central oregon forest

As we welcome spring and think of creative ways to continue to enjoy the outdoors, the caves in and around Bend, Oregon should be on your must-go list.

We’ve compiled the best picks for day trips and shorter visits for families and solo explorers. Whether you want to check out the most popular spots or prefer a more isolated option, there’s a cave to fit any preference.

Sawyer Cave

Sawyer Cave is tucked away just west of Santiam Pass on Hwy 20 in Central Oregon. You are unlikely to find many other people visiting this hidden treasure. Some people have parked at the Little Nash Sno-Park and walked through the edge of the forest to get to the cave.

Boyd Cave

Boyd Cave, on the other hand, is one of the largest and best-preserved caves in Central Oregon. The good news is that it is open all year long. It is easy to access and fairly easy to explore. Metal stairs lead you to the entrance, a small opening in the cave’s ceiling and once you enter, you can walk on the flat terrain found throughout most of the cave. After you’ve covered most of the length of this lava tube, you’ll come to a section that’s just a few feet in height so you may need to resort to being on your hands and knees.

Three important tips to note: 

  1. Whether you’re a pro spelunker or fun-loving, casual adventurer, you will need a flashlight with a strong beam in this cave.
  2. Dress in your warmest attire and brace yourself for the blast of cold air once you get inside.
  3. There are no restrooms or running water, but on the bright side, there’s no fee to park.

Arnold Ice Cave

A popular cave within the system of lava tubes near Boyd Cave, Arnold Ice Cave was formed by a basalt lava flow 80,000 years ago. It is reportedly no longer accessible but it is certainly worth mentioning. 

This chilly wonder in Deschutes National Forest is always cold and icy, even on the hottest summer days. Groundwater seeps through the porous lava rock and freezes inside the cave. The entire Arnold Ice Cave System runs 4.5 miles in total. It is important to note that even when this cave is generally accessible, it is closed from November to mid-April.

Arnold Lava Tube System

Even in the best of times, this cave was tricky to access and when you eventually reached it, you had a steep descent ahead of you to get to the cave floor. If there happened to be lots of ice when you were visiting, the downward climb may have been treacherous.

The adventure doesn’t end there. The rocks at the entrance tend to be wet and slick so anyone who dared to enter had to proceed gingerly. Also, in certain parts of this lava tube, the pillars of ice in the cave are so tall and close together that it becomes hard to go farther. This cavern has always been much more challenging than Boyd Cave.

Hidden Forest Cave

Just a ten-minute walk away from Arnold Ice Cave, you’ll discover Hidden Forest Cave. It lives up to its name – it really is hidden – and it’s enchanting! Graffiti and fire-ravaged pines aside, this underground gem remains special through it all. Feel free to enter the cave and explore but no bouldering or rock climbing is allowed.

Skylight Cave

Skylight Cave is another lava tube to place on your spring/summer list because it’s closed in the colder months. It gets its name from the three “skylights”, which shine into the cave and are best seen in summer between 8:00 and 10:00 a.m.  

If you have access to a 4WD, high-clearance vehicle, that’s the best choice for the bumpy road leading to this cave. 

Recommendations

A headlamp is the ideal source of light in dark lava caves in the Bend and Sunriver regions. It allows your hands to be free to help you hold on and maintain your balance as you maneuver over and under dozens of rock formations.

Whether you have a headlamp or not, take two flashlights to be on the safe side. The last thing you want is no shortage to get lost in an underground cavern because your light went out.  

Prepare for the coldness in the caves by wearing layers. This is a great solution for coping with the temperature difference you might experience as you transition from hiking in the open to heading deeper inside the damp caves, and vice versa. 

Anyone who struggles with claustrophobia might want to limit their explorations to the cave openings only. This alternative offers the best of both worlds – a peek inside the caves to satisfy your curiosity while avoiding the narrow, dark spaces inside the lava tubes. 

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