Updated September 25, 2017
Road tripping the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway from Bend to US-58 just east of Crescent Lake Junction, Oregon USA, encompasses all the fabulous meanings of the word, GREAT.
The sights, sounds, experiences and adventures get under visitors’ skin . . .
. . . the place is that unforgettable, as is the remarkable region that birthed it.
It’s a tour of interpretive sites through the eye-catching vistas of central Oregon’s gorgeous high dessert, majestic mountains, lush forests of Ponderosa, Lodgepole Pine and other coniferous trees, and the dazzling waters of the Cascade Range.
This high country is filled with stirring history . . . natural and geological . . . and rich human heritage.
Don't go just to see it . . . Immerse yourself and become part of the experience.
Imagine 66 miles of jaw-dropping scenery and just about any kind of recreational opportunity available.
No wonder the Cascade Lakes area became a National Forest Service Byway in 1989 and was awarded the distinction as a National Scenic Byway in 1998 by Scenic America. Today, the byway ranks among the top ten historic byways in the United States and is a noteworthy global travel destination.
Along the byway, visitors step back in time where trappers like Nathaniel J. Wyeth made a living and intrepid men, such as Kit Carson and John C. Fremont, left their mark on Pacific Northwest history, making a name for themselves as renowned explorers.
Originally, ancient wildlife and Native American trails became horse trails.
In 1920 one route was built, a wagon road from Bend venturing into Elk Lake country.
Not long after, these old trails became a conglomeration of improved routes and roads, and connected with the wagon road, creating the 100 mile circuit.
Paved with rusty hued volcanic cinders in the 1950’s, the way was aptly named, Red Road.
In the 1980’s Red Road was improved again, sporting a cover of black asphalt, its moniker, Century Drive, was later deemed, the Cascade Lakes Highway.
More road improvements shortened the route, and then it was awarded the distinction as a national scenic byway . . . Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway.
Located on the east side of the Cascade Range southeast of Bend, Oregon, the Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway is fairly easy to find.
In Bend, Oregon from US-97, take exit 139 and turn west onto S.W. Reed Market Road, and travel about 2.5 miles through three traffic circles.
At the fourth traffic circle, take the third exit, turning onto Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway/S.W. Century Drive.
The byway is open year around to Mount Bachelor parking lot. Due to heavy snowfall, the byway is closed from mid-November to late May or early June.
Click on the image below to check driving conditions at Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway.
In 1900, Alexander Drake founded his ranch upon the shores of the exquisite Deschutes River and named it, Farewell Bend Ranch. Drake welcomed travelers to his ranch where they camped while enroute.
Little did Drake know, his acreage would one day soon become a world class venue for high adventure seekers, a global vacation destination and a playground for retirees.
So quick did his place attract attention, in 1905 the name was shortened to “Bend” and the city was incorporated. When railroads came to town in 1911, and then the lumber industry in 1915, Bend prospered. Always a fair season recreation area drawing visitors from far and wide, tourism flourished.
Farewell Bend Park commemorates Bend’s origins, a hospitable locale with a terrific quality of live retaining the historic warm, friendly culture reflecting its esteemed founder.
Here people and nature coexist as the Deschutes River cuts a swath through the park.
Beside natural wetlands families picnic while children frolic at the playground.
Hikers and bicyclists share the wild Deschutes River Trail connecting the park to Bend’s Old Mill District, Riverbend Park and the South Canyon Trail Bridge.
The busy boat launch site accommodates canoes, kayaks and is a favorite of those who enjoy float trips downstream.
Art, fishing and rollerblading . . . it' all here, located at 1000 S.W. Reed Market Road . . . Farewell Bend Park is the perfect starting point for a journey on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway.
Imagine hiking the cindered lava flows of the Cascade Range and experiencing the shores of the rough and tumble Deschutes River . . . incredible!
For miles the Deschutes River Trail winds through the forests and riparian lands of the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway area.
Multiple points of access can be had from various day use areas along, and just off of, the main route (recreation passes required).
During low snow years the trail is open year around for visitors to enjoy. Some parts of the trail are closed to bikes and horses, and dogs must be kept on leash.
After visiting the Cascade Lakes Welcome Station, consider taking a side trip down NF-41/Conklin Road to explore Ryan Ranch Meadow where habitat has been restored and beaver have been reintroduced.
