Exploring Lava Caverns

Mileage (Roundtrip): 2.8 Trail Conditions: Rocky in spots. Light hikers recommended.
Hike #: 14 Scenery (1 "Meh" to 10 "Amazing, Wow"): 8
Sullivan Hike #: 57 Difficulty (1 "Easy" to 5 "Difficult"): 1
Hike Name: Sparks Lake Region: Sisters Wilderness

Driving Directions: From Bend, take the Cascade Lakes Highway for 25.9 miles to the turn off to Sparks Lake. The turn off is on the left side of the road about four miles after the turn off to Mt. Bachelor.

Bring: A camera and a kayak if you want to explore the lake after the short hike.

Other Things to Know: I highly recommend visiting the lake in the morning during the summer months since the thin forest of lodgepole pines does not provide a lot of shade and the lava field positively bakes in the afternoon sun.

Sparks Lake is a favorite destination for campers, boaters, and people looking for an easy but scenic walk across an ancient lava field.  Sparks Lake is also a go-to spot for locals and visitors eager to snap gorgeous photos of the Cascades.  Chances are good that you have seen a photo of Sparks Lake before;  not only is the lake featured in Bend’s tourist brochures and art galleries it was a favorite of Ray Atkenson, Oregon’s late photographer laureate.

mountain lake, lava fields

Sparks Lake

There are two short loop hikes that begin at the boat launch parking area on the southwest side of the lake – a 1.6-mile loop along the lakeshore and returning via Davis Canyon and the Atkenson trail and a 2.8 mile loop that adds a 1.1 mile loop up and over a small knoll to the shorter loop.  Both hikes are easy strolls, but the path is rocky in spots beyond the park bench/view point .5 miles from the parking lot.

Angelique and I have hiked the 2.8-mile loop counter-clockwise several times with out of town visitors, generally at a very leisurely pace to allow adequate time for exploration of the lava caves and crevasses along the route.  While I don’t generally advocate off trail exploring, the Sparks Lake lava field is a perfect spot for wandering around provided care is taken when climbing into the canyons and cracks – lava is sharp and a fall will result in nasty gashes!

The 2.8-mile hike begins with nice views of the lake and the South Sister and Broken Top peaks to the northwest.  At the Davis Canyon trail junction, the trails (i.e., short loop and longer loop) leave the lakeshore and enter the sparse forest.  While not as picturesque as the first .5 miles of the hike, the next mile or so of the hike is very interesting from a geological standpoint. The stacks of massive lava rocks and the canyons/crags that run along the trail are otherworldly and contrast nicely with the wispy forest of lodgepole pines.  At the small knoll/highpoint on the trail (about 1.4 miles from the car) there is a nice view of Mt. Bachelor which is hidden for most of the hike.  The return hike to the car is easy and there are several small caves/collapsed lava tubes that are fun to explore along the way.lava fields

We visited Sparks Lake twice this summer – once to go kayaking and another time for an hour or so of geocaching after our hiking plans for the day were thwarted by the Horse Complex wildfire. Of the four geocaches that we’ve tracked down at Sparks Lake our favorite is the geocache named “Davis Canyon Surprise”. We also enjoyed tracking down “Western Exposure”, another well-hidden geocache that we tried and failed to find last year.  Well done Photoguygary & Crew and Team Zoolander.

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