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Tour the Cascade Lakes Highway in Central Oregon (Photography Tour)

Updated on March 27, 2016

Tour Central Oregon's Mountain Beauty

The Cascade Mountains are less than 20 minutes away from Bend, Oregon. In fact, one of the reasons we decided to move to Central Oregon was to be closer to nature and have the ability to be on a hiking or cross-country skiing trail within a half hour. Simply head up Century Drive from Bend and within minutes, you're gazing out over snowcapped peaks and lush, green forests. Wildflower meadows are abundant throughout the Cascade Lakes from June through August.

If you're visiting the High Desert of Oregon, you don't even need to pack gear. You can tour Central Oregon's mountain beauty by driving the Cascade Lakes Highway. The scenic drive is one of the most stunning in the Pacific Northwest. This drive will take you 3-5 hours, depending on how long you stay at each of the lakes along the tour. Head west from Bend and follow the highway around a series of lakes and other stops along the way. You'll end up back on Highway 97, south of Sunriver.

Pack a picnic lunch, some sunscreen and bug spray - and don't forget your camera! A good pair of athletic shoes are suggested so you can reach some higher spots for even better views. You will also need $5 for a daily Forest Service Pass. With the pass, you can park at any of the lakes for the entire day. Simply deposit your money at one of the kiosks and fill out the form - leave on your dashboard while you enjoy the Cascade Lakes!

One final note: the Cascade Lakes Highway past Mt. Bachelor is usually closed during winter months. Check here before you plan your trip to make sure you won't be snowed out!

All photographs in this Hub are the property of Stephanie Hicks. Please contact me for permission to use.

View towards the Sisters from Mount Bachelor, Oregon
View towards the Sisters from Mount Bachelor, Oregon | Source

Mt. Bachelor, Oregon

Many people consider Mt. Bachelor to be the iconic image of Bend, Oregon. After all, if you are vacationing in Bend any time from November through May, you are probably here for the skiing!

It's a short 20-30 minute drive from downtown Bend to the base of Mt. Bachelor. During the summer (when you'll be planning a scenic drive along the Cascade Lakes Highway), you can ride the Summit Lift chairlift and take in the views from 9,000 feet above sea level. Look towards the north and see the Three Sisters mountains and Broken Top. You'll even spot some of the Cascade Lakes below.

When my sister and her family visited us in Bend last summer, we took the kids on the chairlift, had lunch at the restaurant on top, and then hiked back down! If you prefer, you can ride the chairlift back down, as well.

Trust me, you do not want to forget your camera!

Mt. Bachelor Photographs and Views from the Top

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Sparks Lake, Oregon

Once you pass Mt. Bachelor, you'll come to the gate through which you enter the Cascade Lakes Highway. Its a gorgeous drive, windy at times, with trees hugging the roadway on both sides. Be careful to slow down on curves and use extra caution when passing on this 2-lane highway.

Sparks Lake is about 5 miles past Mt. Bachelor. You're going to take a left at the sign (all the lakes/trails/campgrounds are well marked). Stay to your left when you enter, unless you are headed to the campground. The road to Sparks Lake is not paved, and deeply rutted. But fortunately, its only about a 5 minute drive to the lake itself.

Quiet and tucked away, Sparks Lake is one of my favorite of the Cascade Lakes. Fly-fishing is allowed, but our favorite activity is hiking - and photography! This would be a perfect place to dip your toes in the water and enjoy a picnic.

According to geologists, Sparks Lake is getting towards the end of its life-cycle, as it is slowly draining and turning into a marsh. The evolution will still take many human lifetimes to complete, but you can see some evidence of the change that is underway.

Sparks Lake Photos

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Devil's Lake, Oregon

After Sparks Lake, you'll travel about 5-6 miles southwesterly on the Cascade Lakes Highway. You cannot miss Devil's Lake! Its the only lake that is visible right from the highway. But don't swerve and weave around the road. Pull over so you can marvel at the blue-green waters.

Across the highway from Devil's Lake is a rocky lava flow called "Devil's Garden," or "Devil's Necklace." In the photographs below, my two older sons are trying to navigate some of the large lava rocks in the Devil's Hill flow above Devil's Lake.

My kids love this little bit of trivia: did you know that a sample of the lava rock from Devil's Garden is on the moon?! In the 1960s, Apollo astronauts trained for their missions in the lava fields of Central Oregon. James Irwin took a rock to the moon to commemorate their other-worldly training right here in the Cascade mountains!

Hiking, camping and fly-fishing are all allowed around Devil's Lake.

