Detroit Lake State Recreation Area has an ideal lakeside setting within the Cascade Mountains with numerous outdoor activities along with a nine-mile lake and close to 300 campsites, many of them offering partial or full hookups for motorhomes. Located 18 miles east of Mill City, Oregon, Detroit Lake State Recreation Area was created in 1953 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed the Detroit Dam. The 469-acre recreation area was named after the local community of Detroit where many people from Michigan had settled.
The area surrounding Detroit Lake State Recreation Area was originally the homeland to the Warm Springs Indian Tribe. The tribe first encountered European settlers that were from the Hudson Bay Company looking for furs to trap and trade. During the late 1800s, the area west of Idanha was used as a portion of the Oregon Pacific Railroad that was constructed and owned by Thomas Hogg. When Detroit Lake was created in the 1950s, a portion of the railroad line was submerged forever.
Today, Detroit Lake State Recreation Area is a hotbed of watersport activities in the summertime with great fishing, water skiing, and three swimming beaches. In the winter time, the recreational area springs to life with winter sports from snowshoeing and cross-country skiing to snowmobiling and ice fishing.
The weather at Detroit Lake State Recreation Area is ideal for RVers and brings summertime temperatures in the high 70s with minimal rainfall. Winter temperatures hover in the 30s and are accompanied by up to six inches of snow monthly.
You can access Detroit Lake State Recreation Area from Oregon State Highway 22, which is also known as North Santiam Highway. Traveling east to the recreation area from Mill City you will encounter an easy drive until you reach Niagara. At this point, you can expect slow going through the steep and winding roads associated with the Cascade Mountains. You will encounter several curves when you reach the western end of the lake where you will need to use the turnouts to keep traffic flowing at a steady pace.
From here you follow the shoreline of the lake until you reach the Mongold Day Use Area where you will encounter congestion on most days. Traveling from east to west is a little more difficult. From Idanha go west along Highway 22 until you reach Detroit where you will encounter typical city traffic. There is a bridge just after you pass Detroit that will be cumbersome to navigate. The area also has a hairpin turn which will be hard for big rigs to maneuver. Once in the campground, the two-way road is not that difficult. There are typical curves and turns associated with each loop. You can expect congestion near the two boat ramps within the recreation area. Be aware while driving along Highway 22 and with the campground for pedestrians, bicyclists, and children playing near their campsites.
Detroit Lake State Recreation Campground consists of eight loops that are connected by a two-way road. There are 103 campsites with full hookups and another 68 campsites with partial hookups of water and electricity available for motorhomes. In addition, there are 96 tent sites which are also available for RVers without hookups. The campground is heavily forested offering plenty of privacy and shade at each campsite. Each campsite is furnished with a fire ring, picnic table, and gravel parking pad which may require leveling. Motorhomes and trailers are restricted to 65 feet in length and not all campsites can accommodate larger rigs.
There is no dump station located within the campground. The nearest dump station is 20 miles to the west near Mill City. Please do not dump full holding tanks at your campsite. The campground has plenty of amenities including flush toilets, showers, horseshoe pits, playground, basketball courts, volleyball area, and access to Detroit Lake. Quiet hours are from 10:00 p.m. until 7:00 a.m. Generators are not allowed. Pets are welcome but must be restrained by a six-foot leash at all times.
You need to put your rod and reel in your rig when you visit Detroit Lake State Recreation Area. Fishing from the shoreline and from boats is one of the more popular things to do at the recreation area. You can expect to catch species like rainbow trout, brown trout, catfish, and landlocked salmon such as kokanee and chinook. Shoreline fishing can be done from the fishing dock located near the F Loop in the campground. There is a boat ramp at the G Loop for those who wish to troll the waters that are 400 feet deep at spots in the lake. Please check Oregon state regulations for bag and size limits before you dip your line.
Watersports are an ideal activity at the recreation area in the summer time. Water skiing is popular with a boat ramp located at the G Loop and there are three boat docks which are first-come, first-served. Kayakers and canoers can find easy access from almost every loop within the campground. Swimming is also popular at the lake with three designated swim beaches. There are no lifeguards on duty and swimmers should take caution of the cold and sometimes tumultuous water created by the waves of boats on the lake.
Bring your hiking boots in your campervan because there are plenty of trails to explore in the recreation area. Individuals can hike the shoreline of the lake for incredible views of the Cascade Mountains and of the majestic snow topped Mt. Jefferson. You can also hike the almost three miles of trails around the campground which offer interpretive signs about the local history and ecosystem of the region. Another excellent hike is to follow the Tumble Ridge Trail which takes you to Dome Rock and Tumble Lake.
Winter sports at Detroit Lake State Recreation Area are a perfect activity when the temperatures turn cold. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are ideal around the three-mile campground trail that offers a meandering terrain that is not difficult. Snowshoeing is also popular along the Tumble Ridge Trail and if you like motorized snow sports such as snowmobiling you will find plenty of trails in the adjacent Willamette National Forest. Ice fishing is also possible at Detroit Lake but check the thickness before you step out on to the frozen lake to fish or ice skate.
Everyone should have a pair of binoculars in their rig as viewing wildlife at Detroit Lake State Recreation Area is a perfect way to spend a day. There are a couple of nice viewing spots along the lake where you can see birds such as osprey, bald eagles, kingfishers, and plenty of migrating waterfowl traveling south for the winter. In the meadows around the lake, you can expect to spot Roosevelt elk, mule deer, an occasional black bear, and bobcats in the evening hours.
Fall colors are abundant at Detroit Lake State Recreation Area. The surrounding forests in the Cascade Mountains boast brilliant colors from a variety of tree species. While you are there, you can expect to see everything from hemlocks and Douglas fir to oak and maple to aspen and alder trees. The kaleidoscope of colors fills the mountain sides with greens, reds, yellows, and orange as you gaze out upon the gorgeous scenery. Take some binoculars in your RV to make sure you get a glimpse of snow-topped Mt. Jefferson.