At the south end of the meadow, turn left/southeast on to a spur road leading to Slough Day Use Area where visitors can access the Deschutes River Trail to Benham Falls West Day Use Area and the trailhead near the river.
Swampy Lakes Sno-Park is just one of many sno-parks on the Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway with access to multi-use trails.
Not all Sno-Parks are open year around, but Swampy Lake is.
A favorite jumping-off point for hikers, snowshoe enthusiasts and mountain bikers, as well as cross country and Nordic skiers, rustic amenities, such as a vault toilet and a small warming hut, make a day adventure more comfortable, especially in winter.
Mount Bachelor encompasses all the meanings of the word, GREAT.
At the foot of this glorious mountain, an unparalleled landscape, a pumice desert known as Dutchman Flat, is testament to an ancient eruption.
Despite long ages since the epic volcanic eruption, little soil has collected to sustain much plant life. The hearty greenery that does survive here is heralded; among them are pretty pink pussypaws and sunny yellow sulfur flowers.
Most notable, parts of my favorite classic movie were filmed here; How the West was Won, starring leading actors of the time (1962), based on western novel of the same title by my favorite storyteller, Louis L’Amour.
Director John Ford was famous for his vivid larger-than-life backdrops. Dutchman Flat with snow-capped Mt. Bachelor in the background is one of those.
Against the spectacular backdrop of Broken Top and South Sister, Sparks Lake sparkles in sunlight.
This exquisite lake and wetlands in forever preserved in the photo collections of nationally renowned photographer, Ray Atkeson, one of his favorite locations. He returned here time and again to capture the essence of the place.
In his honor, an accessible trail was built so all could enjoy the splendor he featured, the Ray Atkeson Memorial Trail.
He is furthered honored at the Ray Atkeson Wayside, just down the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway from the turn-off to Sparks Lake.
Spring paints the landscape with brilliant blooms.
Bird watchers love it here! Species spotted included, Bald Eagle, California Gull, Common Nighthawk, Golden Eagle, Great Blue Heron, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Mountain Bluebird, Northern Harrier, Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, Tree Swallow and Yellow Warbler.
So do visitors who enjoy wildlife viewing; they’ve spotted Black-tailed Deer and River Otter.
A nearby boat launch accommodates non-motorized boats only. Fly-fishing anglers who love trout enjoy this lake and pond fishing venue.
Like all mountain lakes and marsh areas mosquitos abound, so be prepared and pack a good insect repellent.
Visitors who wish a scenic overnight stay can camp at nearby Soda Creek Campground. Sites are limited and though some are 30 feet long, the campground is best suited for small cars and tent camping. Recreational activities include day hiking, non-motorized boating, fishing and wildlife viewing. No reservations needed.
From the Sparks Lake turn-off, the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway winds through a lovely forest, which opens to reveal heavenly views of land and sky.
Near Green Lakes and Soda Creek Trailhead is a quaint meadow, Devils Garden, at the edge of a significant lava flow where pictographs on a huge faced boulder suggest an ancient Indian trail once existed here.
The Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway twists along the edge of the tortured Devils Hill Flow, an ugly heaved, pockmarked and spiny geologic formation.
Gazing upon the blight, it’s hard to believe it bespeaks of a stellar history.
NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) astronauts trained on this lunar-like lava land in 1964 and 1966. When James Irwin, Pilot for Apollo 15, later voyaged through space, he left a rock from this desolate formation on the moon, a monument, of sorts, to the astronaut training held here.
Driving a short distance more on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, the forest again sheds its shroud and Broken Top takes stage. If not for the lowering cloud cover, the South Sister, one of the Three Sister Mountains, might have shown her bright face.
The turquoise water of Devils Lake on a sunny day is a real head-turner for motorists on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. Many do a double take!
Though small and shallow in comparison to other lakes in the area, Devils Lake is a popular stop.
The trout fishing is fun and so is kayaking the crystalline depths. Day hikers enjoy a short tromp through an old growth forest and skirting the lake’s south shore on the Devils Lake Trail.
Panning from left to right are the shore views of Devils Lake.
Devils Lake Campground, a small hike in campground, is a popular stop over for backpackers and mountain climbers who embark on a backcountry expedition to explore the superb Three Sister Wilderness or to scale the elevations of South Sister. The Devils Lake/South Sister Trailhead is the gateway to these wondrous adventures and to the South Sister Climber Trail.