Devil's Lake Photographs

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Elk Lake, Oregon

My first exposure to the Cascade Lakes was about 15 years ago, when we stayed at the rustic Forest Service cabin "owned" by my husband's family (technically, its a 99-year ground lease) at Elk Lake. No running water or heat, but a cozy little log cabin with a lot of charm.

Notwithstanding the fact that the lake is a chilly 65 degrees at its warmest during the summer, my kids love swimming in the alpine waters. We also canoe and kayak, hike, roast marshmallows and picnic!

Elk Lake is about 8 minutes past Devil's Lake and is also well-marked. Its one of the several Cascade Lakes with a resort, too. Boot moorage and rentals, groceries and gas are available - if you are willing to spend about $2 per gallon over retail!

Summer brings out sailboats and windsurfers in the brisk winds that come off the mountains. During winter, you can get to Elk Lake Lodge via cross-country skis or snowmobiles.

Elk Lake Photographs

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Hosmer Lake, Oregon

Don't drive too fast after you leave Elk Lake, or you'll zip right past Hosmer Lake. Its about 5 miles south, and off to your left. After you turn off the highway, follow the windy, paved road about 1 mile to the end of the pavement. A boat launch is to your right, with some parking and bathrooms. Put your day pass, or annual Forest Service pass on your dashboard!

Hosmer Lake is small and quiet. Camping is available for a nominal fee. It seems like the perfect place to enjoy some fly-fishing. Pay attention to the rules - only fly fishing with a barbless hook is allowed, and its catch and release only.

Trivia: Hosmer Lake is the only western lake in the U.S. that is stocked with Atlantic Salmon!

A number of trails allow you to explore the area around Hosmer Lake a bit further, if you like. Grassy meadows surround the lake, which is backed up by views of Mt. Bachelor.

Hosmer Lake Photographs

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Lava Lakes, Oregon

After you leave Hosmer Lake and head south on the Cascade Lakes Highway, you'll only travel about another 5 minutes before you see the sign for Lava Lakes. Turn left off the highway and you have another paved road that takes you to a pair of lakes: Little Lava Lake, and Lava Lake.

Trivia: Little Lava Lake is spring-fed and is the headwaters of the Deschutes River!

Little Lava Lake includes a campground, bathrooms and a boat launch. Lava Lake is about twice the size of Little Lava Lake. There is a marina, a small grocery/supply store and gas is available (at a very steep price). You can rent canoes, paddle boats or row boats, if you desire.

Fishing, camping, picnicking and boating are all fun activities at the Lava Lakes.

Lava Lakes Photographs

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Cultus Lake, Oregon

Like Lava Lakes, there are actually a pair of lakes at the turn-off towards Cultus Lake. Cultus Lake itself is about 2 miles along a nice, wide paved roadway. Cultus Lake Lodge also has a small grocery, supply store and gasoline available for purchase. There is a very nice picnic ground with both a changing room and bathrooms at the lake shore.

Cultus Lake's best natural amenity is its shallow, sandy beach that encourages swimmers and boaters, alike. You can also fish, hike, camp, picnic, windsurf and go sailing. Boat rentals are available at the Lodge.

Little Cultus Lake is 4 miles from the Cascade Lakes Highway, three of which are unpaved and very rutted. Check your vehicle's suspension - and your nerves - before you head down the road!

The Cultus Lakes turn-off is about 10-15 minutes south of Lava Lakes.

Cultus Lake Photographs

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Watch for Wildlife

The Cascade Lakes Highways takes you through heavily forested lands under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service. This is wild country!

Keep your eyes open for:

  • Mule deer
  • Elk
  • Ground squirrels
  • Grey squirrels
  • Badgers
  • Bobcats
  • Mountain lions
  • Black bears
  • Osprey
  • Red-tailed hawks

Crane Prairie Reservoir, Oregon

When you leave Cultus Lake, continue heading south on the Cascade Lakes Highway about 15 miles. Its your longest stretch so far on the scenic highway without a stop. But you can still enjoy the scenery and the gorgeous Cultus River flowing along the east side of the highway.

Start to watch for signs because you'll be turning left to stay on the scenic route to get to our next stop - the Crane Prairie Reservoir. If you continue on the Cascade Lakes Highway another 11 miles past the turn-off, you'll connect with Highway 58, which will take you to Crater Lake!

When you turn off the Cascade Lakes Highway, you are now heading west on Forest Service Road 42. Its about 8 miles until you turn left again, and then head 4 miles north to the Crane Prairie Reservoir. Its actually an artificial lake constructed in 1929 to impound waters for irrigation.

