The Lava River Cave in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument may be one of the more touristy things to do when in the Bend region but it is also totally worth a visit, particularly on a warm summer day. We visited the cave in 2015 with our nephew Owen after a day filled with mountain biking and floating on the Deschutes River and today we finally made it to the equally fascinating lava cast forest which is a few miles further to the south.
Formed thousands of years ago by liquid rock draining from the Newberry Volcano, the lava river cave is possibly the most interesting and easiest to access caves in the Bend region.
down into a huge entry cavern followed by a series of metal boardwalks across the rocky cave floor. The large cave mouth provides ample light for the first few hundred feet of the hike, highlighting several large stalagmites, but soon headlamps and/or the forest service lanterns become essential. After the end of the metal boardwalks and stairs there is a short section of rough trail through a large cavern where we heard but did not see bats in the darkness. At about .25 miles into the cave the floor becomes sandy and from this part forward most of the hike is through well-defined lava tube that feels at times like a subway tunnel. The walls of the lava tube appear wet and glistening in places and rough and dull in others. Looking closely at the ceiling one sees several smaller tubes/vents leaving the primary cave during the next half mile of the tunnel.
Approximately .8 miles into the tunnel the cavern starts to get smaller and most adults will need to duck here and there to avoid walking into the rough ceiling. There is a short stretch of the cave that requires crawling on all fours that some will find challenging before the “official” end of the cave. We enjoyed the gentle uphill hike back to the cave mouth, noting that cave looks quite different depending on whether you are descending or ascending.
Lava Cast Forest
Situated at the end of a long and sometimes rutted gravel road, the lava cast forest is overlooked by many visitors to the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. While not a “star attraction” within the national monument, the lava cast forest is worth visiting, particularly for those wanting an up-and-close view of a 6,000 year-old lava flow. Formed when the Newberry lava flow enveloped a dense forest, the lava cast forest contains hundreds of circular rock wells that denote the location of ancient trees that were not burned by the cooling lava.
The paved 1-mile loop trail passes by more than a dozen lava casts and offers excellent views of the Newberry lava flow. While vegetation is scarce (there are a few stunted ponderosas here and there) we saw several types of wildflowers growing when we visited. Also of interest are the kipuka, small forested islands dotting the five square mile lava flow. The Hoffman Island trail which begins a mile down the gravel road from the parking area provides access to one of the larger kipukas in the area.