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Summer Lake Adventures

Hiking, Biking and Hot Springs

Summer Lake itself is a remnant of a vast inland sea that peaked in the Pleistocene; today it shrinks and swells with the seasons. On its north end is the Summer Lake Wildlife Area, a complex of wetlands fed by the Ana River. Designated in the 1940s after a prolonged drought and enhanced with artificial islands, the refuge is an important stop for avian travelers navigating the Pacific Flyway in spring and fall. Duck hunters take over the refuge in fall, but in summer it’s popular with those bearing telephoto lenses and binoculars. You can also fish there or paddle upriver.

Cyclists will find a plethora of roads and single-track trails from which to choose, including the Fremont Tier of the Oregon Timber Trail, the southern portion of a 700-mile route that threads through Oregon’s backcountry. One 60-mile stretch skirts above Summer Lake along Winter Rim. If you don’t want to plan your own route, Paisley Adventure offers tours and shuttles, along with bike rentals and repair services.

Oregon Timber Trail. Photo Jak Wonderly. Oregon Timber Trail. Photo Jak Wonderly.

Hiking options abound, too. For wildflowers and windswept vistas, drive to the Fremont Point Day-Use Area, where you can access the Fremont National Recreation Trail. If you’re feeling especially hardy, consider the switchbacking ascent to Hager Mountain Lookout, where panoramic views await. (Note: The tower can be booked for overnight trips outside of fire season.

Farther south off of Route 31, the Chewaucan River offers stellar angling for brown and redband trout; choose from several day-use areas and campgrounds, including the popular Chewaucan Crossing, a Forest Service campground 20 miles south of Paisley.

Top off a long day of adventuring with a rejuvenating soak at Summer Lake Hot Springs, where mineral-infused water bubbles up from nearly a mile underground through a natural fault. Be aware that the springs are currently only open to overnight guests.

Summer Lake Hot Springs. Photo Jak Wonderly. Summer Lake Hot Springs. Photo Jak Wonderly.

Eat Like a Local

For casual ambiance and satisfying fare, fill up on fish and chips or tri-tip and bacon pizza on the outdoor patio of the Pioneer Saloon in Paisley, where customers first bellied up to the bar in 1883. For breakfast, lunch or dinner, visit the Flyway Restaurant at The Lodge at Summer Lake, where Oregon wine and beer are paired with steaks, seafood, and homemade breads and dessert – reservations required. For a truly special treat, book a table at the Cowboy Dinner Tree in Silver Lake, but be prepared to eat like a ranch hand: Options include a 26-ounce steak or a whole roasted chicken. Consider sleeping off dinner in one of their four rustic cabins. 

Cowboy Dinner Tree. Photo Jak Wonderly. Cowboy Dinner Tree. Photo Jak Wonderly.

The Lodge at Summer Lake, conveniently located on Route 31, offers hotel rooms and cabins overlooking a large pond stocked with bass. About 20 miles south on 31, Summer Lake Hot Springs provides both cabins and tent and RV camping in a beautiful desert setting. If you’re looking for solitude, consider booking the Fremont Point Cabin, perched on Winter Rim nearly 3,000 feet above the lake basin.


Juliet Grable is a freelance writer and volunteer firefighter who lives in Green Springs, a mountain community in Oregon’s southern Cascades. She loves exploring the region with her husband, Brint, and their dog, Roca. She’s happiest when hiking, birding, skiing or kayaking.