07-16-2020 Exploring the Lakes and an Evening Kayak

Our plan when we went to bed was to rise early, eat a decent breakfast, and get on the road quickly.  We wanted to arrive at Elk Lake, our chosen location for a morning kayak, before the winds started up and the sun got too hot.  Even though the temperatures in this part on the east side of the Cascades are a bit more moderated than the part of Southern Oregon where we live, it can still get hot.  Predictions were for another gorgeous sunny day with highs in the upper 80’s.

Elk Lake Sunset  View Day Use Area

I completed a lot of internet research on most of the lakes in the chain before we left home.  There was no way to do any last minute research however, since I had no access to the internet at the campground.  I had 2 bars of 4G which could manage telephone calls and text messages, see emails but not their complete contents, and see some posts on Facebook for random moments in the early part of the day.

My research pointed me to Elk Lake, which in internet photos looks deep and blue surrounded by the gorgeous peaks of South Sister and Broken Top.  I was at least smart enough to download the google maps for the area before we left home in Grants Pass so we could navigate properly along the entire length of the Byway. 

We were on the road by 8:30, with only a slight breeze, and decided to skip exploring any of the lakes and campgrounds along our route so that we could get on Elk Lake early.  The road into Elk Lake Sunset View Day use area from the north is rough gravel, with some steep areas and sections of washboard.  I’m glad we didn’t plan to take the MoHo back there.

When we arrived at the site, it was gorgeous as expected, but the winds were kicking up and to our great surprise, there were a lot of people already in the parking lot, at the picnic tables, and launching all manner of kayaks and paddle boards.  I had no clue that many paddle boards are now of the blow up variety, and the whooshing sound of the pumps was a bit startling. 

We looked around a bit, checking out the outlandishly beautiful people with their beautiful rigs and boats and thought, “Hmmm, a LOT of well to do people around here.”  That was to be our refrain for the entire day as we traveled to the several lakes and view sites along the Cascade Lakes Highway, and the closer we got to Bend, it seemed the people were even more fit, attractive, and on the young side.  I have nothing against young, attractive, fit people, in fact it is great to see so many humans enjoying outdoor pursuits, but it was still a bit daunting, and not particularly our scene.  In addition, the lake was another big round body of water without a lot of interesting shoreline. 

We decided instead to continue south back toward the Hosmer Lake Loop and check out some of the campgrounds along the way.  We thought maybe we could launch on tiny Hosmer Lake before continuing our explorations.  We checked out Little Fawn campground on the south end of Elk Lake, but it was dusty and rocky, completely full, and quite a distance from the water.  The day use area by the campground was also full of cars, and more people packing their paddle boards and kayaks the several hundred yards across exposed lakebed toward the waters of Elk Lake.  Nope, not our spot for either kayaking OR camping.

When we arrived at the South Campground near Hosmer Lake we found more dusty, rocky, gravel roads and more people packed into the cramped sites with all sorts of watercraft.  Ah well, we weren’t planning on camping, just hoping to get on the waters with our boats before the day got too warm to enjoy.

What a surprise when we arrived at the tiny, cramped boat launch to discover at least 50 cars, all packing in and lining up one by one as we arrived all the way back to the intersection between the launch and the campground.  The lake looked like a playground of boats, paddleboards, fishermen, and people!  I walked down to the launch and talked to a few people, asking if they knew the lake. Five of the several people I talked to said it was their first time on this particular lake, and 3 said they had never kayaked before and this was their first kayak!.  Much like RVing, I think active people who want to get out and about have discovered kayaking.

Sadly, we decided to let this lake go as well, but as we were leaving Mo said, “I wonder when all these people will go home?”.  Since it seemed most were on day excursions from Bend, the likelihood of the place being this crowded in late evening was slight.  We decided to take our chances and finish our explorations of the other lakes and campgrounds in the area before going back home to our camp. 

We checked out the campgrounds and RV resorts at Lava Lake, at Little Lava Lake where the Deschutes River begins, and then turned back north to find Sparks Lake at the base of Mt Bachelor near the northern end of the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway.

Little Lava Lake

Little Lava Lake was quite lovely, and a few campsites were a bit tempting.  We also thought if we didn’t find somewhere else to kayak we might return to the shallow beach at the boat launch site. I started keeping track of the campsites that we would choose at Little Lava Lake Campground if they became available for the next time we wanted to camp and kayak in the area.  If one should wish to camp, the good level sites at Little Lava Lake are #10, #11, #13, and #15.  Others are small and very uneven.

Lava Lake

The Lava Lake campground also had just one site along the edge of the lake but I didn’t write down the number because the lake was a lovely shade of green!  Maybe we didn’t want to camp there ever. 

Back north again toward Elk Lake, we checked out the Elk Lake Campground and found sites #7, #8, and #13 to be the only acceptable sites that would tempt us away from our home base at Crane Prairie some time in the future.  

We drove on north again toward Sparks Lake, and there was a beautiful wide viewpoint at the Green Lakes trailhead that climbs toward South Sister.  Only problem was that cars were lined up all along the road for about a mile on either side of the trailhead. 

A very popular place on a Thursday in July!  We pulled into the parking area across from the trailhead, noticed the sign saying parking allowed for 15 minutes only, and took every precious minute to hike into the meadow full of penstemon and sedges with Mattie.  The view of South Sister to the north and Mt Bachelor to the southeast were breathtaking.  No wonder this is such a popular place only 30 some miles from Bend, Oregon.

After our little walk, we traveled the very rough and rocky road from the highway to Sparks Lake.  The campground is called Soda Creek, and is a few miles from the lake.  We chose sites #4, #6, #10, and #13 for future reference.  We discovered a few rigs parked in a dispersed camping area on the extremely dusty and busy road to the boat launch on Sparks Lake.  Even free, with a view of the lake, wouldn’t tempt us to camp there in all that dust and noise. The lake itself was also incredibly crowded with kayakers and paddleboarders, and the water was quite low.  Pretty, but not for us.  With the crowded parking lot and thick dust, we didn’t get out of the car for photos, but this website has some lovely pictures of the lake and the area nearby.

As the day progressed, and we viewed so many lakes and campgrounds, we decided that we were really lucky to be in the lovely, spacious, open, and reasonably quiet campground at Crane Prairie Reservoir.  From the internet research, I never would have chosen Crane Prairie, but after visiting, it will no doubt be the campground to which we return in the future.  Just for reference, our favorite sites at Crane Prairie are #103, the ADA site #107, and #113.  All of these sites are on the Blue Loop, but for big rigs and family groups the Red loop at the upper edges of the park have the most privacy and space, but no view of the water or easy access to the beach. The Red loop also has several large nice pull through sites.

By the time we returned back to camp, it was 1 or so, and again we settled in with our books and cool drinks to enjoy the breezes and shade as we read.  I spent more time gazing at the water than actually reading I think.  We also took Mattie for another swim.  She went in at first, but wasn’t as enthusiastic this time as she was yesterday.

We ate an early supper and planned to leave after dinner in time to arrive at Hosmer Lake around 6:30. This time our plans worked out perfectly.  When we arrived at the boat launch there were less than half a dozen cars and only a few people coming off the lake, and only a very few launching for an evening on the water.

Hosmer Lake turned out to be everything I had expected to find in the Cascade Lakes.  The water was crystal clear, and the lake meanders from a small lower lake, through a narrow channel lined with bullrush and wocus and then meanders northeast toward a rugged area of lava which hides a waterfall. 

We didn’t get out of the boats to see the waterfall.  A fellow boater told us that it was pretty, but not spectacular, and required some hiking through the rocky jumble to see it.  We sat awhile trying to hear it to no avail.

We continued back to the main channel and continued north to the lake.  I asked a couple of returning kayakers if the lake was very far away.  One person said it was a long distance, and another said it was just ahead.  My trusty google map wasn’t exactly visible in the bright late evening light and the lake shows quite dark and green on the current google image.  To our surprise we arrived at the large part of the lake within 15 minutes and it was truly gorgeous.  The water was clear and somewhat shallow, surrounded by nothing except timber, mountain views, and marshland. 

One lone boat with two men fly fishing were spotlighted by the early evening sun.  Hosmer Lake is exactly the kind of place we love to kayak, and we will definitely return in the future, hopefully during a time of year when there are a few less visitors.

After only an hour and a half on the lake, we were back home at our camp by 8:30, as the winds started to die down and the sun set at 8:47.  I knew the exact time of the sunset because I also knew that the comet Neowise was expected to be visible in the northwest sky about 90 minutes after sunset.  Mo built another nice campfire and we sat with our wine and marshmallows waiting for darkness and a chance to see the comet.

We weren’t disappointed.  Walking down to the beach, we hunted the skies for the Big Dipper which seemed to be in the wrong place compared to what we are used to in Grants Pass.  After a bit of searching, we saw the comet. It was somewhat faint in the still glowing northwestern skies, but we could see the comet and the tail if we looked carefully.  There was no way I could get any kind of photo, but there are so many great ones that people have posted that I didn’t feel like we missed much.  At least we got to see in in person.  Later, when we returned to Grants Pass, even though the comet was supposedly visible, we never saw it again.  In Grants Pass we are in the western part of the time zone and at the time that the comet is visible, there is still considerable light.  There also was a bit of haze from a California fire and of course the lights from the small city of Grants Pass are still bright enough to cause some interference.  I was glad we were in the mountains with less ambient light for at least one night so that we saw the comet.  I doubt either of us will be around in just under 7,000 years when it returns.

After three days we deemed our Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway trip to be a great success. We settled into bed after our long day and evening knowing we had until noon to have a leisurely breakfast the next morning before breaking camp and traveling south toward Klamath Falls for another night out before going over the pass toward home.

Author: kyotesue

Soil scientist/mapper working for 35 years in the wild lands of the West. I am now retired, enjoying my freedom to travel, to hike without a shovel and a pack, to knit and quilt and play, to play with photography and write stories about all of it.

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