The Suttle Lodge, Oregon, US: Where to have that nostalgic summer camp experience

Summer camp has a curious hold on the American psyche, perhaps because it's where many young people, shipped off on school holidays, have formative experiences: their first drink, their first kiss, their first taste of liberation away from the parental gaze. Not for nothing is summer camp immortalised in so many iconic movies, from the Addams Family Values (Camp Chippewa) to Wet Hot American Summer (Camp Firewood) to Friday the 13th (Camp Crystal Lake).

The Suttle Lodge, in Oregon's Deschutes National Forest, is designed to plug into the collective nostalgia for these sorts of places. It is summer camp for grown-ups, though children are also welcome. There is canoeing and fishing and hiking and biking and ping-pong and, in the winter, skiing and snowshoeing. There is also a bar, with cocktails like the "Interpretive Ranger".

Suttle Lake was created about 12,000 years ago. It is about one square kilometre large, and surrounded by tall fir forest and gently undulating hills. Native Americans ceded the lake to the government via treaty in 1855; it was named after a hunter named John Settle in 1866 (his name was misspelled when the lake was officially recorded as a geographic feature). Since then it has seen a variety of summer resorts, and almost as many fires.

The current lodge – an enormous wood structure in the "Cascadian rustic" style – has been here since 2005. A hospitality collective called "The Mighty Union" took over it several years ago, did a hefty renovation, and transformed it into what it is today. They also added some private cabins and a diner in the boathouse.

When I arrive, the first thing I notice is the totem pole. The second is the lodge doors: an ornate sculpture of native iconography called Eagle Dancer, by I. Chester Armstrong. (Whether these features are homage or cultural appropriation is an open question.) Inside, the main lobby is filled with comfortable chairs, board games, and a turntable playing a record by Carly Simon.

My room is wonderful – fireplace, Pendleton blanket, spa, statue of an owl – but my eye is drawn outside immediately, as it should be at summer camp. Through my window a woman is crooning folk songs on a bandstand overlooking the lake, and she is surrounded by an audience on picnic chairs and rugs. The light is already amber; sunsets seem to last longer in places like this, designed to pull on the heartstrings.

The Suttle Lodge is not a full-service hotel. Instead, it is better thought of as a sandbox: it provides all the amenities for you to create your own ideal experience. In the boathouse, for example, a small commissary sells beer, wood for fires, footballs, and everything one needs to prepare smores: marshmallows, Graham crackers and chocolate. You could theoretically roast fish over a smoking grill or sit down to fried chicken prepared by a chef. Whatever you wish.

I wish to eat a grilled cheese sandwich and drink wine under the stars. Then I go straight to bed. Early in the morning, the lodge is deserted, and I walk down to the water, past a sign saying "Be A Sportsman, Keep Your Camp Clean", and then wander off along a trail hugging the lakeside. Halfway around the circuit, the lodge is behind me, peeking through the trees. In the right light, it could still be 1866 here. That, to me, is the allure of summer camp.

TRIP NOTES

FLY

Delta Air Lines is one of many with direct flights from Australia to Los Angeles and connections through to Portland. See delta.com. The Suttle Lodge is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Portland. The closest airport is Redmond.

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STAY

The Suttle Lodge offers several levels of accommodation. Per night, rustic camp cabins with no plumbing and a communal bathroom start at $US79; rooms in the main lodge start at $US135 and a deluxe cabin, with galley kitchen and room for eight, starts at $US275. See thesuttlelodge.com

MORE

traveller.com.au/usa

traveloregon.com

Lance Richardson travelled courtesy of Travel Oregon and the Suttle Lodge.

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