The overwhelming scent of cedar and pine was the first thing to hit me, a one-two punch of Oregon forest right in the nose.
My sister and I were 141 miles southeast of Portland, and we had been driving all afternoon after one of those hellish car rental experiences that makes you vow to never rent again. I was coming off of a week of nonstop meetings and emails; she was coming off of a string of disappointing dates.
In other words, we were ready for trees.
I’d heard about Suttle Lodge the year before and had been immediately taken by what it promised: incredible food and an Ace-like feel (it was designed by the folks behind Portland’s Ace Hotel), served up in a lakeside lodge that’s smack in the middle of the Deschutes National Forest. But this was the lodge’s first summer as a fully operational resort, and I wanted to experience it in all its camplike glory. I pictured early-morning hikes and late-afternoon paddles; games and beers at night and early bedtimes that don’t make you feel old, but rather like you’re living with the seasons.
As we headed into the driveway that leads to Suttle Lodge, I rolled down my window and there it was: salvation, in the form of cedar and pine.
Driving into the lodge, it feels like you’re driving into a campsite—in fact, there’s a campground located on the opposite side of the lake. As we pulled up to the main lodge, the camp vibe became even more apparent. There’s the grand Craftsman-style lodge, hewn from fir trees, with massive front doors carved with Native American symbols by local artist J. Chester Armstrong. Surrounding it are eight small camp cabins perfect for two or three people and six larger cabins with multiple bedrooms, running water, and barbecues. And in the distance, we could see the sun shimmering on the lodge’s crown jewel: Suttle Lake. We settled in quickly and easily—tucked into a large lake-facing room in the main lodge—and made an immediate beeline for the water.
The property sits right on the edge of the alpine lake, which is 235 acres of incredibly clear, glacial water. All you can see from the lodge’s dock are trees—and once you’re out on the lake, even the lodge is nearly obscured by green. We had initially planned to explore the nature-rich area, using Suttle Lodge as a jumping-off point. But we quickly discovered that we just wanted to be. We wanted to see what the lake looked like at dawn while sitting on the dock with coffee in hand and watch the stars blink on at night from that very same spot.
Everything we needed and wanted was right there, from the kayaks available for rent and the massive store of board games to the on-point cocktails and breakfast-lunch-and-dinner menu dreamed up by Joshua McFadden, the chef at Portland’s much-praised Ava Gene’s. (I still think about the pizza we ate one night: a toasted cracker crust topped with kale, pepperoni, and smoked mozzarella.)
One day, we rented kayaks with the intention of spending half the day on the water and the other half hiking at a nearby trailhead. That plan lasted about five seconds. Instead, we kayaked and swam all day, crashing out on the tiny lake beaches when we wanted to read and paddling back to the lodge whenever we felt hungry.
One morning, we ran the 3.5-mile loop that circles the lake, passing the campground and stumbling upon the path that leads all the way into Sisters, the main town. We thought about hiking it, but our books weren’t going to read themselves, were they?
Toward the end of our visit, the fantasies that come with true relaxation started to kick in. Could I live out here? Or maybe just buy a summer home? Or, once back in San Francisco, could I join a rowing crew so I could wake up and get out on the water first thing during the day?
You probably know the end of this story: I didn’t move there. I did not buy a summer cabin. And I have not joined a rowing team. Instead, on our last day, we returned our kayaks for the final time, ate our very last breakfast sandwich with eggs and sautéed greens, and packed up our things.
A couple of months have passed. I’m back to emails; my sister is back to the dating apps. But there’s this little calm spot inside me whenever I think of the lake. I picture the lodge and the water and the lodge and the trees, and I’m right back there, inhaling the scent of summer freedom.
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