A Wildish Escape for Mental Health
Picture this. You are enjoying a day on the lake with your family on a warm summer day in the middle of August.
The sun is out. The temperature is a perfect 78 degrees. The dark blue water is sparkling in the sun. The sky is clear. There are hills full of tall evergreen trees and volcanic rock formations surrounding you. The occasional falcon, bald eagle, or seagull flies by you, searching for its next meal in the lake.
Your kids are playing, laughing, and singing beside you. They take breaks from playing to reel in a few large trout they are catching off your boat.
You are enjoying your favorite cold beverage while you relax, enjoy the sunshine, and take in all the natural beauty around you. You aren’t wearing a mask or even thinking about a global pandemic. You are just enjoying time with your family without a care in the world.
This really happened to me, and it wasn’t last year. Nope.
This is what I was doing last week while on a family vacation to East Lake, Oregon.
The pandemic was far from my mind, especially without cell service or WIFI to ping my phone with COVID updates. And it was easy to stay safe since we spent most of our time outdoors and away from others.
We enjoyed several blissful days as a family, making memories and shutting out the world for a bit.
I cannot tell you how great this trip was for the soul and our mental health. My anxiety diminished, my body relaxed, and we all came back home refreshed.
It reinforced something I already knew. Doing something that brings you joy is both physically and mentally healthy. We need it! We can’t let this pandemic take that away from us.
For us that meant traveling someplace special. Your something could be different.
I encourage you to take some time and find that thing that brings you joy. That let’s you escape, if just for a few hours, and forget about the world we are living in right now. And do it! Safely of course.
Your mental health will thank you.
If you need inspiration where to escape, read on to learn more about East Lake, Oregon. (Yes, our family vacations at more than just Disney. But that doesn’t take away any of our love for the Mouse.)
Where is East Lake, Oregon?
East Lake is in Central Oregon, between La Pine and Sunriver off Hwy 97. It is one of two lakes that are part of the Newberry Crater in the Deschutes National Forest. East Lake and its neighbor, Paulina Lake, where formed over 500,000 years ago from volcanic eruptions.
Travel Tip: It’s a bit off the beaten path and higher in elevation. Make sure you pack warm clothing for the cool nights, even during the summer, and enough food and supplies to last you for your trip.
We do all our shopping at home before we go. That way we can avoid going into stores and restaurants on the trip, limiting our exposure to others.
Where Can You Stay?
There are several places to stay when hitting East and Paulina Lakes.
Our favorite place is East Lake Resort. They have several private cabins that can accommodate families of varying sizes. They have comfortable beds, dressers, futons, and kitchen tables and chairs.
They have their own bathrooms with running water, kitchens, and heat, and your own outdoor space with picnic table and fire pit. All your dishes, sheets, blankets, and bathroom towels are provided.
While I would describe the cabins as rustic, they are comfortable and clean.
They also have camping rooms, outdoor camping spots, and an RV park. There is a small store, restaurant, and boat rentals.
East Lake Resort is privately owned, and reservations are required. But anyone can visit for the day and enjoy the resort’s amenities.
Paulina Lake also has a private resort with similar accommodations. But I will admit having never stayed there myself.
Travel Tip: Because the lakes are in a national forest you are required to buy a recreational pass to visit. However, both Paulina and East Lake Resorts are private property. If you don’t drive your car and park in any other area, no need to buy the recreational pass.
Besides the private resorts and their camping sites, there are several camping and RV campsites that are part of the National Park system. Reservations are required and there is a nightly fee associated with them. You can find more information here.
The campsites are extremely popular, especially the ones that are lakeside. Be prepared for them to be completely booked up and make sure to make your reservations early.
What Is there to Do?
There are tons of things to do. Most activities are outdoors in a somewhat secluded area, making it easy to keep socially distant from others.
Here are some of the things you can do there:
East and Paulina Lakes are both great fishing lakes. You can do it from a boat, or the shore, it doesn’t matter. East Lake is known for its excellent fly-fishing conditions.
There are Rainbow, Brown trout, and Kokanee in the lake ready to catch. Kokanee are landlocked salmon and oh so tasty on the grill.
Travel Tip: Because the lake is a volcanic crater, there is naturally occurring mercury in the water. Do not keep and eat fish that are larger than 16 inches as the mercury content in the fish could be harmful to humans.
Whether it be your traditional motorized boats, kayak, or canoe, all are great for this lake. No Jet Skis though. There is a speed limit on the lake, so water skiing is best saved for a different lake.
The water temperature can be a bit chilly, but on a warm summer day even I have jumped in for a swim in East Lake. My kids don’t seem to care what the outside temperature is, they’ll jump in regardless!
There are several hiking trails around both East and Paulina Lakes. They aren’t particularly difficult and take you through beautiful scenery and forests. You can find the full list of hikes on this website. I highly recommend getting a map from the ranger station when you get there.
One of our favorite hikes is the Paulina Lakeshore Trail. It takes you to the Paulina Hot Springs, which are naturally occurring and right on the lake shore.
When you start the hike at the Paulina Lake Campground its about a two-mile hike through easy terrain to get to the hot springs. My four-year-old was able to make the hike on her own.
Over the years people have dug them out and put logs around the holes to make them into comfortable hot tubs. They can be extremely hot though, so take caution before getting in.
On this last trip we packed a lunch and a fishing pole and made a day out of it. We ate, relaxed in the hot water, cooled off in the cool lake water, and fished for about an hour before making the two-mile trek back to our truck. My husband caught two rainbow trout right from the shore!
We also enjoy hiking to Paulina Falls. This is an easy hike with a parking lot close by. It’s so easy you can do it with a baby strapped to your body, and the falls are gorgeous.
There are a bunch more activities you can do: mountain biking, horseback riding, and snowshoeing (obviously not in the summer).
You can hike or drive up to Paulina Peak, which offers a beautiful view of the landscape. Head up there at sunset or sunrise for an even more magical view!
If you live in Oregon, or find yourself heading in this direction, put a visit to East Lake on your to-do list. It’s a great place to spend some quality family time.
Regardless, I challenge you to think of an activity you can safely do that brings you immense joy. A way to safely escape reality for a bit and mentally recharge after this tough year. For the sake of your sanity and mental health. You won’t be sorry.
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