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Big Cliff Lake & Lake Olallie in Oregon

Trip Overview

Oregon is known for its plenitude of local, state and national parks, national forests and other outdoor wonders. There are nearly endless opportunities for camping, hiking, and fishing. There are also countless lakes and rivers for canoeing or kayaking. All this is in addition to a fabulous coast with many bays and harbors to enjoy.

My wife and I are new to Oregon, so we've just started to explore, but already we've discovered three beautiful, small lakes. They are located in central Oregon, an easy 50-60 mile drive east from Salem on highway 22. For those unfamiliar with Oregon, Salem's the capitol and is located about 50 miles south of Portland.

The first and closest to Salem is Big Cliff Lake. It is one of two lakes resulting from damming some small creeks, the Breitenbush and the North Santiam Rivers. Big Cliff is the smaller of the two and located downstream of the larger Detroit lake.

You can paddle on either Detroit or Big Cliff, but Detroit attracts numerous motorboats and personal watercraft. Unless you can tolerate the noise and chaotic energy of these folks and their machines, you have to catch Detroit on a quiet weekday. If you do, it offers many opportunities for exploration and enjoyment.

Big Cliff, on the other hand, is much smaller and only affords one or two access points for the occasional small fishing boat or paddlers like ourselves. It is relatively narrow, carving its way between two hilly rises on either side. The scenery is beautiful, the water clear and the wildlife abundant. Most of the times I've been up there, I've only seen one other boat; it's been quiet and peaceful.

Our second discovery is Lake Olallie, which is a bit farther up highway 46 highway from Salem. This puts it a bit closer than Big Cliff if you're coming down from Portland. Lake Olallie is larger than Big Cliff, but smaller than Detroit. However, there are numerous small inlets and coves with ducks and other wildlife.

The water in Olallie is crystal clear and you can see to the bottom in most places. It's a 13-mile drive off the main road, but there's plentiful camping, a small store and cabins for those so inclined (

Another nice feature of this area is several other smaller, but beautiful and more remote lakes, like Monon or Timber lakes.

The paddling on Detroit, Big Cliff and Olallie is straightforward unless it's windy. Detroit and Big Cliff are deep, but Olallie is often shallow, so you have to be careful if you're in Kevlar or glass because sometimes there are sharp rocks just below the surface. Big Cliff allows motors, but it's small enough that only small fishing boats visit. Olallie is motor-free, so you can paddle in peace.

These two lakes are delightful and restful places to go for an afternoon of quiet, peaceful time on the water. The fishing is reported to be good in both and I recommend them to anyone who lives or travels in the area.

  • Duration: Day Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking, Canoeing
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: Flat/Sheltered Water
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip