I honestly think Portland is surrounded by some of the most natural scenery in the USA, and if you’re a bit of a water baby like me, there are plenty of beautiful lakes just waiting to be explored in or near the city.
If you’re looking to go boating, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, swimming, paddleboarding, or just gaze at the scenery, here are my personal favorite lakes in or near Portland, Oregon…
Located 20 minutes away from Downtown Portland, Oswego Lake is a naturally occurring lake that drains into the Tualatin River. The lake is surrounded by a residential vicinity with beautiful homes nestled in foggy clusters of the hills, I huge fan of this beauty spot!
At Oswego Lake, indulge in a wide range of recreational activities, such as swimming, kayaking, cycling, and sightseeing. While you’re at the lake, you can visit nearby sites, such as Oswego Hills Vineyard and Winery, the Arts Council of Lake Oswego, and Lake Oswego Public Golf Course.
You will find good places to shop around Oswego Lake. If you visit the lake with your kids, I’d highly recommend visiting Lake Oswego Ice Creamery.
Nearby winery and cultural attractions
Diverse recreational activities available
Various activities like kayaking
Beautiful views and a serene ambiance
Must Do Things
Explore the lake's beauty by renting a kayak or canoe immersing yourself in the tranquility of the serene surroundings
Golf enthusiasts can tee off at the Lake Oswego Public Golf Course combining nature's beauty with the game's thrill
Don't forget to treat your kids to the delights of Lake Oswego Ice Creamery for a delightful family experience
Crystal Lake is a high-elevation water reservoir located near Bridge City Community Church. The lake is surrounded by sheltered campsites that allow you to have perfect picnics anywhere around the lake.
There exist three small lakes below Crystal Lake. From the hilltop above Crystal Lake, you can catch views of Mount Adams, Mount Rainier, and Mount Saint Helens.
There is no designated trail to reach the lake. However, I’d suggest heading up the mountain through the Pacific Crest Trail at Burnt Rock.
Offers panoramic views of the alpines
Various hiking trails for exploring
Tranquil picnic spots by the lake
Lack of designated trails
It requires a bit of hiking to reach
Must Do Things
Enjoy a serene picnic surrounded by lush nature and stunning mountain views
Hike up to the hilltop above Crystal Lake to witness breathtaking vistas of Mount Adams Mount Rainier and Mount Saint Helens
Embark on an adventure via the Pacific Crest Trail at Burnt Rock for an off-the-beaten-path exploration
Little Crater Lake
Located in the Mount Hood National Forest in Clackamas County, Little Crater Lake is a small spring-fed lake with a depth of 45 feet. The lake is too cold and not deep enough to swim.
You can hike to this beautiful lake via a 400-meter-long trail. This trail also gives you access to other courses around Timothy Lake. The temperature at the lake remains close to 34 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year.
Stunning blue water and scenery
Easy hiking access to other trails
Nestles near various attractions
It is unsuitable for swimming
The water gets very cold
Must Do Things
Embark on a 400-meter hiking trail that leads you to this breathtaking lake. Along the way enjoy the serenity of Mount Hood National Forest
The pristine water acts as a natural mirror reflecting the azure skies. The tranquil beauty is perfect for capturing Instagram-worthy photos
Visit the Linn County Arts Guild Gifts and Gallery to see some art or buy some souvenirs.
Situated right beside Smith Lake, Bybee Lake is another lake in the Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area. Ash trees, willows, black cottonwood, red alder, and red-osier dogwoods surround the lake.
You’ll also find about 200 western-painted turtles, garter snakes, and other reptiles at the lake. You’ll also see a massive variety of aquatic plants flourishing in the lake, including pond lilies and duckweed.
Bybee Lake is heavily fished for carp, bluegill, largemouth bass, crappie, and other non-native species. While Smith Lake is a spot for everyone, Bybee Lake is mostly visited by nature enthusiasts, wildlife lovers, birders, and anglers.
Natural beauty and serene surroundings
Abundance of wildlife and reptiles
Ideal for birdwatching and nature enthusiasts
Peaceful fishing spot for specific species
It may not cater to all recreational interests
Insect presence during warm seasons
Must Do Things
You can observe about 200 western-painted turtles garter snakes and other reptiles in their natural habitat. Experience the thrill of encountering these creatures up close
Explore the unique aquatic ecosystem of Bybee Lake which features an impressive array of aquatic plants
The lake offers excellent opportunities for fishing with an abundance of different species so test your mettle here
Crystal Springs Lake
Crystal Springs Lake is a tributary of Crystal Springs Creek, which streams completely within the city of Portland. The creek flows south around Crystal Springs Lake and receives massive overflows from it.
