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Whether it be a scenic day trip along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, a leisurely day hike, or a rugged back country camping trek, the Cascade Lakes of Central Oregon have something for everyone. The 66 miles of highway beginning in Bend, Oregon provide only a glimpse of the nearly 100 lakes scattered along and near the route. Most of the lakes are natural, although a few are created behind constructed dams. Official Byway websites state there are 14 lakes along the route, with no explanation as to why some lakes are included and others are not. The route is punctuated by amazing views of such Cascades peaks as South Sister, Mount Bachelor, and Broken Top.
A good introduction to the Cascade Lakes are the summaries already on the Lakelubbers' website for Crescent Lake and Wickiup Reservoir. Some of the other featured lakes along the Byway include Todd Lake, with a short hike from the parking area to the lovely small alpine lake surrounded by meadows of wildflowers and offering walk-in campsites. Fishing is a draw here, and any motors are limited to 10 horsepower. Sparks Lake, on the other hand, allows no motors at all and is the perfect place to ply a kayak or canoe. Hosmer Lake also doesn't allow motors and limits fishing to barbless hooks and catch-and release. It is noted for excellent bird watching.
Although some of these lakes were created by glacial gouging, others were formed when volcanic action under the glacier created small craters in the underlying rock. Davis Lake was created when a large lava flow cut off the outflow of Odell Creek. The shallow lake is noted for rainbow trout fishing and is particularly popular because there is no-limit fishing for largemouth bass. The forest surrounding Davis Lake experienced a major fire in 2000 but is recovering rapidly. Little Cultus Lake offers primitive campsites and fishing, with boats limited to 10hp motors. Devils Lake has clear waters with a white pumice bottom. Boats look as though they are floating on air!
Elk Lake holds rental cabins and rents boats and canoes. A grocery store and marina assure that water sports enthusiasts will find everything they need for a day on the water. This is one of the few area lakes that allows water skiing. Lava Lake and Little Lava Lake feature a lodge, RV campsites, a grocery store and gas, with canoes and motorized fishing boats available for rent. Cultus Lake is noted for its white sand beaches, enticing visitors with a restaurant, lodge, rental cabins, grocery store and motorized boat rentals. Several trailheads are located here for exploring the surrounding forest.
North and South Twin Lakes are nearly identical 'volcanic maar' lakes: lakes formed when hot volcanic gases encounter groundwater, resulting in a small explosion with the resulting crater filling with water over time. North Twin Lake has rustic camping for tent campers while South Twin Lake holds a resort with cabins, a lodge, restaurant, grocery store, laundry and showers. One of the cabins is named for President Hoover who stayed there many years ago. Visitors can rent non-motorized boats only.
Crane Prairie Reservoir is one of the few man-made lakes along the route. Built in 1922 for irrigation purposes, Crane Prairie Reservoir has a popular resort that has housed many famous guests. There are also RV sites, a grocery store and gas station. Motorized boats (up to 10hp) can be rented. The lake is known for 'cranebows' which are oversized rainbow trout that thrive in the waters. The lake attracts large numbers of migratory waterfowl, so it is popular among spring bird lovers. The Crane Prairie Reserve holds an excellent observation point for osprey only a short walk from the parking area. Summer viewers can watch the adult birds feeding their young.
All of these lakes and over 100 others lie within the 1.8 million acre Deschutes National Forest. With 1,400 miles of trails, the National Forest is a natural magnet for outdoor adventurers. Two of the most popular trails are the Ray Atkeson Memorial Trail and the Deschutes River Trail. Permits are required to hike the trails, and fees may be charged for parking near the trailheads, depending on length of stay. The Cascade Lakes are only the beginning of the attractions located in the Deschutes National Forest. The High Desert Museum is located in Bend and provides a number of exhibits depicting early life in the area, geological features, a Birds of Prey Center, Living History interpretation and a variety of wildlife viewing opportunities.
A visit to the Lava Lands Visitor Center farther south on Highway 97 is an absolute must for any first-time visitor. The unique, seemingly alien landscape allows visitors to see the remains of lava flows up close and marvel at the awe-inspiring power of the earth in motion. Interpretive hiking trails allow hikers to experience this landscape near the source of the lava flow at Lava Butte. The Lava Lands Visitor Center is located at the north edge of Newberry Volcanic Monument and a good first stop before exploring the larger monument. Viewing the massive obsidian flow puts the viewer in awe of the power and beauty of the volcanic landscape. Visitors can hike through Lava River Cave, a mile-long un-collapsed lava tube which remains about 40 degrees year round, or marvel at the Lava Cast Forest, a group of tree molds formed when lava flowed around trees, which then burned away, leaving the tree's shape in the cooling lava.
One could spend weeks exploring everything the Cascade Lakes area has to offer. Besides the resort lodges and cabins at several of the lakes, fishermen and hikers can enjoy their favorite outdoor activity away from the crowded conditions found in so many recreational areas. Hike-in camping brings all the joys of 'roughing it' among unbroken forest landscapes beside pristine waters reflecting noted mountain peaks. In winter, nearby Mount Bachelor offers a variety of ski slopes for the alpine skier, while some of the flatter trails are perfect for cross-country skiing. The Bend area and main roads hold numerous types of lodgings including motels, guest ranches, cottage resorts and private campgrounds. Bend is a tourism-ready hot spot with plenty of restaurants, small local museums, outdoor adventure guides and vacation amenities just waiting to serve all comers. So, no matter what your plans for a Bend-area vacation, make sure to plan a visit to at least a few of the many Cascade Lakes. Maybe there's a 'cranebow' in your future!
*Statistics are for Crane Prairie Reservoir only.
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