Views of the Cascade Range abound all over Central Oregon, but are never more dramatic than from along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway—a seasonal highway that heads southwest of Bend and into the heart of the mountains. Along the way, visitors can swim or paddle in more than a dozen alpine lakes, admire views of the snow-capped peaks that seem to rise from their shorelines, camp under starry night skies and traverse some of the region’s best-loved hiking trails.
Given its close proximity to Bend—you can leave the city and typically arrive at your lake of choice within 30-45 minutes—the byway is a summertime rite of passage for locals and visitors alike. So we’ve put together a detailed breakdown of the beautiful byway, complete with the following:
- Where Does the Cascade Lakes Highway Start and End?
- Cascade Lakes Highway Opening and Closing Dates (2023)
- Favorite Viewpoints Along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway
- Must-See Lakes on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway
Jaw-Dropping Hikes Along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway
Before heading out, note that you will likely need a recreation pass and a Central Cascades Wilderness Permit to visit many of the sites listed here. Acceptable recreation passes include the Annual Northwest Forest Pass and an America the Beautiful interagency pass—both available at vendors throughout Central Oregon, the REI store in Bend, or the Cascade Lakes Welcome Station (open seasonally; call ahead to check hours before heading out). And for visits to federally designated wilderness areas along the highway, hikers and backpackers generally need a Central Cascades Wilderness Permit between mid-June and mid-October; these are available via Recreation.gov.
Where Does the Cascade Lakes Highway Start and End?
The Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway begins at Southwest Century Drive in Bend and officially becomes the byway at the southern edge of the city. From there, the 66-mile paved road heads west toward Mount Bachelor, turns south near Devils Lake and Elk Lake and ends at Highway 58 in the Cascade Range.
Without stops, you can drive the entire byway in about 90 minutes. But the trip can easily stretch into a full day with stops for sightseeing, a hike and some paddling.
Cascade Lakes Highway Opening and Closing Dates (2023)
In winter and early spring, the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway is closed beyond Mt. Bachelor due to snow. It typically re-opens in mid-May or early June—and closes between late October and mid-November. In 2023, the highway opened on May 23—and is expected to close in November.
Opening and closing dates vary each year with snowpack—and snow may linger at viewpoints and along the road well into June; visitors in May-June and October-November should check Deschutes County road closures for the latest opening and closing dates—and the Oregon Department of Transportation’s TripCheck website for updated conditions.
Beware that mosquitos are common in June and July; if visiting before August, a bottle of bug spray is almost as essential as sunscreen or extra water.
Favorite Viewpoints Along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway
Epic views can be found along every mile of the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, and several roadside pullouts invite drivers to slow down and enjoy the vistas. With so many stops to choose from, we’ve narrowed them down to a few favorites to help plan your next outing.
Given its status as a Central Oregon icon, it’s no wonder Mt. Bachelor boasts one of the best-loved viewpoints along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. The mountain is most famous for hosting the sixth-largest ski resort in North America—but by summer, visitors can shred the trails at Mt. Bachelor Bike Park, take a chairlift ride to Pine Marten Lodge (which serves light bites and local craft beer) and explore the mountain’s many hiking trails. Surrounding views include Broken Top and the Three Sisters Mountains.
Some seven miles beyond Mt. Bachelor sits Sparks Lake—perhaps the most iconic reservoir anywhere in the region; here, several viewpoints offer Instagram-worthy views of South Sister and the mountain’s reflection in the calm body of water. Extend your stay at the day-use area with a hike along the 2.5-mile Ray Atkeson Loop Trail (the first half-mile of which is wheelchair accessible), which heads along the shore, into the surrounding ponderosa pine forest and through craggy lava flows.
Note that the gravel road to Sparks Lake is not maintained early in the season—and may be inaccessible to low-clearance vehicles in late May and early June.
Must-See Lakes on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway
As the name implies, the lakes are the star of the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. You have more than a dozen to choose from, but these are a few stand-outs.
