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Cheap, free, and local-endorsed things to do in beautiful places

Cascade Lakes

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  • Dozens of lakes and reservoirs on the east side of Oregon’s Cascade Mountains
  • Connected via a scenic byway
  • A mixture of remote untouched lakes and developed lakes with resorts
  • Contains Oregon’s largest ski area – Mt. Bachelor

When To Visit: May-October (highway closed during winter due to snow)

Climate: Highly seasonal. Warm in summer, cool in spring and fall, cold and snowy in winter.

Location: Central Oregon – 1 hour west of Bend

There is a great diversity of lakes to be explored in this gorgeous mountainous region  and a variety of ways in which to experience them. A drive down the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway gives you a glimpse of several of the most remarkable sights and hikes to quieter areas allow you to get away from the crowd.

Photo: South Sister Peak from Green Lakes Trail

What To See & Do in the Cascade Lakes

You can see many of the area’s most stunning sights by driving the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway and stopping to take short walks along the way.

Cascade Lakes Driving Tour

Beginning from Bend, you’ll encounter the following lakes and points of interest which are worthy of at least a quick stop. Most of the turn-off roads are dirt or gravel but all are maintained and accessible by any vehicle.

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Mt. Bachelor from the Cascade Lakes Highway
  1. Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort

    • About 20 miles past Bend
    • Oregon’s largest ski resort
    • During summer, you can take a 1,400ft lift ride to the top of the mountain, where you can procure food and alcohol and take in an expansive view
    • Price varies each year, but expect to pay at least $10
  2. Lake Todd

    • Turn-off onto a short 0.5 mile road 2 miles past Mt. Bachelor
    • Excellent views of Broken Top Mountain
    • A 1.7 mile loop trail takes you around the lake
  3. Sparks Lake

    • 3 miles past the Todd Lake turnoff
    • Breathtaking views of Mt. Bachelor, Broken Top, and the 3 Sisters peaks
    • Acres of marshland surrounding the lake
  4. Devil’s Lake

    • 3 miles past Sparks Lake
    • A small lake with clear turquoise water and great fishing
  5. Elk Lake

    • Turn-off onto a short 0.2 mile road 5 miles past Devil’s Lake (follow signs to Elk Lake Resort)
    • Contains a resort with food, lodging, and boat rentals
  6. Hosmer Lake
    • Turn-off onto 1 mile Mud Lake Road 3 miles past Elk Lake
    • A lovely clear green/blue colored lake with lots of reeds
    • Great views of Mt. Bachelor
  7. Lava Lake & Little Lava Lake

    • Turn-off onto a short 0.3 mile road 2 miles past Hosmer Lake
    • Lava flows are visible on the shoreline and between the two lakes
  8. Cultus Lake & Little Cultus Lake
    • Turn-off onto a 1 mile road 9 miles past Lava Lake
    • Cultus Lake features a resort with food, lodging, and boat rentals
    • Little Cultus Lake is a mile drive down a dirt road and is much quieter
  9. Crane Prairie Reservoir
    • 0.5 miles past Cultus Lake turn-off
    • Contains a resort with food, camping, lodging, and boat rentals
    • A shallow, man-made reservoir that’s great for watching birds of prey
  10. Wickiup Reservoir
    • 10 miles past Crane Prairie
    • The largest of the Cascade Lakes and the 2nd largest reservoir in Oregon
    • Man-made with excellent fishing
    • Great for bird and wildlife viewing
  11. Davis Lake
    • Turn-off 1 mile past Wickiup
    • Formed by lava flow and ends in a lava dam
    • From here, you can take County Road 42 to Highway 97 and be back in Bend in an hour
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An overlook on the Cascade Lakes Highway

Cascade Lakes Hikes

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Green Lakes Trail
  1. Green Lakes Trail

    • 8.4 miles round trip, out & back, 3-5 hours, 1,100 foot elevation gain, moderately strenuous to strenuous. $5 parking.
    • Begin at the Green Lakes/Soda Creek trailhead
    • Awe-inspiring up-close views of Broken Top and South Sister Peak
    • You’ll pass peaceful meadows and walk along a creek on your way to these 3 tranquil lakes
  2. South Sister Climbers Trail

    • 12 miles round trip, out & back, 7-9 hours, 4,900 foot elevation gain, very strenuous. $5 parking.
    • Begin at the Devil’s Lake trailhead
    • There’s no technical skills but lots of stamina required to reach the top of this 3rd highest mountain in Oregon. Poles are helpful for loose soil near the top.
    • Life-changing panoramic views of the Cascade Lakes, mountain peaks, and literally half the state of Oregon!
    • Only accessible August-October and should only be attempted during clear weather
  3. Six Lakes Trail
    • 6 miles round trip, out & back, 3-4 hours, 420 foot elevation gain, easy to moderately strenuous. $5 parking.
    • Begin at Six Lakes Trailhead
    • See beautiful remote Blow Lake on the way to Doris Lake, where you’ll turn back
    • Seeing all 6 lakes requires you to extend this into a multi-day
  4. Senoj Lake Trail to Lucky Lake

    • 3 miles round trip, out and back, 2-3 hours, 400 foot elevation gain, easy
    • Begin at Lucky Lake Trailhead
    • Avoid crowds at this easy hike which takes you through forest to an alpine lake
    • Once at Lucky Lake, you can take a loop around the lake for an additional 1.3 miles
  5. Ray Atkeson Loop Trail at Sparks Lake

    • 2.3 mile loop, 1-1.5 hours, 20 foot elevation gain, easy
    • Begin at Ray Atkeson Trailhead at Sparks Lake
    • Named for photographer Ray Atkeson who rightfully considered Sparks Lake to be a premier photography destination
    • Epic views of South Sister peak, Sparks Lake, and marshland
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Broken Top from Green Lakes Trail

Where To Stay & Eat in the Cascade Lakes

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Mt. Bachelor from Sparks Lake

There are countless lodging and food options in the city of Bend just an hour away.

If you’d like to stay closer to the lakes, Elk Lake, Cultus Lake, and Crane Prairie Reservoir have lodging, cabins, and campsites. They also have grocery stores, simple restaurants, and boat rentals if you’d like to take a motorboat, kayak, paddleboat, or canoe out on a lake.

There are campgrounds at most of the lakes – some of which are reservable and others first-come, first-served. To find and reserve a campsite, click here and search for Cascade Lakes, Deschutes County, Oregon.

Nearby Side Trips from the Cascade Lakes

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Painted Hills

Bend: Oregon’s most popular resort city (with endless winter sports, golfing, hiking, and more), Bend is situated less than an hour to the east in high desert on the beautiful Deschutes River. Read more.

Crater Lake National Park: Oregon’s only national park (about an hour south) showcases the deepest lake in the U.S. which formed in a caldera after a volcano explosion. The stunning dark blue color of the water and its iconic hat-shaped Wizard Island make for spectacular scenery. Read more.

Smith Rock State Park: Dramatic rock formations formed next to stunning river bends make this park just 1.5 hours north a must-see. Read more.

Painted Hills: Located in a section of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument 2.5 hours to the east, this unique and remote natural feature exposes the changing colors of geology. Read more.

 

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