The most notable feature of the Crane Prairie Reservoir is the fact that it is one of the prime breeding grounds for Osprey in Central Oregon (an endangered species). You can also see Mallard Ducks and Bald Eagles in the area. Crane Prairie Reservoir is also a fantastic fishing location.

Boating, camping, fishing and photography are all options for you to enjoy at Crane Prairie Reservoir.

Crane Praire Reservoir Photographs

Click thumbnail to view full-size
show route and directions
A markerMount Bachelor Oregon -
Mt Bachelor, Bend, OR 97701, USA
get directions

B markerSparks Lake Bend Oregon -
Sparks Lake, Sisters-Millican, OR, USA
get directions

C markerDevils Lake Bend Oregon -
Devils Lake, Sisters-Millican, OR, USA
get directions

D markerElk Lake Bend Oregon -
Elk Lake, OR 97413, USA
get directions

E markerHosmer Lake Bend, Oregon -
Hosmer Lake, Sisters-Millican, OR 97701, USA
get directions

F markerLava Lake Bend Oregon -
Lava Lake, Sisters-Millican, OR 97701, USA
get directions

G markerCultus Lake Bend Oregon -
Cultus Lake, Sisters-Millican, OR, USA
get directions

H markerCrane Prairie Reservoir Bend Oregon -
Crane Prairie Reservoir, Sisters-Millican, OR, USA
get directions

Magnificent Ponderosa Pines along the Scenic Route in Central Oregon
Magnificent Ponderosa Pines along the Scenic Route in Central Oregon | Source

The Road Back to Bend, Oregon

After the Crane Prairie Reservoir, head south towards Forest Road 42 again. Now, you're about 20 miles from Highway 97, which will take you back to Bend.

Be sure to follow the directional signs towards Highway 97, so you don't end up doing another loop through the Cascade Lakes Highway!

Your return trip will take you through Sunriver, Oregon, and to 97 north to Bend. If you want to check out a few more locations along the route, take a look at the related links above!

Hope you enjoyed the Cascade Lakes Highway! You'll want to visit again, soon!

Cascade Lakes Highway Sign on Century Drive in Bend, Oregon
Cascade Lakes Highway Sign on Century Drive in Bend, Oregon | Source

© 2010 Stephanie Hicks


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    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you again - I would love to take winter photographs along the Cascade Lakes Highway, but it is closed for the season until spring arrives. Best, Steph

    • profile image

      stessily 6 years ago

      Steph, Your photos exude unremitting doses of the tranquil beauty of nature. All the Cascade Lakes are photogenic; I'm partial, though, to Lava Lake and Sparks Lake.

      Thank you for sharing this picturesque stretch of an amazingly picturesque state.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Stephanie, you should TV here in the summer. I make a great tour guide! :)

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 6 years ago from USA

      I enjoyed this hub so much as Oregon is one of our favorite places! The photo gallery is stunning, and makes me wish I could wiggle my nose and be there tomorrow! Thanks for a lovely hub with much useful information!

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi SC, this is such a beautiful area of the country! What a fine final resting place for your mother. My family and I went hiking on Sunday up the Green Lakes trail (near Sparks Lake). A lovely 4.5 mile hike up - and then back - through wildflower meadows, past waterfalls and to a glacier-fed lake. Heaven. Pure heaven. I hope you get to come down from Washington for the Cascade Lakes Highway drive. It should be open for about another 6 weeks before winter. Best to you - Stephanie

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 6 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      I have spent some time in Bend. I have been to sun river a few times. Several years ago we spread my mother's ashes up on Mount Bachelor. It's a lovely area. I am definitely going to look into this scenic drive. I live in WA state. The Pacific Northwest is God's country and I am so blessed to live in a place where His creation is so abundant. Blessings SC

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Mine too, liquidgranite! :)

    • liquidgranite profile image

      liquidgranite 7 years ago

      Devil's Lake is my favourite.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      We love it here in Central Oregon! Its fresh, clean and beautiful. Hope you get to visit sometime soon. :)

    • SummerSurf profile image

      SummerSurf 7 years ago

      Great informative article! Looks a lovely place. Another travel destination to visit.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you abbiz - so glad you enjoyed the tour of the Cascade Lakes Highway! :)

    • abbiz profile image

      abbiz 7 years ago from M-A

      i like your Hub steph, really nice one :)

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you so much! I love photography almost as much as I love writing. :)

    • Les Trois Chenes profile image

      Les Trois Chenes 7 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

      Like Limousin a Land of Lakes full of wildlife. Your photos are breath takingly beautiful.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you, Peggy and Loren's Gem! It was certainly a pleasure to write and share the photographs.