Todd Lake sits just 2.5 miles beyond Mount Bachelor and offers an inspiring introduction to the area’s charms. A day-use area affords access to the lake, which sits just south of Broken Top and is surrounded by alpine meadows that are covered with wildflowers in June and July. Enjoy a mostly flat, 1.7-mile stroll around the lake, and stay the night in a walk-in campground that hosts three (free) first-come, first-served sites.
Don’t let the name fool you: The shallow Devils Lake, roughly five miles west of Todd Lake, offers a heavenly experience in the shadow of Broken Top and South Sister. Formed by a lava flow, the turquoise lake is celebrated for its remarkable clarity—and is popular with paddlers, anglers fishing for trout and campers who jockey for one of the 10 (free) first-come, first-served tent sites a short walk away.
About five miles south of where the highway turns south, Elk Lake pairs its mountain views with disparate experiences geared toward travelers of all stripes.
The first experience is Elk Lake Resort, which hosts a variety of cabins, luxe “glamping” tents, and campsites for tents and RVs. There, visitors can rent paddle craft and motorboats to get on the water—where views of Mount Bachelor, South Sisters and Broken Top dominate the horizon. An on-site restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner—and hosts a full bar.
To the south, Elk Lake Campground delivers a more rustic experience—with about 20 tent and RV sites (each featuring campfire rings and picnic tables), as well as a boat launch and day-use area on the lakeshore.
Lava Lake and Little Lava Lake
Another five miles south of Elk Lake sits Lava Lake and Little Lava Lake (the latter of which is the headwaters of the Deschutes River). Separated by lava flows and a pine forest, the lakes are popular with anglers, boaters and campers—and offer a variety of services to accommodate each group. (Lava Lake, in particular, is an enjoyable spot to enjoy a Cascade lakes fly fishing trip.)
Around the lakes, attractions and services include a few campgrounds, boat rentals and an on-site grocery store.
Crane Prairie Reservoir
Crane Prairie Reservoir sits near the southern edge of the scenic byway, about 13 miles south of Little Lava Lake, and is prized among anglers for its resident “cranebows”—rainbow trout that can reach 10 pounds or more. (Learn more about fishing in Central Oregon.) Keep an eye out around the lake for ospreys that nest nearby.
Jaw-Dropping Hikes Along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway
As you might have guessed, several scenic hikes head past (and around) the lakes—and into the nearby mountains. We’ve mentioned a few so far, but here are additional hikes to inspire your next trip.
The lollipop-shaped Tumalo Mountain totals 4.5 miles round-trip and boasts a thigh-burning 1,340 feet of elevation gain—but beauty abounds almost every step of the way. Hikers begin in a forest of hemlock and pine before rising toward the summit of Tumalo Mountain—where purple lupine, red paintbrush, and other wildflowers dot the hillsides well into July. From the summit, views include North and Middle Sister, Broken Top, and (seemingly across the street) Mount Bachelor.
The Green Lakes Trail is one of the more popular trails in Central Oregon—and it’s easy to see why. The hike measures nine miles round-trip (with just 1,215 feet of elevation gain) and—along the way—passes the scenic Fall Creek Falls, hugs the base of a lava flow, offers wide-open views of Broken Top and South Sister and promises blissful swimming opportunities in its namesake reservoirs.
Broken Top and No Name Lake
The trail to No Name Lake and the base of Broken Top gains about 1,300 feet over the course of the 5.5-mile (round-trip) hike—and rewards intrepid hikers with some of the most spectacular views anywhere in Central Oregon. After ascending through a forest of hemlock and pine, the scenery includes views of nearby Central Oregon mountains (including Mount Bachelor), wide-open meadows and (of course) No Name Lake. The pool sits just below the jagged summit of Broken Top and is beloved for its vibrant, turquoise hue.
Keep in mind that the road to the Broken Top trailhead is rutted and only accessible to high-clearance vehicles (with four-wheel drive recommended). Learn more about other No Name Lake trailheads that may mean longer hikes—but are far more accessible to low-clearance vehicles.
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