It is worth a visit for anglers, birdwatchers, and even hikers. On the east shore of Crystal Springs Lake, there’s a beautiful maze of short pathways.
There’s a 120-foot hike on the north side of the Crystal Springs parking area, which descends to the Reed Canyon. You can keep hiking until you reach a footbridge that leads across the starting point of Crystal Springs Creek. Big-leaf maples, Douglas fir, and red cedar border the trail.
Crystal Springs Lake is home to mallards, wood ducks, buffleheads, Canadian geese, pied-billed grebes, coots, and lesser scaups, among other majestic creatures. The lake is heavily fished for coho, chinook salmon, and steelhead trout.
Serene maze of pathways
Fishing opportunities for salmon and trout
Scenic duck-watching at the lake
It offers limited amenities for visitors
Potential for crowded hiking trails
Must Do Things
Enjoy a leisurely walk along the picturesque east shore of Crystal Springs Lake. Navigate through a beautiful maze of short pathways
For those seeking more adventure embark on a 120-foot descent on the north side of the Crystal Springs parking area leading you to the Reed Canyon
Crystal Springs Lake is a thriving ecosystem teeming with life. Keep an eye out for grebes and coots among other fascinating wetland creatures.
At the lowest point of Laurelhurst Park, Portland, sits a beautiful lake called Firwood Lake. Firwood Lake is home to some of the most magnificent natural creatures, including geese and ducks.
As you stroll through the park, you get to indulge in the mesmerizing beauty of the lake and the vegetation surrounding it. A thick layer of viridescent water lentils covers the azure water of the lake.
The periphery of the lake is laced with evergreen trees, which make it a perfect spot for photography.
While it seems like a natural place for a lake, Firwood Lake hasn’t always been there. It was developed in the 1920s to augment the beauty of the park.
While you’re at the park visiting the lake, you can see other recreational areas in the park that include a basketball court, volleyball court, horseshoe pit, picnic site, and soccer field, among others. Laurelhurst Park remains open from 5 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Great for photography with evergreen surroundings
Long opening hours from 5 a.m. to 10:30 p.m
Additional recreational areas within the park
Scenic lake in a serene park
Seasonal changes in park aesthetics
Potential for crowded recreational areas
Must Do Things
Enjoy peaceful walks around Firwood Lake surrounded by lush greenery and soothing waters providing a serene atmosphere for relaxation
Learn about the lake's history as it was constructed in the 1920s to enhance the park's aesthetics adding an intriguing layer to your visit
Make the most of your visit to Laurelhurst Park by exploring the various recreational facilities such as basketball and volleyball courts.
Located on the north side of Beaverton, Commonwealth Lake is an ideal spot for anglers and birders. The lake is well-stocked with and heavily fished for trout and several warmwater fish.
The best time to visit the lake is from March to May. The lake remains open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on all days of the week.
Commonwealth Lake has access points for people with disabilities, which allows disabled anglers to relish fishing to the fullest. The lake is nestled in a suburban park that also houses a hiking trail, soccer field, and playground, among other recreational spots.
From great blue herons to cedar waxwings, you’ll find a large variety of birds gliding over the lake.
Diverse bird species for observation
Ideal for picnics by the lake
Accessible for disabled anglers
Opens for limited hours from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m
Limited water-based recreational activities
Must Do Things
Commonwealth Lake is a serene haven perfect for picnicking. Set up your spread by the calm waters and enjoy a leisurely meal amidst nature's beauty
Beyond the lake explore the suburban park's hiking trail soccer field and playground. It's a full day of outdoor recreation and relaxation
Take a stroll around the lake's perimeter soak in the peaceful ambiance and reconnect with nature.
Nestled in Portland’s Historic Kenton District, Force Lake is an exquisite small lake that lies between the Portland Expo Center and Heron Lakes Golf Course.
It was once a recreational spot and swimming place in historic Vanport City. The lake is bordered by divine vegetation, which makes it a perfect spot for photography.
Force Lake is home to magnificent wildlife with a great diversity of birds, including cedar waxwings. However, the lake is unsafe to swim as the water is clogged with trash, weeds, and runoff from vehicles.
