The Cascade Lakes Scenic byway is one of the prettiest drives in the U.S. But it might be the most recreationally rich road you’ll ever drive too. From Bend southwest to the Highway 58 junction, the Oregon Route 372 cuts through 66 miles unique volcanic formations and geological beauty that offers everything that makes Central Oregon an outdoor lover’s paradise. Bring a camera along with a canoe, kayak, road bike, mountain bike, fishing gear, hiking shoes, skis, snowshoes, snowboards and camping equipment. This is a road you’ll want to pull off for adventure along the way. The byway starts out as Century Drive in Bend, and even before you leave the city limits, you’ll find trailheads just off the road. From small, dirt parking areas, you can explore hundreds of miles of Central Oregon mountain bike trails that are gaining traction as some of the best in the country. Mt. Bachelor even has its own downhill park that’s open during the summer.
A little further up the road you can hang a left and drive about five miles to the trailhead for Benham Falls, Dillon Falls and Lava Island along the Deschutes River trail. Continue up the byway and you’ll find winter sno-parks turned summer playgrounds. The Wanoga Sno-park is becoming a popular parking area for mountain bikers thanks to a growing trail system on that side of the byway that includes such routes as “Tiddlywinks” and “Funner.” There’s a kids BMX pump track there as well.
Mt. Bachelor, the 6th largest ski area in North America is now a true four-season resort with the addition of a downhill mountain bike park to a summer slate already filled with lift-served hiking, disc golf and sunset dinners at the mid-mountain lodge that takes sightseers up to 7,700 feet. The views of the Cascades from there are brilliant.
Across the street from the Bachelor parking lot, Dutchman Flat Sno-Park. Several great Central Oregon hikes originate here, including a short, but somewhat steep climb up Tumalo Mountain.
You’ll gain about 1,200 feet of elevation in just 1.8 miles up, and the views at the top are well worth it. The 3.6 mile round trip hike is a good one for kids as well. (Be wary of lingering snow well into the early summer months and come winter, this is a popular snowshoe trail.) One of the more popular mountain bike rides – a 25 miler dubbed “Bachelor to Bend” that features a lot of ridiculously fun downhill sections suitable for even novice riders also starts at this trailhead. (You can also do a fun loop and arrive back in the parking lot to continue on your merry (by)way.)
Up next, about 28 miles from Bend is the turnoff for Sparks Lake, the first of the high alpine lakes along the byway and a hugely popular spot for non-motorized water sports, especially stand up paddling. (Even Outside Magazine says so.) It’s a Central Oregon postcard in itself, sitting in the shadows of Mt. Bachelor, Broken Top and the 10,358-foot South Sister. The Green Lakes Trail parking area is across the byway from Sparks Lake. This popular trail can be done by itself or you can use it to access the lengthy trail that summits South Sister. Hiking, fishing and secluded, walk-in camping awaits at nearby Todd and Devil’s Lake as well.
As the road snakes behind the ski area another resort appears. Elk Lake Resort is the perfect spot to bask in the summer sun on a rented pontoon boat, canoe or kayak. Grab a meal at the restaurant inside or snag one of the campsites and do some cooking of your own. Cultus Lake and Wickiup Reservoir are a bit further down the road and both are great places to fish and watch for wildlife, including Bald Eagles and owls.
More inspiring stories, adventures, and tips & tricks for planning and experiencing the best Central Oregon has to offer.
Hopless in Central Oregon: Experience Scenic Cideries and Vino with a View
In an area dominated by craft beer, you might be wondering is there anything else on tap? The answer is, ‘Yes’. Central Oregon is home to award winning cideries and wineries and with postcard-worthy views from their tasting rooms – you won’t be disappointed. Named after the Three Sisters, Faith Hope and Charity Vineyards is just over 30 miles from Bend. It’s hard to complain about the drive though when furry faces from the Alpaca farm nearby greet you right before you turn onto the property.
Adventures Abound Starting at Sunriver Resort
Sunriver is the type of place that takes your breath away no matter what season it is. During the summer you can hop on a horse for your very own wild wild west experience. The team at Sunriver Stables will make you feel comfortable on your ride, even if you’ve never saddled up before. Whether you’re in a tube or a kayak, floating down the Deschutes River is a relaxing activity that’s fun for the whole family.
Casual Family Weekend in Sunriver
Imagine this: you’re riding your bike through a rolling meadow, the Cascade mountain range in the background, and the only sound is from the whir of a prop plane taking off against a crisp blue sky. Up ahead, your children pull carrots from their pockets and present them to a gathering of friendly horses in an adjacent pasture.
Central Oregon Winter Adventures
When the snow flies, Central Oregon shines. All you have to do is choose your adventure. Mt. Bachelor - The model of a complete snowsports resort, Mt. Bachelor offers 360-degree lift-served groomed skiing and riding from its volcanic summit.
Lava Lands Visitor Center a Central Oregon Geologic Gem
In the late 1960s NASA looked for a place to send astronauts who were training for a mission that would change the world. But before the mission could happen, NASA needed a place to mimic what they believed those astronauts would find on the surface of the moon. Because, after all, nobody had been there before so nobody really knew what the surface of the moon was like.
8 Pictures That Will Have You Rethinking Some Life Decisions (Central Oregon Food Edition)
Is this plate from 5 Fusion and Sushi Bar art or food? (It’s food. Definitely food.)
Sammies and Sandos: Central Oregon’s Best Sandwiches
Sometimes after a day full of adventure, all that you crave is a simple, yet delicious, stick-to-your-ribs sandwich. (And a beer, obviously.)
Central Oregon Hiking Trails
Head east on Highway 20 (Greenwood Avenue) to the Pilot Butte State Park. The parking area and trailhead are just east of the butte. Walk on either the nature trail or the paved road. The road is also for vehicle traffic, weather permitting. It is a wonderful viewpoint for the entire Bend area. This hiking trail is one of the most popular in Central Oregon.
Central Oregon’s Moonscape
Many who come to Central Oregon say it looks like nowhere else they’ve visited. Sure, there are the mountain vistas and the Ponderosa pines, the picturesque rivers and the deep blue lakes. But to many, the most astonishing aspect is the lunarscape — the lava rocks, cinder cones and lava tubes that dot the region, betraying its geologic history.
The Central Oregon Adventure 6-Pack
6 ADVENTURES…1 DAY….A LIFETIME OF MEMORIES. “You should do it,” they said. “Think about how cool it’d be,” they told me. “You get to do it during the work day, ya know,” they reminded me. So I said yes.