An idyllic lake setting, with awesome views of the Three Sisters Mountains and Mt. Bachelor on sunny days, the icy waters of Elk Lake are so translucent you can see the lake bottom and watch Kokanee Salmon and Brook Trout swim by.
Fishermen and fly fishing anglers love it here!
Access for motorized and non-motorized boats from Elk Lake Boating Site, Little Fawn Boating Site, Point Campground and Elk Lake Resort & Marina makes launching watercraft easy. Recreational watercraft rentals can be had the marina.
On windy days, the white sails of windsurfers skim across choppy waves. Sun worshipers dot the shores during warm summer days while others cool off by jumping in for a swim. Don a sunhat and take a guided scenic lake cruise; make reservations at the Elk Lake Resort.
Trekkers who wish to hoof the backcountry meet up at the Elk Creek Trailhead where facilities accommodate horse camping, day hikers and backpackers.
For winter sports lovers, Elk Creek Resort is open year around. It’s a bring-your-own-skis venue. Rent a snowmobile or snowshoes and venture into a white winter wonderland. Make a reservation for transportation via snowcat from Dutchman Flat Sno-Park to Elk Lake Resort.
A peaceful respite in the midst of mountainous grandeur best describes this gem on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, Lava Lake.
Waves gently lap against boats as quiet fisherman dip their lines into chilly waters. The catch of the day includes Brook Trout, Bull Trout, Rainbow Trout, Redband Trout and Whitefish.
Spend the night at Lava Lake Campground. Full RV hookups, can be reserved at Lava Lake Resort. Shower and laundry facility, gas and groceries are available.
If ever there were a meek lake that packs a big punch on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, it would be Little Lava Lake . . .
Little Lava Lake is the source of the famous Deschutes River!
Visitors looking for trophy size catches on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway will find them at Cultus Lake . . .
. . . the Lake Trout (Mackinaw) can be HUGE!
Brook Trout, Rainbow Trout and Mountain Whitefish keep the fisherman busy while other water sports lovers paddle, sail, jet ski, swim, windsurf and waterski the pretty glacial waters.
With so much to do and see, campers love the rustic stay at Cultus Lake Campground. Avid boaters put in at Cultus Lake Boating Site and enjoy a buzz across the lake to sleep near the shore at Cultus Lake Boat In campground.
Cultus Lake Resort has everything visitors need for a fun and lengthy stay.
Equine Enthusiasts can stay at nearby Cultus Corral Horse Camp.
The High Cascades scenery packs a wallop . . .
. . . and the wildlife viewing is amazing!
This point of interest on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway is worth hiking through clouds of mosquitoes and tromping through marshy muck to see!
When we hiked through this silent, deserted place, the mosquitos tried to eat me through my substantial lime green rain jacket. Their poor proboscis bent over and the blood-suckers dropped to the ground.
The exceptional bird, wildflower and wildlife viewing at Crane Prairie Reservoir are beyond compare.
It’s a short, scenic hike through a Lodgepole Pine forest to water’s edge.
Most notable is the Osprey breeding ground visitors can access via the Osprey Point Trailhead. Besides Osprey, other birds spotted here include Cormorants, ducks, eagles and Terns.
Just before dusk, Browns Crossing Wildlife Viewing Site comes to life on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway.
It’s a perfect time to steal softly down the trail and to settle back with cameras silenced and binoculars ready to capture the tremendous wildlife that come to water here.
In spring, birds nest in shrubbery, trail-side, and the music of song birds fills the air.
Brown-headed Cowbirds flit from branch to branch, too restless to stand still.
Overhead, Easter Gray Squirrels perch in pines, scolding and chattering before scurrying out of sight.
The din of river rushing, buzzing insects, assailing scents and bold brushes of colorful blooms . . .
. . . glowing in dimming light, engulf the senses. Starry night and shimmering moonlight blurr edges as day passes into night.
Cruising the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway is unforgettable!
Click here for a complete list and links to the many, many National Forest Service campgrounds in the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway area.
Click on the links below for a list of links to the uncountable National Forest Service trails in the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway area:
"Where Bend meets Bachelor . . . Seventh Mountain Resort is your winter and summer outdoor adventure destination in sunny Central Oregon. At the gateway to the [Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway], the resort is also the closest lodging to Mount Bachelor."