It is hard to sum up all of the features at Cove Palisades State Park near Culver, Oregon. With 72 miles of shoreline and majestic steep canyon walls protecting the water from winds, Lake Billy Chinook is the undeniable boating paradise of Oregon. Graced by the mild, sunny Oregon weather and a variety of day-use areas, campgrounds, and boat launches, this is going to be a seriously good time.
Two different campgrounds give you an opportunity to experience the park in different ways. The Crooked River Campground has 85 RV sites in a wide and level park-like setting close to the Cove Palisades Resort and Marina. The Deschutes Campground blends 175 tent and RV sites more naturally into the desert terrain, with boulders and interesting vegetation creating privacy. Both the campgrounds are a short hike to their own day-use area with boat launches and swimming.
Lake Billy Chinook is the main attraction, and all three day-use areas are well designed to handle busy boat and trailer traffic in the summer. There are large staging areas, multi-lane launches, and designated trailer storage lots. The state park operates the Cove Palisades Resort and offers every variety of water toys, from simple paddle boards and float tubes to adventurous wake boats, jet skis, and even full-featured houseboats.
The park boasts a variety of programs and entertainment at each of the two campground amphitheaters. There are abundant hiking and wildlife viewing opportunities throughout the area as well, and many RV visitors enjoy the park during the winter season for bird watching, photography, fishing, and hiking.
Only 45 minutes from Bend in the middle of Oregon, the Cove Palisades State Park in Jefferson County is just a short drive from Highway 97. Also known as the Dalles-California Highway, this is one of Oregon’s most important and popular corridors that stretches almost 300 miles from Washington to California. Keep your eyes open and you can see some of the awesome highlights along this road, depending on which way you come from.
Highway 97 starts at Klamath Falls in California and passes through downtown Oregon, the Upper Klamath Lake, Crater Lake National Park, and the Bend Parkway. With plenty of views of the high desert country, lava flows, and thick mature forests, you may need to pull over and take some pictures to capture the beauty. This highway is well-maintained so you should have no problem maneuvering no matter what you are driving or towing. However, once you get into the back roads, you may need to slow down and take it easy.
The Crooked River Campground is the best choice for larger RVs and trailers. Make sure that you plan ahead for boat registration, camping reservations, and fishing licenses. The nearby town of Madras has great options for dining, beer, snacks, and supplies for the lake.
The Crooked River Campground offers 88 RV sites with electric in a level, park-like setting with lots of grass and a few trees. Each site has its own picnic table that seats eight and a campfire ring with a grill for cooking. There is also a large cleared space for hanging out around the campfire and the parking pads range from 33 to 51 feet long. Make your reservations early to make sure you get the right size for your camper or popup. This campground is open year-round and offers three large restrooms with hot showers and multi-lane dump stations.
The nearby amphitheater hosts activities all summer long, and you'll have access to a volleyball courts and horseshoe pits. In addition, you can find a large boat launch and a marina just minutes away at the Crooked River Day Use Area and Cove Palisades Resort. Dogs are not left out here either as there is a large fenced area for them to play off-leash. This camp is also right by a small store and rental shop outside of the park.
Created on hilly terrain, Deschutes Campground at Cove Palisades State Park feels like high desert camping with scattered boulders and gnarled native vegetation. There are 85 RV campsites with full hookups and 91 for tents with potable water spigots nearby. Each campsite has a campfire ring with a grill for cooking, a large cleared space for sitting around the fire, and a picnic table that seats eight people. There are three full restrooms with hot showers, a dump station, laundry facilities, and a camp store. You can also find a playground, picnic areas, and an amphitheater nearby, which hosts activities all summer for kids and adults.
There is plenty to do right at the campground with two horseshoe game pits, a volleyball court, tetherball, and a fenced area where you can let your pooch off the leash to get some exercise. This is also the trail head for the Tam-a-láu Trail. In addition, there is a nearby day-use area that boasts a large beach, boat launch, and a fish cleaning station. This campground is only open from mid-May to mid-September, and reservations are highly recommended. Pad lengths range from 29 to 69 feet in length.