    • Loren's Gem profile image

      Loren's Gem 7 years ago from Istanbul, Turkey

      Wonderful hub with very interesting lake photos! Congrats on the win! More power! :-)

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Thanks Steph for answering my question. Always learning new things on hubpages! And yes..."the Cascade Lakes are a wonderful gem here in Oregon." That they are!!!

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you Purple - really enjoyed getting up into the mountains and taking all the photographs. It was great fun!

    • Purple Perl profile image

      Purple Perl 7 years ago from Bangalore,India

      Hearty congratulations, Stephanie. Loved this hub too! Excellent as always.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks LP! Come to Oregon sometime and enjoy the natural beauty!

    • LPStarr profile image

      LPStarr 7 years ago from near my computer :P

      Great photos and LOVE the map!

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Peggy - it really is like that! As far as the photos - you know where it says "border" or "no border" there is also an option that says slideshow. Pick that and then click add another photo (up to as many as you like)

      Anyway - thank you for the nice comment - the Cascade Lakes are a wonderful gem here in Oregon. :)

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Wow! Another Cascade Lake every few miles... What a beautiful area!!! How do you get the photos set up like this so that people can click on the individual photos to advance them and see them in a grouping? That was a nice feature in your wonderful hub. Hope you fully appreciate the beauty that surrounds you in Oregon. We only spent 2 weeks vacationing there many years ago and fell in love with that State. This gets a beautiful rating for sure!

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Definitely a tranquil spot on earth! Thank you for the positive comment - so glad that everyone is enjoying the photos and information.

    • Purple Perl profile image

      Purple Perl 7 years ago from Bangalore,India

      Beautiful pics of tranquil spots on earth!I loved visiting them thru' your hub!Thanks for sharing and hearty congratulations!

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you Izzy - I am always amazed at the natural beauty of Central Oregon. We are so lucky to live in this corner of the world. Cheers, Stephanie

    • IzzyM profile image

      IzzyM 7 years ago from UK

      Steph the scenery here is breathtaking! You are so lucky to live in such a place :)

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks again Audrey!

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 7 years ago from Washington

      Super job and congrats on the win!!

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      thanks all - Audrey, I already had a lot of the photographs in our album, but it was fun to do the drive again and add to the collection - plus, I was able to discuss exactly how long the route would take, etc.

      @Nifty - RVs are welcome! There are a lot of campgrounds along the way at the Cascade lakes. It would be a perfect trip!

    • nifty@50 profile image

      nifty@50 7 years ago

      Hubs like this one make me want to rent an RV and pack the camping gear! My usual idea of roughing it is a motel 6!

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 7 years ago from Washington

      You nailed that one! I can't believe you went out and drove the whole thing!!! That is a beautiful drive though and thanks for sharing this with everyone.

    • hypnosis4u2 profile image

      hypnosis4u2 7 years ago from Massachusetts

      The photo gallery is great and makes the destination very inviting. The Cascades are one of the gems in this country.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you erthfrend! I enjoyed taking the photographs and writing about the wonderful scenic route. :)

    • erthfrend profile image

      erthfrend 7 years ago from Florida

      AMAZING!!!! Thanks for sharing!

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Cliff - thank you! It is so nice living here. When we moved, one of my friends said - you'll be living in a mountain resort! Its close... really! Cheers to you, Steph

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks Diana - the price of gas at Elk Lake Lodge yesterday was over $5.00/gallon! (In town, its $2.93). Appreciate the comment, and I just have to say - I need to do this drive more often. Its pleasant, beautiful and peaceful. A great place to go and reconnect with nature and your soul.

    • killrats profile image

      killrats 7 years ago from Cape town South Africa

      Hi Stephhicks,

      I could live there without a problem, think it is great.

      Here on the dark side of the world we have some great placesbut we don't have the lakes and snow. The country here gets a little snow in the winter but where I live in Cape Town we may get a few CM of snow on Table Mountain but thats it. This tears we have not even had frost. Very mild.

      Like what I have read, Will be following.

      Ejnoy those lakes.

      Have a great day.

      Regards from the dark side.

      Cliff ( killrats )

    • In The Doghouse profile image

      In The Doghouse 7 years ago from California

      Seriously, this is the most beautiful forest/lake scenery I have ever seen. The Elk Lake gas prices sound like the gas gouging at Lake Powell! lol You are on a lake, so they have the market cornered! This Hub had so much information and was AWESOME!


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