The best spring experiences in Bend, Oregon
February 21, 20249 minute read
Central Oregon isn’t just a haven for outdoor enthusiasts who love its sun-kissed mountains, vast high desert, and wild rivers. It also hides a treasure trove of underground wonders. Lava tubes are one of the most striking geological features in Central Oregon. And we have lots of them!
Discover the world below with a guided trip. Or, on a hot sunny day, gather the kids and do something totally cool. Most caves around Bend are easy to get to and don’t require a long hike.
Whether you’re looking for a fun, family-friendly adventure or you’re a seasoned hiker in search of underground chambers, Central Oregon’s caves promise a unique and unforgettable experience for all ages.
Over millions of years, Central Oregon’s landscape has been molded by volcanic activity. There are said to be as many as 400 lava tubes in the area, many of which are on public lands. These caves were formed by molten lava when the Newberry Volcano erupted, and the lava flowed north. As it cooled, tunnels were created when a crust formed on the top and sides of the flow while the hot magma in the middle continued to rush north. These tunnels are called lava tubes, and the region is packed full.
Because the caves are far underground and stay at a constant temperature of around 45 degrees, there are year-round opportunities for descending into the cool darkness of these winding tunnels that were formed thousands of years ago.
There are several incredible caves to explore just minutes from Bend. Some are open to the public, and some require a permitted guided tour. We’ll dive into both. And, as a heads up, dogs are not allowed in any of the caves due to sensitive ecosystems and for their own safety.
Clothing and lighting: Even when the sun’s ablaze on a summer day, caves remain at a steady temperature of 45 degrees. Before descending into these subterranean wonders, it’s a good idea to layer up. A jacket, sweatshirt, long pants, and even a beanie paired with grippy hiking shoes make for safe and comfortable navigation. And don’t forget your fully charged headlamp or flashlight to see where you’re going and the awe-inspiring underground world around you.
If the allure of caving and spelunking with a trusted guide beckons, your journey begins with Wanderlust Tours. Central Oregon’s exclusive guide service has special permissions to unveil hidden gems of the Deschutes National Forest, otherwise inaccessible to the public. Their seasoned guides will not only walk you through the human narratives linked to these caves but also shed light on the intricate geology and ecosystems evolving within them.
Wanderlust Tours offers cave excursions year-round. Caving provides the perfect break from the mountain during your winter vacation or a breath of cool air when you’re here in the summer. Families are welcome, and tours are recommended for children five and older. Trips take around two hours and include shuttle services and essential gear like helmets and headlamps.
Formed 10,000 years ago by the Newberry Volcano, Boyd Cave is a lava tube located just 12 miles southeast of Bend off China Hat Road. It’s accessed by a small opening in the cave’s ceiling and a 20-foot set of steel stairs leading to the cave floor. Adventurers can trek this .07 out-and-back hike, admiring basalt and pāhoehoe formations and exploring this chilly underground world. Boyd Cave is open year-round.
The Lava River Cave trail is a moderate two-mile round-trip hike through Oregon’s longest, continuous lava tube! Nearly 7,000 feet. It’s located off Hwy 97, adjacent to the Lava Lands Visitor Center. Reservations are required when the cave is open to the public, from May to September. It’s a great beginner cave that the whole family can explore, with reinforcements like railings and concrete steps to guide you along the way. Lantern rentals are available at the visitor center, along with interpretive maps for a self-guided tour.
As its name suggests, the cave is adorned with natural skylights that create shafts of sunlight to penetrate its depths, creating a theatrical play of light and shadow. You’ll find ladders at the entry leading to its chamber, where you can explore this short 900-foot trek. It’s a 35-mile drive west of Bend, and because of the bumpy roads leading up to the cave, a high-clearance vehicle is recommended. Skylight Cave is only open from June through September.
Hidden Forest Cave stands out as a lava tube, but it also features a nearly 500-foot-long, 40-foot-deep hole caused by the collapse of the cave’s ceiling. As you come to the cave opening, it feels like you’re standing at a grotto where grasses, shrubs, and mighty Ponderosa Pines grow. It’s located 12 miles east of Bend, along China Hat Road. The cave is open year-round and climbing or bouldering of any kind within the cave is prohibited.
May through mid-September is the most popular time for spelunking and when most caves are open. It’s a great way to beat the heat, and roads leading to some of the more remote caves are accessible. Check out this Deschutes National Forest webpage for more information on public access and seasonal closures. No matter when you visit, be aware that most sites don’t have facilities, so make sure to grab your water, snacks, and potty breaks before you get there.
Along with the proper clothing and lighting, be aware of your surroundings. Watch where you step, as rocks can be uneven and slippery. And don’t forget to look up and around; the walls and ceilings can quickly narrow.
You may encounter wildlife like bats, insects, lizards, and even snakes. Avoid making loud noises and quick movements because they may startle cave critters. If you encounter any animals, keep your distance.
Bats, in particular, are important to the cave ecosystem and sensitive to disturbances. If you see bats in a cave, stay quiet and still, and do not shine your light directly at them. If you must pass through an area where bats are present, please do so slowly and carefully. Bats are also endangered by white-nose syndrome, a deadly fungal disease. To protect bats, avoid contact with them and their roosting sites and decontaminate your footwear and clothing if you go to caves in different areas.
Sadly, Central Oregon’s caves are not immune to human damage like graffiti and litter. So, it’s essential that we all follow Leave No Trace principles to preserve and protect these underground marvels.
One way you can help out is by attending a cave clean-up led by Wanderlust Tours. They organize an annual Cave Cleanup in the spring because they care deeply about the natural areas in and around Bend. With our collective efforts, we can ensure that the diverse vegetation and wildlife, from bats and birds to lizards, have a clean and healthy home.