Ask Steve Lambert which local lake he would prefer being stranded at for two weeks, and he wants to know the time of year.

Ask Steve Lambert which local lake he would prefer being stranded at for two weeks, and he wants to know the time of year.

"If it were July or August, I'd pick Howard Prairie because it's at 4,500 feet and a lot cooler than the valley," Lambert said. "Now, if it were in January, I'd prefer Emigrant Lake."

In reality, Lambert, the Jackson County Parks program manager, who oversees activity at Howard Prairie, Emigrant, Willow and Agate lakes, regularly gets his pick of the lot.

"I love them all," said the five-year county parks veteran.

When it comes to enjoying lakes in Southern Oregon, people have a lot of options, from the small, remote Babyfoot Lake in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness to the 25-mile-long Klamath Lake on the eastern slope of the Cascades.

Power boaters, waterskiers, jet skiers, trolling fishermen, row boaters, canoers and stand-up paddleboarders, sailboarders and rowing crews can all find their place.

Jackson County operates facilities at four lakes, and each has morphed into distinct use, reflecting the terrain and climate, Lambert said.

"You will find your water ski and power boats at Emigrant Lake; Howard Prairie is more angling and sailing; Willow Lake is mainly for fishing; and Agate Lake is for small, electric motor boats and bird watchers."

Howard Prairie has long attracted sailboat captains and crews from up and down the coast for races and mere recreation runs.

"The nature of the wind patterns make it a prime sailing lake," Lambert said. "The long shape provides room for larger boats to maneuver."

The resort at the reservoir off Hyatt-Prairie Road has new shower and restrooms this year, and the Willow Point boat ramp has been extended, as well.

The uniqueness of Emigrant Lake is its proximity to the majority of the county's population, just a few minutes up Highway 66 from Ashland. The lake covers 1,467 acres, including 12 miles of lake frontage, and the county park offers RV/tent camping, swimming, picnicking, hiking, rock climbing, a playground and a 280-foot, twin-flume water slide.

"It's a convenient, large water body with all the typical things you would find in a park, including manicured grass and a water slide," Lambert said.

Last spring a new recreation option was introduced to Emigrant, Liquid Blue stand-up paddleboard rentals.

Willow Lake, near the western base of Mount McLoughlin and a few miles up the road from Butte Falls, has cabins and yurts — available from mid-April to October.

Agate Lake, below the northeast flank of RoxyAnn Peak, provides quiet bass fishing and non-motorized boating. Waterfowl and other birds frequent the park, and best of all, there is no entrance fee.

"It's a nice warm-water fishery close to Medford," Lambert said. "There are trout in the early season. It's really popular for birders because of the great wetlands and sloughs."

Because it is a storage reservoir for irrigation, the best time of the year for exploring Agate Lake is spring and early summer.

"It's full right now, but when the irrigation needs come late in the summer, it will be a puddle," Lambert said.

While the county-run lakes are popular, they're far from the only destinations for lake lovers.

North of the Rogue-Umpqua Divide, Diamond Lake, near the junction of state highways 230 and 138, has long been a favorite spot for anglers. The lake has so many fish — and big ones — that state wildlife officials upped the daily limit to eight trout, the highest bag limit in Oregon.

It's also a magnet for campers, cyclists, kayakers and paddleboarders, plus it's the jumping-off point for day hikes up Mount Thielsen and Mount Bailey.

"It gets pretty crowded around the Fourth of July," said Dave Planalp, whose tenure at Diamond Lake goes back more than four decades. "There will be 100 to 150 boats out on the lake during the summer."

An 11-mile bike patch encircles the lake, connecting three campgrounds, the resort, marina and dining areas.

While there is a 10 mph speed limit on Diamond Lake, a short ways west on Highway 138, Lemolo Lake provides speed-boat, waterskiing and jet-ski options.

About halfway between Medford and Klamath Falls, two lakes off Highway 140 offer a chance for cooler breezes when the heat of summer settles on the valley floor.

Fish Lake and Lake of the Woods, just a few miles apart, are both good options for fishermen, both have marinas that offer boat rentals, and both are surrounded by hiking trails if you have non-anglers in your party.

For anglers, both lakes also offer options beyond garden-variety rainbow trout.

Lake of the Woods is a natural lake that produces kokanee and some nice brown trout, and it is one of the rare lakes in Oregon where night fishing is allowed.

Fish Lake is stocked with tiger trout, which must be released unharmed, and chinook salmon, which can be kept as part of the daily trout limit.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, friend him on Facebook and read his blog at Edge.