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Suttle Lake: rustic national forest lake or luxury resort? It's both! Suttle Lake has been under federal control since 1898 when it was included in the Cascades Range Forest Reserve, which became the Cascades National Forest and finally the Deschutes National Forest. Early in its history, the US Forest Service issued special use permits for limited development to such uses as a church camp, several small cabins and a lodge. The church camp still exists, as does the lodge which has been rebuilt after fire three times. Now the privately-operated lodge operates as a lovely bed-and-breakfast-type resort and spa with only ten rooms and several cabins. Rustic cabins were recently added to increase lodging variety at the resort. Three Forest Service campgrounds along the southern shore and two day-use parks provide plenty of accommodations for visitors to this popular lake. All three are quite rustic; the campgrounds have only drinking water and vault toilet facilities. Luxury or primitive simplicity are thus the two choices available at beautiful Suttle Lake. All enjoy the view of the beautiful lake surrounded by the heavily-wooded shore and the towering Cascade Mountains.
Suttle Lake is popular for water sports and is a favorite with local residents in the Sisters area. There are no motors restrictions on the lake except for a 10 mph speed limit from dusk til dawn. Although the National Forest websites do not show swimming beaches, visitors do swim at the day-use areas and from the resort beach. Campgrounds and day-use areas all have boat ramps. The resort rents peddleboats, paddlebaords, Hobie sailboats, kayaks, boats with trolling motors, row boats and canoes at the Lodge marina. Boat slips can be rented by the night or by the season. Waterskiing, windsurfing, tubing and paddle sports are all enjoyed on the lake. Campsites are so popular that reservations are advised on busy summer weekends. One campground also has several yurts for rent and is open all winter to accommodate snowshoeing, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. A triathlon, including a swim across Suttle Lake, is held annually and brings a new group of visitors who soon come to appreciate all the lake has to offer.
Suttle Lake is a productive fishing destination. The lake holds rainbow trout, brown trout, mountain whitefish and kokanee salmon. The brown trout are known to reach ten pounds and are highly sought-after. Rainbow trout are stocked by the Department of Fish and Wildlife regularly. Suttle Lake is one of the few in this part of Oregon with a natural population of kokanee salmon, and efforts are underway to improve spawning areas downstream along Lake Creek. All fishermen must have a state fishing permit and check species limits as they sometimes change according to conditions. Some observers believe that fish numbers have declined in recent year, so a group of volunteer limnologists is working to train volunteers to take water samples and record scientific observations. Donations are being taken to install a monitoring buoy to perform complex testing in the lake year-round.
Most activities at Suttle Lake involve getting close to nature on the Suttle Lake Loop. This trail circles the lake and is used for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. The trail intersects other trails into the surrounding Deschutes National Forest. A wealth of wildlife inhabits the area, including black bears, cougars, deer, elk, beaver, bobcats, badgers and a small colony of otters who enjoy the outlet creek. A short distance downstream along Lake Creek, the 1,240-acre Metolius Preserve offers shelter to wildlife and an extraordinary number of birds. The Forest Service publishes a checklist for birders in the area. The creek itself is a vital feature of the preserve as it serves as a spawning area for native redband trout and, it is hoped, native chinook and sockeye salmon in the near future.
Winter doesn't stop the action at Suttle Lake. A network of snowmobile trails and cross-country ski trails surrounds the lake. Only a few miles away, the Hoodoo Ski Area offers downhill skiing on north-facing slopes that are excellent for optimal snow cover. Visitors often rent the yurts at the campground, which are equipped with wood stoves, as a base for winter sports weekends. Located only a few miles from Sisters, Oregon, the lake is an easy day trip from a hotel or other lodgings at Sisters. Sisters takes its unusual name from three mountains on the local southern horizon known as the 'three sisters'. This old pioneer town offers much in the way of entertaining activities to visitors. Besides hiking in the national forest or climbing some of the mountains in the nearby Cascades, visitors can explore the trails via horseback, enjoy shopping in the unique shops and galleries, enjoy a movie at the local movie theater, or choose from a variety of eating establishments. Nearby there is disk golf, golf courses, and a number of annual festivals. Some of the more memorable festivals include a music festival, folk festival, arts and crafts festival, and a western and Native American festival. In winter, Sisters serves as home base for two local downhill ski areas and has a number of areas good for snowboarding, sledding and tubing.
A weekend or a week in the Deschutes National Forest isn't complete without at least a day at beautiful Suttle Lake. There are a few guest rentals in the area other than the resort, and there are other campgrounds nearby. Lodgings may be found in both Sisters to the northwest or Bend a bit farther to the southeast. Both cities offer a variety of local bed-and-breakfasts, guest ranches, and private cottage rentals. So bring the mountain bike, the fishing rod, and your hiking boots. Suttle Lake awaits.
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