Enjoy outdoor adventure at the family-friendly Redmond/Central Oregon KOA. The campground is near the Haystack Reservoir, Lake Billy Chinook, Smith Rock State Park, the Peter Skene Ogden State Park, the High Desert Museum, and the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Banana bike and pedal kart rentals are available on-site as are “pebble puppy” digs for the youngest campers. The campground also offers Wi-Fi, a seasonal heated pool, recreational facilities, a dog park, and planned activities, including pancake breakfasts and weekend socials featuring locally-made ice cream.
During the off-season, flat water paddling is excellent here. The Deschutes and Crooked Rivers together provide about 30 miles of water to explore, and the lake is smooth as glass without the summer crowds. The Crooked River Water Trail is a six-mile paddling trail for paddlers of all ages and experience. You can enjoy this trail on your own, or book a guided kayak paddling excursion for a more structured and educational tour. There are several historical features under the water that were submerged after the Round Butte Dam was built in 1964. Learn all about the original campground, orchard, and homestead from the 1930s that were all flooded after the dam was installed.
There are many opportunities for hiking at this state park, ranging from easy to difficult. The quarter-mile Wetland Nature Trail Loop is best for families with small children since it is short and easy. The Crooked River Rim Trail is a bit longer at two miles out and back. This one is moderately difficult with a 210 gain in elevation, but the view is worth it. The six-mile Tam-a-láu Trail climbs to the top of one of the characteristic lava plateaus surrounded by water. The first mile is moderate to difficult getting to the top, but then relatively flat for the four miles around the plateau. The views are stunning from above, with sheer drops to the water below.
A large variety of birds, animals, reptiles, and fish make their home at the Cove Palisades State Park as well. There are special events throughout the year such as the Spring Eagle Watch, ranger walks in summer, and stargazing events in the dark central Oregon skies. The Deschutes Campground features a self-guided loop trail which leads visitors through eight interpretive stations and exhibits about native plant and animal life. The summer noise is a bit much for some critters, so the off-season is best for viewing the local wildlife.
Lake Billy Chinook is well-stocked to keep anglers smiling. Note that the lake is partially on reservation land and a separate permit is required to fish in those sections. There are lots of opportunities to fish with or without a boat because of the three day-use areas and the large marina dock. The lake is well-known for its resident bull trout, but sockeye salmon, bass, and several other species of trout are abundant here as well. Licenses and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife guides are available at the Cove Palisades Marina in the Park.
Known as one of the seven wonders of Oregon, Smith Rock has more scenery and better crags for all types of climbers from young to old, beginner to expert. Just 15 minutes from the Cove Palisades State Park, this awesome climb is popular with the locals for its view of Crooked River, Mount Hood, and Mount Bachelor. This rock is also called Monkey Face because the face resembles a smiling monkey and there are actually 19 different climbs with different monkey names. Monkey Space is rated 3.5 and has two pitches, Astro Monkey is rated 3.5 and has six pitches, and Spank the Monkey is rated four out of four. Some of these are downright treacherous, while others you can do with your eyes closed.
There is a plethora of boating space in the park with Lake Billy Chinook, the Crooked River, and the Upper Deschutes River, so make sure you hook the boat trailer up to the RV before heading out. If you do not have a boat, the Cove Palisades Resort and Marina has a variety of options for big adventures on the water. From fishing boats and wake boats to large pontoon boats and even full houseboats, there is something here that you will enjoy. However, there is limited availability, so be sure to reserve well in advance, particularly during summer weekends and major holidays.
There are three separate swim areas in the Cove Palisades State Park, one at each day-use area. The water does warm up perfectly when summer temps take off. You will see a variety of toys in use, so feel free to arrive with your own tubes, paddle boards, and floats. If you show up empty handed, all of the goods are for sale and rent at the Cove Palisades Resort and at nearby shops in Culver and Madras. Be very careful swimming outside of the designated areas, as many boats and jet skis will be zipping around.
This well-staffed park keeps each of the campground amphitheaters busy all summer long with plenty of opportunities to learn about the flora and fauna of the area. Between the Junior Ranger programs, guided hikes, scavenger hunts, and classes for nature crafts and wildlife identification, there is always something happening. Check with park employees as schedules and topics vary each year depending on who is on staff that season. This is a favorite of families with kids, because most of the activities are geared toward all ages.