Great Outdoors: Falling Water Levels at Wickiup Slow Summer Crowds

By Brooke Snavely
Central Oregon Daily

When it’s full, Wickiup Reservoir, about 40 miles southwest of Bend, is the largest body of water in the Deschutes basin and a recreation paradise.

When it’s low, like it is now and typically is in late summer, it gets to be a pretty quiet place.

In this week’s Great Outdoors, brought to you by Parr Lumber, we explore the highs and lows of Wickiup Reservoir.

Wickiup Reservoir did not fill this spring and is well on its way to going nearly empty for the second consecutive year. This trend of lower water levels is forcing campers, boaters and anglers to adjust by visiting the reservoir earlier in the year or going elsewhere. 

“A lot of people are attracted to water at their campsites, and when that resources disappears and recedes, some of those spots on south side of Wickiup Reservoir can be over a mile from the water when the reservoir is at 50%.:” said Kevin Foss, Lead Field Ranger, Deschutes National Forest: “It’s a simple thing. Either you don’t mind being in a great campsite a mile from the water or you move to another campsite on another lake or on the river but they are becoming challenging to locate those that aren’t already occupied.” 

There are some positives to Wickiup’s low water levels. The fish are concentrated in the remaining water and there are some big ones for anglers who know the hows and wheres. 

Look at all these empty campsites. If you want peace and quiet, now is the time. 

This is the Gull Point Boat Ramp, the last functioning improved ramp on the reservoir. As fast as the reservoir levels are dropping, even this ramp will be high and dry in a matter of days and then some boaters will take their chances launching off the shorelines which can be a little sketchy. 

“I’ve had a couple of people coming in asking for tow truck numbers. A couple of gentlemen have driven off the boat ramp over at Wickiup and gotten stuck in the mud. I heard of a boat that got high and dry on a sand bar out there. I think it’s a little hard for people who aren’t familiar with Wickiup what’s under the water out there,” said Kirsty Halliday, manager Twin Lakes Resort.

“There are a lot of shallow channels. There are definitely people who know their way around that lake and where to go but a lot of the new people don’t know where to go. We don’t want people damaging their rudders and motors. Just be careful now.”

The water levels of the nearby North and South Twin Lakes fluctuate in response to the levels of Wickiup Reservoir but not as dramatically.

“Last year the water was up to the edge of that rack. As you can see, it’s just consistently going down so we have to push our boat dock farther out,” Halliday said. “It’s a little harder for people getting in and out of the water. There’s tree stumps around this lake. They are a lot more visible than they have been in the past. 

But it doesn’t appear to be slowing people down.

“No. Mid-week this is probably an average crowd but on a Saturday the whole beach pan will be covered with people,” she said. “Because of the lower water the beach is bigger and that gives people more space to set up their tents and chairs” 

There have been some cancellations at the Twin Lakes RV park when people learned how far they would be from water’s edge, but other campers immediately grabbed those availabilities. Overall, business hasn’t been affected at Twin Lakes Resort. 

“The other lakes have all been pretty busy as well this summer. I know Crane (Prairie) had a great start to the season with fishing and they continue to be busy. Cultus Lake has been busy all season. We encourage people to go visit the other lakes and show them on the maps how to get those destinations,” she said. “With people coming from both directions we’re sort of the gateway to the lakes. I think each lake offers something different from the next. If they haven’t been there, it’s worth checking out.”

Just a few miles away, Crane Prairie Reservoir is around 75% capacity, has dozens of lakeside campsites, good fishing, paddle sports and spectacular views.

“The experience at Crane is that you can go there now. It’s at 75% plus capacity. You can still have a lot of that water-orientated recreation if you’re a fisherman, a kayaker or a canoer,” Foss said. “It’s not really a water skiing reservoir. For that you’ll need to go to Cultus, Lake Billy Chinook or Prineville Reservoir. That’s what happens… users get displaced by environmental conditions and they do other things. Whether it’s weather, mosquitos or water levels, recreational use fluctuates constantly over the summer.

 

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