As we enjoy a thunderous cool-down here across The High Desert (after an unseasonably hot Spring and Early Summer) my family decided to pack up our kayaks and head out on a driving tour. The Cascade Lakes Highway has been named one of the most most important byways in The US. With out a doubt, it is a fantastic drive that features over a dozen lakes and recreational opportunities galore. The view alone will connect you with the spirit of Central Oregon and change your perspective on our place in The Wild World. I highly recommend this drive to anyone visiting Bend during the Summer or Fall months.
The driving tour starts out from the West side of Bend on Century Drive. The iconic by way was called Century drive because it was about 100 miles roundtrip to popular Elk Lake from Bend. The road was originally paved with red cinder, a staple of area roads constructed during the mid twentieth century. The road is now 66 miles long and ends at Highway 58. There are several routes you can take that include doubling back or turning towards Sunriver or Lapine.
Past Mt. Bachelor you will come to Todd Lake, a popular lake that offers swimming and hiking and several picnic sights. Parking here can be difficult in July so we bypassed this lake to make this an easy in-and- out driving tour.
Sparks Lake is on the left directly after Todd Lake and is a gem of a playground. Breathtaking views and crystal- clear waters invite paddlers and campers by the dozen. There is plenty of room to play here, the lake provides private alcoves and beaches to explore. The Ray Atkeson Memorial Trail is a 2.3 mile hiking loop along the shores of Sparks Lake. The trail offers a paved 1/2 mile wheelchair access. This is a great family lake!
Past Sparks Lake you will see the eerie green waters of Devil’s Lake and the glistening obsidian formation that is Devil’s Chair. Hiking, paddling,The Green Lakes and South Sister Trailheads all lie within this 5 mile stretch.
Next is Elk Lake, home to a 1929 Guard Station.The Elk Lake Guard Station was restored in 1997 and is now a Visitor Center. Here there is a loop that takes you around the back side of Elk Lake and spits you out on The Cascade Lakes Highway further South. We continued past this sight as well as The Elk Lake Resort. The Resort has a cafe and often features live Music in July and August. This is the busiest resort on the byway and the parking lot can fairly congested. Just further South is Beach, a lesser known Day Use Area that is aptly named.
After Elk Lake comes The Lava Lakes, known for their serene, pristine condition. Both lakes have campgrounds, great fishing, and breathtaking views of Mt. Bachelor and South Sister. Little Lava is also the source of The Deschutes River.
This part of The Cascade Lakes Highway features a lush bio system called a Fen. A Fen is a wet meadow and is home to 25 percent of the forest’s known rare species of plants and invertebrates. The Lava Lakes Fen has two species of carnivorous plants that trap and ingest insects and other small invertebrates for their nutrients.
Beyond The Fen is Cultus Lake Resort, a now popular water- ski and power boat lake. The name comes from The Chinook jargon for ‘Useless’ or ‘In-vain’. In the early 19th Century the lake was overpopulated by beavers and attracted fur trappers. The Winopee trail on the West side of Cultus Lake provides access to a variety of smaller alpine lakes, also of glacial origin. The Muskrat Creek Shelter is accessed from this trail as well.
Crane Prairie stretches along The East side of The Highway and can be accessed from several points. We stopped at Rock Creek Campground and used the restrooms and spied a nice beach for kayaking. Crane Prairie was constructed in 1940 by a dam on The Deschutes River. The reservoir is named for the abundance of cranes in the area. It is currently one of the largest fisheries in Oregon, producing famous ‘Cranebow’ trout. The Deschutes River leaves the reservoir and continues on South to Wickiup Reservoir.
Davis Lake straddles the Deschutes and Klamath county lines and is the last stop on The Cascade Lakes Highway before Highway 58. The lake was formed when a lava flow blocked nearby Odell Creek. The lake fluctuates seasonally from 3,000 acres to 1,200 acres in Winter. It is unknown where the water goes when it disappears beneath the lava flow each year. Fishing is open year round here but only to fly fisherpeople with barbless hooks. The lake is populated largely by bass illegally introduced in 1995. The creek at North Davis Lake is an icy dip on a hot day and a great way to end a classic driving tour of The Cascade Lakes Highway.