Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway


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Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway

Discover the year-round wonders of Central Oregon’s scenic gem

In the hub of Central Oregon lies the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, often referred to as Cascade Lakes Highway. Here, you’ll discover a spectacular treasure trove of natural beauty and outdoor activities, making it a year-round destination. 

Take a drive along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, a perfect day trip from Bend. This summer route winds through the Deschutes National Forest, offering panoramic views of rugged, snow-capped peaks like Mt. Bachelor, South Sister, and Broken Top, as well as glittering high alpine lakes. This National Scenic Byway is also a gateway to countless outdoor adventures within a breathtaking landscape.

Under the summer sun, the Cascade Lakes Highway offers hiking and biking along breathtaking trails, paddling on alpine lakes, camping under starry skies, and fishing for colorful trout. As the snow blankets the region, the area transforms, offering Nordic skiing and snowshoeing across quiet landscapes and downhill skiing or snowboarding at Mt. Bachelor. Each season brings its own set of adventures, making the highway a year-round destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

Pro Tip

Check for seasonal road closures and access. In the winter and early spring, the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway closes to cars beyond Mt. Bachelor, marked by a closed gate. Typically, the road opens again in mid-May or June and closes in late October to mid-November, depending on snowpack. Since weather varies yearly, check Deschutes County road closures for current information on opening and closing dates.

View from the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway in Bend, OR

Take a drive 

Traversing through the heart of towering peaks and picturesque lakes, the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway is a journey through Central Oregon’s splendor. Showcasing the awe-inspiring vistas of Mt. Bachelor, Broken Top, South Sister, and 14 sparkling alpine lakes, it’s a route that will leave you breathless.

Unwind beside a string of alpine gems. Each lake along the Cascade Lakes Highway boasts its own personality.  Start your journey with a short hike around Todd Lake. Next, admire the crystal-clear turquoise waters of Devil’s Lake before soaking on the relaxing shores of Sparks Lake. Next, Elk Lake—a haven for relaxation and water adventures—awaits with its expansive beauty.

For a quieter escape, explore hidden coves at Hosmer and Lava Lakes. Little Lava, Cultus, and Little Cultus Lakes offer off-the-beaten-path adventures. Anglers and nature lovers will find paradise at Crane Prairie and Wickiup Reservoirs.

Davis Lake promises peace, while the Twin Lakes buzz with family fun. Together, these diverse lakes create a vibrant kaleidoscope of activities, wildlife sightings, and breathtaking scenery—the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway—a quintessential Oregon adventure.

The picturesque drive covers 66 miles and typically takes three to five hours to complete. The byway’s season typically runs from June to November, with the opening depending on snowfall levels. The Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway makes for an ideal day trip on your Bend vacation, showcasing the best of Central Oregon. It’s a haven for hikers, birdwatchers, paddlers, or anyone who loves to absorb the natural beauty from the comfort of their car.

The drive begins from Bend in the north or Crescent Lake in the south, winding through untouched forests and striking volcanic landscapes. For ideas on activities or navigating the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, download this interpretive tour map.  

A hike in the Central Cascades near Bend, OR

Summer recreation

The summer months bring the Cascade Lakes Highway to life with sunshine-filled outdoor activities like hiking, paddling, fishing, and biking. 

Hiking is one of the biggest draws, with miles of trails winding through the Deschutes National Forest leading to mountain peaks, alpine lakes, and tranquil moments on the trail. 

If you’re looking for a more challenging hike, South Sister, which is 11 miles roundtrip with 4,000 feet of elevation gain, and Green Lakes Trail at 9 miles roundtrip with 1000 feet of elevation gain, offer spectacular vistas that are well worth the steep, but stunning trek. Both trails require a Central Cascades Wilderness Permit. For something more accessible and family-friendly, check the Ray Atkeson Trail, which leads you through one of Oregon’s most scenic and photographed lakes: Sparks Lake. Or enjoy a short and sweet hike around Todd Lake. It’s a flat 1.6-mile loop around the picturesque lake that makes for a great picnic spot. 

SUPping on the Cascade Lakes highway

For water lovers, dive into the abundance of lakes, each with its own unique beauty and recreational activities. Devil’s Lake, with its crystal-clear aqua waters and serene environment, is perfect for standup paddle boarding, kayaking, or taking a refreshing dip. Meadows, marshes, and iconic peaks like South Sister and Mt. Bachelor surround Sparks Lake. It’s an ideal spot for bird watching, paddling, swimming, and fishing. Please note that only non-motorized boats are allowed. 

A family hangs out by the shore of Elk Lake in Bend, Oregon.

Elk Lake offers activities like angling, windsurfing, and kayaking, set against a backdrop of the Three Sisters and Mt. Bachelor. Elk Lake Resort has lakeshore cabanas, floating docks, and a summer concert series. Accommodations include cabins and glamping tents. Just down the road is Hosmer Lake, a haven for anglers and nature lovers alike. Here, you’ll find excellent fly fishing and paddling options amidst breathtaking scenery. Finally, Cultus Lake provides a more adventurous setting, with opportunities for water skiing, jet skiing, and other water sports, alongside resorts that offer comfortable accommodations and amenities for a relaxing stay.