Historic significance and heritage
Close to Portland Expo Center and golf course
Scenic surroundings for photography
Serene location in Kenton District
Unsafe for swimming due to pollution
The parking is a bit limited
Must Do Things
Explore the historical significance of Force Lake as it was once a popular recreational and swimming destination in historic Vanport City
Pack a picnic basket and relish a peaceful afternoon by the lakeside. Enjoy a meal amidst the serene beauty
Learn about the environmental challenges faced by Force Lake. It's a place to gain insight into the importance of conservation.
Located within the Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area, Smith Lake is a tributary of the Columbia River. It is a part of the country’s largest urban freshwater wetlands.
While you visit the lake, you can enjoy plenty of amenities, such as parking spaces, a covered shelter, a paved walkway, and restrooms.
The lake has a paved wheelchair-accessible path for disabled individuals. The lake is worth a visit for boaters, wildlife lovers, walkers, bicyclists, birders, and anglers.
If you are into non-motorized boating, this is an ideal recreational spot for you. From canoes to kayaks to outriggers, you can enjoy all types of non-motorized boating here.
Perfect for canoeing and kayaking
Variety of non-motorized boating options
Accessible amenities for visitors
Peaceful urban wetland setting
Limited motorized boating opportunities
Seasonal weather restrictions for boating
Must Do Things
At Smith Lake in Oregon you're in for an unforgettable adventure on the water. Rent a canoe or kayak and explore the serene and picturesque lake
If you're a fishing enthusiast you're in for a treat at Smith Lake. Cast your line into the lake's waters and you might reel in a catch to brag about
The paved walkways of Smith Lake and the surrounding trails are perfect for biking. Hop on your bicycle and explore the wetlands.
Located on the north side of Reed College, Reed Lake is the oldest naturally occurring lake in the city. The lake lies in the heart of the Reed Canyon, a watershed that extends east to west, covering an area of 28 acres.
There’s a beautiful nature trail that runs beside the lake, which is ideal for both hiking and sightseeing.
Reed Lake is what makes Reed Canyon worth a visit. The lake is accessible via two pedestrian bridges and a land bridge. It is worth visiting, particularly during winter when the water is layered with a light dusting of snow, which makes the view even more beautiful.
As you stroll across the lake, you will get to see plenty of wildlife, including nutria, ducks, beavers, and muskrats.
Scenic nature trail for hiking
A tranquil atmosphere
Oldest naturally occurring lake
Offers beautiful and unique views during winter
Limited accessibility in winter
Possible seasonal wildlife disruptions
Must Do Things
Explore the nature trail that meanders alongside the lake allowing you to immerse yourself in the peaceful natural surroundings
Visit Reed Lake during the winter months to witness its unique charm. The lake takes on a breathtaking appearance with a delicate layer of snow adding to its allure
Explore the history and unique geological features of this ancient aquatic gem surrounded by the lush landscape of Reed Canyon.
Jewett Lake lies in the interior of the Island State Recreation Area near Portland. It is a freshwater lake that houses a large variety of wildlife, including birds, bats, turtles, and salamanders.
Jewett Lake is only accessible by boats and offers fishing, camping, and hiking. However, you will require a permit to hike the tricky trails in the area.
The lake is heavily fished for salmon, whitefish, grayling, trout, and char. The lake has a 208-foot-long frontage, which makes it a perfect summer picnic spot with amenities like picnic tables, barbecue grills, and pit toilets.
If you’re into boating, you can indulge in various non-powered watercraft, including sailboating, canoeing, paddling, and kayaking.
Boating and fishing opportunities
Tranquil atmosphere for relaxation
Scenic pond with wildlife
Permit required for hiking
Limited access by boat
Must Do Things
Plan a memorable camping trip surrounded by the beauty of the wilderness. Additionally hiking enthusiasts can explore the rugged trails but remember to obtain a permit
Enjoy a delightful lakeside picnic experience along Jewett Lake's 208-foot shoreline. Bask in the Oregon sunshine while savoring your favorite outdoor meals
Unleash your inner adventurer by opting for non-powered watercraft activities like sailboating canoeing paddling and kayaking.
River Forest Lake
Located a few miles away from Oak Grove in Clackamas County, River Forest Lake is a famous picnic spot among fishing enthusiasts.
However, you may not want to take your children fishing here as the lake is overpopulated with some dangerous fish species.
The greenery surrounding the lake is mesmerizing. You will also come across plenty of fauna there, such as water birds and ducklings. If you want to enjoy a few hours of solitude, this low-traffic lake may be an ideal spot for you.
