Campers sing at morning worship during the elementary explorers camp at Suttle Lake Camp this summer.

by Greg Nelson

This year marks 100 years since outdoor ministry began at Suttle Lake Camp. A Labor Day Weekend event will celebrate the generations of campers and leaders that have passed through the forest 14 miles west of Sisters, Oregon in the Deschutes National Forest.

Carl Watts and his truck in the 1920s at what is now Suttle Lake Camp.

Beginning as an outdoor adventure for Methodist Church of Madras members in 1920, the first of many Epworth League Institutes in 1922 provides a beginning marker for ministry to youth and adults over the century. From that outpost beginning, the camp site and programs have grown and evolved to have lodges, cabins, and lakeside facilities that have been a place of discovery for all ages through summer youth events, seasonal retreats, snow adventures and community outreach.

The celebration will span the Labor Day weekend beginning Friday evening, September 2nd.

Saturday, September 3rd will be an open house filled with activities, historical displays, storytelling and, of course, an evening campfire.

Sunday will include outdoor worship, a Suttle Lake family picnic, and more activities.

The camp is ready to welcome guests for the entire weekend with a range of lodge rooms or cabin choices. In addition, there are options for single night or day visitors. A sliding scale based on age and a family maximum price all help to make this a great event for the whole family.

The last 100 years hold an amazing amount of history for Suttle Lake Camp. Lives have been changed, relationships built, ministry carriers born, and an enduring understanding of Christ’s power to heal, grow, and transform has been created over the years.

Summer Institute meetings continued into the 1950’s eventually evolving into a program of summer youth camps and outings by Methodist Youth Fellowship and United Methodist Youth groups to the site. Over the years specialty programs have enhanced the traditional year schedule. Some of those include Transformational Prayer Retreat, Japanese Camp, quilting events and Strength for the Journey.  Partnering with numerous non-profits has allowed the camp to serve the larger community alongside schools, faith-based organizations, 12 step groups, and more.  Crook County School District has called Suttle Lake Camp it’s home for outdoor school since the early 60’s and is one of the oldest programs recognized in Oregon.

The Suttle Lake Institute gathering in 1948 held in the Pioneer Lodge.

From the early days of camping in canvas tents, the site has grown to include Pioneer Lodge (1947) and Wesley Meadow Lodge (1981), The Nellie Watts Welcome Center (2012), cabins, shower houses and activity pavilions.

Over the years the original five-acre lease with the US Forest Service has grown to the current 30-acre special use permit. The camp works closely with the Forest Service on maintaining a master plan and forest management.

The look of the forest has changed since 1922. In 2002 the Cache Mountain fire came close enough to trigger an evacuation of campers and staff. The next year The B and B Complex Fire licked the edges of camp, with the only loss a teepee at the southeast edge of camp. In all, the B and B Complex burned 90,769 acres and fire fighters battled the blaze for 34 days.

The look of camp has changed. Over the years the forest has been thinned to control insect infestations and managing the forest. In 2020 a major thinning took out diseased and at-risk trees, changing the landscape of the camp once again. Now new trees are seeing sunlight and growing into spaces opened for new generations.

The Suttle Lake Site Committee and staff hope everyone with an interest in Suttle Lake will be able to join in the celebration for the entire weekend or just a day.

Register online to attend at the website. If you are not able to attend, but wish to support the ministry of Suttle Lake Camp, you can also make a donation at

Contact Suttle Lake at 541-595-6663 or for more information.

Resource links:

Learn more about the history of Suttle Lake Camp.

Learn more about Suttle Lake Camp today.

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