The Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway is one of the prettiest drives in the U.S. (hence the “scenic” designation.) 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.
Just a short distance up the scenic byway 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.
Get your camera ready as you head farther up the road and round a corner where you’re greeted with a majestic view of Mt. Bachelor. The largest ski area in the Pacific Northwest 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 as well as 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. (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 sailboat, 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.
Crane Prairie is famous for “crainbows”, oversize rainbow trout that grow quickly in this shallow, food-rich impoundment. The record rainbow to date, for this lake, weighed over 19 pounds, with fish in the 4 to 10 pound range common. Wildlife enthusiasts will delight in Crane Prairie’s Quinn River campground and boat launch along the eastern shore of Crane Prairie Reservoir. Cormorant, osprey, bald eagle, northern goshawk, egret, and owls are some of the bird species to be seen.