Hosmer Lake: Canoeing and family camping on Oregon’s Cascade Lakes Highway

Hosmer Lake, Oregon

With a backdrop of volcanic peaks, Hosmer Lake is a family-friendly, paddle-ready camp destination on Central Oregon’s Cascade Lakes Highway.

Oregon's Hosmer Lake is a wonderful spot for off-the-beaten-path, family friendly canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, and camping.
Oregon’s Hosmer Lake is a wonderful spot for off-the-beaten-path, family friendly canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, and camping.

Learned

How to camp COVID-safe with trusted friends. The Cascades are one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Hosmer Lake reminded us we need to get on the water more. It was time for us to get something we’ve long coveted…

Made

Calm hearts. Glee-filled floats in a friend’s canoe. Many mini-Cascade Mountains of dust, which were destroyed and rebuilt over and over by the unstoppable geological force known as children.

Cascades, canoe, camping: Glorious summer fun

Hosmer Lake's South Campground has great spots that border the marshy areas that surround the water.
Hosmer Lake’s South Campground has great spots that border the marshy areas that surround the water.

For a little while, we could feel like the world was normal again, and all it took was Hosmer Lake.

Due west of Central Oregon’s Mt. Bachelor, we pulled into a campsite by a marshy lake. And for the first time in many pandemic months, we saw some dear friends.

Our respective families had been planning the trip for a while. Get out in their canoe. Take in the fresh air, sunshine, and stars. Give the kids a chance to play together. Like they used to.

Kids have lots of room to roam and bond at Hosmer Lake's sizable campsites.
Kids have lots of room to roam and bond at Hosmer Lake’s sizable campsites. Image: S. Harty

Canoeing Hosmer Lake brought our family something new, too: A decision. Whether Oregon’s North Umpqua River, Kauai’s Hanalei River, or British Columbia’s Saturna Island, kayaking has brought us much joy over the years. But we’d yet to get kayaks of our own.

The kids… romped. They explored the marsh. Built a cardboard box habitat for a visiting chipmunk. And sat in the hammock together, reading. Seeing their friendship bonds rekindled meant the world to us.

After a weekend of quiet floats in our friends’ canoe, taking in the shallow waters and the mountain backdrops, the swish of breezes through the lake grasses and the buzz of birds and insects on the water, we knew it was time to get our own boats.

Unique Hosmer Lake

From above, Hosmer Lake looks a bit like a cartoon dinosaur with its mouth open.

We camped at the aptly named South Campground, at the southern end of the lake, near a day use parking lot and boat launch (paddles only though: No motors are allowed on Hosmer). The lake is two larger sections, connected by a thin channel. And the channel is even thinner than you think: With reeds and lily pads growing thick on each side, the slender ribbon of navigable water feels a bit like a winding back road—especially when passing other boats.

With clear water and an average depth of 3 feet (and the deepest spot is only about 12 feet), in most spots you can see the bottom. Hosmer is actually filling in, the waters gradually getting shallower. In time Hosmer will become a marsh, then perhaps a squishy meadow.

For now, though, Hosmer is a quiet haven.

From your boat, you can gaze out toward the Cascades. Birds soar overhead; sometimes you can spy red-winged blackbirds in between the tall reeds.

Our Hosmer Lake canoe trip floats us to a big decision

We even got to have a quiet couple’s canoeing, taking in the changing light as the afternoon started turning to the magic of evening.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CEYWlhiJSpw/

While on the water, we decided it was high time we did something. Something we’ve been wanting to do for a long, long time. More on that below.

Hosmer Lake was one of our favorite trips so far—which, for Oregon, is saying a lot. For now, though, we can’t wait to come back… with boats of our own.

Much of the fun is the drive itself

Driving Oregon’s Highway 58 is a particular joy. Even better, though, was turning onto the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. With around a dozen lakes large and small, the Byway takes you through sparse conifer forest, volcanic landscapes, and the bright blues of the waters.

Family travel video: Camping and canoeing Hosmer Lake… plus unboxing our [CENSORED!]

We explored only a small part of this gorgeous drive, and are planning many more summer adventures camping on and paddling the lakes… especially with a little something we finally got! Check out our family travel video to find out what:

https://youtu.be/Mv34T8QC5ok

We’ll be sharing more about our kayaks here and on Instagram. If you’re also kayak-curious, here are a few resources that are helping us along:

The boats

2 tandem inflatable kayaks (IKs), Sea Eagle SE 370 (we opted for the Pro Kayak Package). We bought direct from Sea Eagle, but their boats and accessories are also available via Amazon.

Kayaking books

Go to Hosmer Lake, Oregon

See you soon, Hosmer Lake. From our own kayaks!

About the author
Learners and Makers
We are the St. Clair Family: Anthony, Jodie, Connor, and Aster. As Learners and Makers, our family of four slows down, connects, and enjoys the world and each other's company. We have been traveling full time since 2022.

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