect For: Paddle Boarding & Kayaking (with dogs!)
***6. Lucky Lake (BONUS Lake!!)
I’m throwing in one extra lake because I love it so much: Lucky Lake! It’s the most “off-the-beaten path” lake on the list, & furthest from Bend. Past Elk Lake, & just south of Lava Lakes at MP 38.5, turn right into the dirt parking lot (there’s no sign that I recall). From there, head up a gentle, one-mile incline that will take you right to the shore of this beautiful lake. Because of its distance from town & the short hike to reach the lake: you typically won’t find crowds here. And this lake doesn’t have ice cold springs running into it, making it one of the warmest lakes! Come here to hike, float, & swim….& bring the kids & dogs!
Lucky Lake is Perfect For: Swimming, Hiking, & Floating
Where to Stay in Bend
The best hotel for accessing all these beautiful lakes is Tetherow Lodge Hotel. Located right off Century Drive atop a high bluff overlooking Tetherow Golf Course, this pet-friendly hotel offers gorgeous accommodations, several great restaurants, & killer mountain views. Another great option, especially for big groups, is to rent a house in Sunriver, an epic family-friendly destination. Or if you’d rather stay right downtown, check out quirky hotel & pub: McMenamins Old St. Francis School.
Top Five Lakes by Bend, Oregon
I hope this guide provides some inspiration for your summer travels. Remember that all these lakes except for Elk have NO services ~ meaning you need to bring your own kayak or paddle boards. If you need to rent gear: head to Elk Lake. And bring a Go Pro to take epic shots of these beautiful spots!
Read Next: Where to Paddle Board in Bend, Oregon?
Great article! Love the photos. Curious why you didn’t include Elk Lake in this round up? Thanks, Rob
Great question, Rob! I think that was a rather subconscious omission, actually. This list is the lakes near Bend that I’ve personally enjoyed the most. While Elk Lake is probably the most popular lake on the Cascade Hwy (& the largest), maybe I figured that people would make it there on their own ~ & I’m wanting to provide a list of other options. But Elk Lake is certainly lovely & also a great stop! Thanks for your question : )