Head inland to find freshwater fun on these coastal lakes.
Ask almost anyone from almost anywhere to imagine Oregon and they’ll almost certainly picture the Coast. With its broad sandy beaches, craggy sea stacks plucked from a fable and oodles of friendly communities bursting with charm, this magical region between sea and continent is truly worthy of dreams.
But let’s be honest. Actually getting into the Pacific — or even onto it — may not be the warmest or calmest of your options. While surfers wrapped in thick wetsuits love the frigid, thundering waves, and anglers come for the surfperch and rockfish, for all its mesmerizing beauty, the ocean here is a wild, tempestuous place. Fortunately, Oregon’s stunning coast is also home to scores of peaceful freshwater lakes where swimming, fishing, kayaking and even windsurfing can all happen a Sasquatch’s stride from the salt. Here’s a sampling of the Oregon Coast’s lakes to explore on your next trip.
Fish and History Near Astoria
Cullaby Lake County Park — like its nearby cousin Coffenbury Lake in Fort Stevens State Park — is the perfect place to enjoy the water and some fascinating local history. Tucked less than a mile and a half from the ocean north of Seaside at Sunset Beach State Recreation Site, the narrow, peaceful 220-acre lake sits off Highway 101 in a 165-acre park. Enjoy reservable picnic shelters, a boat ramp, and lots of opportunities to play horseshoes or angle for warmwater game fish like bluegill and bass hiding among the reeds. Kids will love the playground, too.
While you’re there, be on the lookout for eagles and beavers. And be sure to check out the Lindgren Cabin, a structure built in 1928 for Finns Erick and Johanna Lindgren, fashioned by hand out of massive old-growth cedar — one of the planks is nearly 4 feet wide and 5 inches thick! Historians believe county park namesake Cullaby was the son of Jack Ramsay, a European-looking man with red hair who grew up with Native Americans. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark met him in 1805 and marveled at how he could “not speak a word of English.”
Peace and Geese Near Lincoln City
There’s something heavenly about Devil’s Lake. Maybe it’s how the dunes and trees protect it from the pestering Pacific winds, or how the placid waters splinter under the wake of geese and ducks. Ospreys circle high overhead, their peep-peep-peeping announcing they’re out for a hunt. And as one of the only coastal lakes pretty much right in a city, you can camp under the stars after enjoying the urban pleasures of Lincoln City, too.
Devil’s Lake State Recreation Area includes 685 acres of glassy water ringed by wetlands that provide excellent aquatic habitat for rainbow trout, crappie and even yellow perch. You can launch a kayak or even a boat from East Devil’s Lake State Park, one of the two parks on the lake. Devil’s Lake Campground, on the west side of the lake, sits right in Lincoln City with 54 tent sites and 10 yurts, five of which are pet-friendly. From there you can stroll along a boardwalk to D River State Recreation Site, home to the 120-foot-long D River, supposedly the shortest river on earth.
Wandering Through Solitude Near Reedsport
If there were ever a place that packed in all the essentials of the Oregon coast into one idyllic spot, Threemile Lake in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area north of Reedsport and the mouth of the Umpqua River would be a strong contender. Sand dunes? Check. Moody coastal forests? Yup. Dramatic knuckles of earth pressing into a secluded, gorgeous lake? You got it.
You’ll have to work to get to this one, because no roads breach the old-growth spruce stands that surround the lake. But where there’s effort, there’s a lonesome reward. The easiest way to get to the lake is to follow the Threemile Lake South Trail north through the forests from a trailhead you’ll find off Sparrow Park Road, about 4 miles north of Reedsport. It’s a 2-mile round-trip hike to the south end of the lake, so not so taxing. If your legs are looking for more, you can come in from the north on the Threemile Lake North Trail near the Tahkenitch Campground that’ll take you about 3 miles one-way to reach the lake. (Now the lake’s name makes sense, since the lake itself is about a mile long.)
Take note, though: The north trail continues past the lake to the ocean to arrive at the beach, where western snowy plovers nest in spring and summer. Stay off dry sand — this is the law and not a suggestion — between March 15 and September 15, and leave your dog at home if you plan to go that route.
Soaring With Birds and Wind Near Bandon
With a shoreline sitting a mere 350 feet from the Pacific, Floras Lake south of Bandon could very well be the westernmost freshwater lake in the Lower 48. Almost all of the shore ringing this 236-acre wonder has been left as nature mostly intended, though in the early 1900s, investors very nearly turned it into a gambling haven before their money ran out. Thank goodness for that.
Today the lake serves as a prime destination for windsurfers and kiteboarders in summer who have long known about the lake’s forgiving sandy bottom and steady northwest winds. Floras Lake Kite & Windsurf offers lessons and rentals to get you flying. In winter it becomes a world-class destination for birders to spy on legions of lesser and greater scaup, shovelers and tundra swans. For fishing at Floras Lake or many other South Coast destinations, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife has a handy guide.
Base yourself at the north end of the lake, where you’ll find about 30 camping sites at Boice Cope Park, or go for the cushier option at the four-room Floras House Bed & Breakfast near Langlois. From here you can wander south along the Oregon Coast Trail for as little or as long as you like toward Blacklock Point, absorbing the soaring views of the craggy Oregon Coast you’ve always imagined.
If You Go:
As with any water fun on the Oregon Coast, be mindful of the rules and how to keep your family safe.
- Weather conditions change quickly, so be prepared when you’re in the water.
- Wear a properly fitted life jacket — it’s required for ages 12 and under and highly recommended for others regardless of age.
- Before you or your pet dive in, you’ll want to check the Oregon Health Authority’s advisories for harmful algae blooms online.
- Paddlers with boats 10 feet and longer are required to purchase and have on hand their Waterway Access Permit, which can be found online.
- The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife’s website overflows with information about lake fishing, including how to started and where to buy a required fishing license.
– By Tim Neville