If you’re planning an overnight stay, plenty of camping and lodging options are available. Discover a host of Deschutes National Forest campgrounds, including options at Crane Prairie, Lava Lake, Elk Lake, and Hosmer Lake. You’ll find options ranging from secluded tent-only sites to convenient RV hookups. These charming campgrounds, nestled among lush forests and close to crystal-clear lakes, typically welcome visitors from mid-April to mid-September, depending on snow. They are quite popular, so be sure to make your reservations in advance, especially in the summer.

In addition to these public campgrounds, the area features private resorts like Twin Lakes, Elk Lake, and Crane Prairie Resorts. These resorts offer a range of accommodations, from rustic cabins and spacious RV sites to traditional tent sites. Enjoy amenities like lake-side restaurants, general stores, boat rentals, and ramps for easy lake access. 

Mountain biking at Mt Bachelor Bike Park

Mt. Bachelor offers a plethora of summer activities. The Bike Park features over 13 miles of lift-access trails for beginner to advanced riders. Bike rentals and lessons are available. Disc golf enthusiasts can enjoy an 18-hole course with unique mountainous terrain, requiring tickets for lift access or an adventurous hike. The ZipTour zip line offers thrilling rides with self-controlled speeds, available until early October. Hiking options include challenging routes to Mt. Bachelor’s summit with breathtaking views, or take a chairlift part way up the mountain and enjoy a shorter hike to the top. Pine Marten Lodge provides mountaintop dining with stunning vistas, complementing any day’s activities with a gourmet meal and scenic lift rides back to the base.

Ski touring near Todd Lake in the Central Cascades

Winter recreation

Winter paints the Cascade Lakes Highway into a sparkling wonderland. Beyond the downhill thrills at Mt. Bachelor, sno-parks transform this route into a haven for Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, fat biking, and more.

For the classic cross-country ski experience, glide along meticulously groomed trails at Virginia Meissner, with options for all levels and even a backcountry shelter. Prefer a more relaxed pace? Explore the ungroomed but scenic trails at Swampy Lakes, perfect for snowshoeing or a family outing. For a dose of adrenaline, hit the extensive network of snowmobile trails at Edison Sno-Park. Or, challenge yourself on the intermediate to advanced Nordic trails. 

Sledding at Wanoga Snow Play Area in Bend, OR

If you’re new to winter sports, Wanoga Snow Play Area offers gentle terrain for beginning skiers, plus snowshoeing, fat biking trails, and a thrilling sledding hill—and it’s dog-friendly. Dutchman Flat is the gateway to winter wonderlands like Tumalo Mountain and Todd Lake. Before you head out, remember to buy a sno-park permit. It’s required for parking at all Oregon sno-parks. Pick one up in town before you head out.

Mt. Bachelor reigns supreme for downhill skiers and snowboarders, offering vast terrain and legendary powder runs. But the winter playground extends beyond the slopes. Take a thrilling dogsled ride led by a seasoned musher, exploring the snowy backcountry in a unique way. Strap on snowshoes and embark on a guided tour led by a Forest Ranger, learning about the mountain’s ecology and soaking in breathtaking winter scenery. After a day of adventure, warm up at one of Mt. Bachelor’s on-mountain restaurants or lodges, savoring a delicious meal with stunning views. Don’t miss the chance to experience a special event, like live music or ski competitions, adding another layer of excitement to your mountain escape.

Travel tips

To make the most of your Cascade Lakes Highway adventure, check out these helpful tips:

  • Northwest Forest Pass: Required for parking at trailheads in the Deschutes National Forest. Snag your Northwest Forest Pass (valid for both Washington and Oregon) in Bend at the Visitor Center or other local retailers before your trip.
  • Central Cascades Wilderness Permits: These permits are necessary for overnight stays in the Three Sisters Wilderness. Research and secure any required permits before you go.
  • Sno-Park Permits: These permits are mandatory for parking at Oregon sno-parks from November 1 – April 30. They are your ticket to winter wonderlands for Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and more.
  • Practice the Bend Leave No Trace principles to keep the area pristine. Pack out all trash and stick to designated trails to minimize your impact. 
  • Be fire aware, especially during dry periods, and only use designated fire rings. 
  • Before you hit the road, fill up on gas, snacks, water, and other essentials. Services are minimal along the byway. Cell service can be limited along Cascade Lakes Highway. It’s a good idea to download offline maps before you hit the road or the trails. 

The journey along the Cascade Lakes Highway is filled with awe-inspiring views and thrilling activities. Whether you’re a seasoned outdoor enthusiast or looking for a serene escape, this scenic byway offers something for everyone. Remember to bring your camera, snacks, water, and a sense of adventure as you explore one of Central Oregon’s most cherished treasures.