Attracts water birds and ducklings
Solitude away from the crowds
A low-traffic and peaceful atmosphere
Over-populated with dangerous fish
Not recommended for children
Must Do Things
River Forest Lake offers an ideal fishing experience for enthusiasts. Cast your line into its tranquil waters and savor the thrill of reeling in your catch
For those seeking solitude this low-traffic lake provides a peaceful retreat. It's the perfect place to unwind relax and escape the hustle
Take a stroll or sit by the lakeside to enjoy a book or simply bask in the serene atmosphere.
Blue Lake Regional Park
Blue Lake Regional Park is a recreational park in Fairview, in the Multnomah County of Oregon. The park has many covered and uncovered picnic areas and playgrounds for different sports. It also offers other recreational activities, such as fishing, swimming, and boating.
Blue Lake Regional Park houses a beautiful lake, three ponds, wooded areas, and a wetland. The park also has paved pathways and trails well-suited for hiking and biking.
The place is worth a visit for hikers, birders, and wildlife lovers. The park is ornamented with exquisite verdure that includes cottonwoods, willows, cattails, and other wetland plants.
Scenic lake for water activities
Ample picnic and play area
Hiking and biking trails
Offers versatile sports facilities
Must Do Things
Dive into the inviting waters of Blue Lake for a refreshing swim or bring your fishing gear to catch some local fish. Boating enthusiasts can rent a kayak
Explore the diverse ecosystems through its paved pathways and hiking trails. These trails offer a chance to observe local flora and fauna
Create lasting memories with your family through activities like frisbee volleyball or a leisurely game of catch. The facilities cater to all.
Doane Lake is a high-elevation lake located on the south of Cathedral Park, near Block Northwest Saint Helens. It is a freshwater lake with a dense population of fish belonging to the Sunshine family of ray-finned fish.
It is heavily angled for smallmouth bass and black crappie.
Doane Lake is home to graceful, divine, and majestic swans, geese, and ducks, among other aquatic birds. The mahogany trees surrounding the lake make it an out-and-out photography spot. The place has a romantic touch and is an ideal picnic spot for couples.
Abundant smallmouth bass and crappie fishing
It is an ideal picnic spot for couples
Tranquil photography with swans
A high-elevation serene escape
High elevation possible weather challenges
Limited variety of fish
Must Do Things
Escape the hustle and bustle of the city and embrace the romantic ambiance of Doane Lake. It's the perfect setting for a romantic picnic with your loved one
Enjoy the company of graceful swans majestic geese and an array of ducks at Doane Lake
Capture the essence of Doane Lake's natural beauty by exploring the mahogany trees that encircle the area.
Located in the Willamette Valley, Mud Slough is a wetland that extends 2.5 acres to the west of Rickreall. It features water habitats for cattails, sedges, rushes, and willow.
While the place can be visited for afternoon strolls, it is not an ideal picnic spot as there are no sheltered campsites.
Most of the area of Mud Slough is covered with ryegrass. In the heart of the wetland, there lies a pond that houses unique varieties of aquatic wildlife.
Though the place may not be an ideal spot for barbecues, it’s a must-see for wildlife lovers and nature enthusiasts.
Natural beauty and serenity
Peaceful afternoon strolls
Rich aquatic wildlife
No sheltered picnic areas
Limited recreational facilities
Not suitable for barbecues
Must Do Things
Explore the 2.5 acres of wetland where cattails sedges rushes and willows create a picturesque landscape
For those interested in ecology and wetland ecosystems Mud Slough is an open-air classroom. Learn about the flora and fauna that thrive in this unique environment
Gain a deeper understanding of the importance of wetland preservation and environmental conservation.
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Scott Balaam – writer and photographer
Scott started his travelling life back in 1999, when he headed off on a solo jaunt to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia with just a backpack, a camera and a spirit for adventure. After that, the travel bug bit hard and now he is always seeking to head off somewhere new. Over the years he has lived in Italy, Qatar, Australia, Ireland, UK and the USA but his spiritual home will always be Rome as this is the city which most satisfies his unrelenting thirst for culture, good food and great football. In his spare time Scott loves nothing better than to be behind the camera and also runs his own blog and Instagram page. He also counts Melbourne, the rest of Italy, Amsterdam, USA, Athens, Cape Town and Tel Aviv among his favourite places. Find Scott on Linkedin, Instagram, or Twitter.