NW Kids: Top 5 Lakes

Top 5 lakes for canoeing, swimming and lodging with kids (and dogs!)

By Amy Whitley


Ah, the quintessential Northwest summer vacation: take the kids, pack the car, set up camp and just add water. A lakeside getaway is one of our favorite ways to enjoy the Northwest during the warm-weather months; and, luckily, great lakes abound from Oregon to Idaho to everywhere in-between.

If your family has yet to find your favorite lakeside hideaway, I’m happy to disclose some of our favorite locations. My criteria: a great Northwest lake must be relatively uncrowded, offer onsite or nearby lodging ranging from camping sites to historic lodging and—of course—must be breathtakingly beautiful.

The lakes listed below are on our personal shortlist. Just don’t take our picnic spot.


Suttle Lake, Ore.

Rental Boats on Suttle Lake. Photo by Amu Whitley

Suttle Lake is located in the heart of the Deschutes National Forest outside the fun and funky Central Oregon town of Sisters. A short drive from Hoodoo Ski Area during winter, in summer, Suttle Lake becomes a canoer and kayaker’s playground.

Families can easily hike the circumference of the lake in an hour or so, rent watercrafts at the Suttle Lake Marina and stay at The Lodge at Suttle Lake, in either a loft suite or private cabin.

Lake of the Woods, Ore.

Your typical old-school lake retreat, Lake of the Woods offers a no-frills marina and tackle shop, cozy restaurant and rustic cabins. Accessed from either Medford or Klamath Falls, Ore., Lake of the Woods is meant for front-porch sitting, lazy inner-tube floating and summer picnicking. Nearby Sky Lakes Wilderness offers day hiking to smaller alpine lakes for a change of pace.

Priest Lake, Idaho

We love Idaho’s lake country, but while beautiful, massive Lake Coeur d’Alene and Lake Pend Oreille can become massively crowded in summer. Nearby Priest Lake offers the same rugged beauty minus the neighbors vying for your camping spot.

Kids swim in Cascade Lake at Moran State Park in Washington State. Photo by Amy Whitley

Stay at Blue Diamond Marina and Resort, or camp on one of two mid-lake islands. Priest Lake is a two-hour drive from Spokane, Wash., or just over an hour from the lakeside resort town of Sandpoint, Idaho.

Cascade Lake, Wash.

Families willing to go the extra mile (and ferry ride) will find idyllic camping and lakeside fun at Cascade Lake on Orcas Island, Wash.

Camp in Moran State Park, or stay at any one of the island’s B&Bs. Cascade Lake offers protected swimming and kayaking areas, and plenty of sand and hiking trails throughout the state park, including the climb to the top of Mount Constitution for amazing views of the San Juan Islands and a panorama from Mount Baker to Mount Rainier.

Lake Quinault, Wash.

The Lake Quinault Lodge provides easy access to Lake Quinault, Wash. Photo by Amy Whitley

Possibly my favorite lake in the Pacific Northwest, Olympic National Park’s Lake Quinault manages to combine rainforest terrain with wooded lakeshore. Hands down, we recommend a stay at Lake Quinault Lodge, the perfect home base for lake canoeing (available onsite).

Families with young kids will appreciate the beach access and swimming dock, but for those many days the rain descends upon the Olympic Peninsula, it’s easy to retreat to canopied rainforest trails or the comfort of the roaring fire in the lodge lobby.

Whether your ideal summer lake vacation includes solitude or camaraderie with fellow Northwesterners, here’s to packed coolers, canoe paddles and ample fish bait. May the trout bite instead of the mosquitoes!

Amy Whitley of Medford, Ore., writes about her family adventures in NW Kids every edition in OutdoorsNW. Miss a column? Log onto www.OutdoorsNW.com and search NW Kids.

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