Unveiling the Mysteries of Lava Caves in Bend, Oregon: A Journey into Earth’s Underground Marvels

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Looking for something to do on a hot day? Love the feeling of being some place dark and almost eerie? The lava caves of Bend, Oregon are just right for you!

Our Delayed Journey to the Lava Caves in Bend

inside Boyd cave, part of the Bend lava caves
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It seems no matter how much we plan, things never follow our inclinations. And our trip to the Lava Caves in Bend Oregon was no exception. We had done all the research, knew where to go, and even got our timeline mapped out. But by the time we got to Bend, we were about 3 hours behind schedule. Our problem is we are planners, but also explorers. And those two don’t mesh as well as we would like. It’s hard to stay on a plan while also taking unplanned detours for lunch, shopping, and good ole fashioned sightseeing. But what can we say, Bend is an interesting place!

After checking into the dog-friendly La Quinta of Bend, we grabbed the couple flashlights we managed to find in my house, the dog and the camera and headed in the directions of the caves!

Getting to Bend’s Lava Caves: Desert Views and Gravel Roads

When it comes to finding the somewhat secretive lava caves of Bend, Oregon, all of our research pointed us to a starting point about 12 miles outside of the city, off of China Hat Road. We were on day 2 of our convertible road trip at this point, with our bright orange Ford Mustang, and he was not loving sections of China Hat Road as much as we were.  In reality, during our visit in August, the road was easily accessible by any car, we would just recommend one that is a little higher off the ground.

Mini aussie peeking out of orange convertible
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As we made our slow journey across the gravel road, we were greeted with views of pines scattered across the desert and bright colored sage brush flowering along the rolling hills. Up first, appearing on our left was a sign for Boyd Cave, the first Bend lava cave on our journey and definitely the easiest to find.

First Up: Entering Boyd Lava Cave Bend

Of the three caves we visited on our Bend lava caves journey, Boyd Cave was the easiest to enter and easiest to explore, thanks to a metal staircase that descended from above ground. Heading down into Boyd cave we immediately felt the cold air blasting our faces. It was August and we had been feeling a little overheated, until we took one step into Boyd Cave.

entrance light of Boyd lava cave near Bend Oregon
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At the bottom we quickly noticed two distinct things. First, the cave splits into two sections, one to your right, and one to your left. Second, our lights were nowhere near bright enough for sections of the cave that extended beyond the light of the entrance. Mom and I are kind of wimps when it comes to caves, we’ll admit it, so our cave exploration fell short compared to most visitors. We made it about 200 feet from the staircase, grabbed a few dark photos, and decided we were ready to get back into the daylight.

Lava tube in Boyd lava cave near Bend Oregon
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From what I’ve read, Boyd Cave goes for quite a ways, almost 2,000 feet. The journey is mostly flat except for one short section about two thirds of the way through where the cave narrows to just a few feet tall and access beyond this section requires the desire to crawl through on your hands and knees (not the best for anyone with claustrophobia!)

On a second visit to Boyd cave with my husband, we came prepared with brighter lights and made it a bit further. This adventure took us all the way to where the cave shrunk down in height. My poor husband wanted to keep going, but I am not adventurous enough to crawl through tight spaces.

If tight spaces are not your thing, do not worry though, as you can walk for a good 10-15 minutes through the left side of the cave before you will have to duck down and crawl over rocks.

Making our Way to Arnold Ice Cave

Continuing further down China Hat Road, we carefully maneuvered the Mustang for what seemed like forever towards Arnold Ice Cave Road. After navigating three turns of the dirt thoroughfare and driving past many side roads that we thought were it, we finally came up to the aptly named Arnold Ice Cave Road. Our notes indicate that we had traveled 4 miles past NF-1820, but honestly, there is an easier way to locate the turnoff. Just consult Google maps. The famed app may not have been able to locate a pharmacy for us in the well-defined limits of the city, but an obscure Bend lava cave was no problem.

Slight opening in rocks creating the entrance to Arnold Ice Cave lava cave
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Arnold Ice Cave is a lava cave in Bend Oregon that was formed 80,000 years ago by a basalt lava flow. The cave remains cold inside no matter the temperature outside. Even in the middle of summer, if you go back far enough, you will find pillars of ice inside the cave. Some of them so dense and tall, they block the path, making it difficult to go farther into the cave.

The entrance to this lava cave in Bend is nothing like the entrance to Boyd Cave. If that entrance was tough for you, we highly recommend skipping these next caves. We skirted, and slipped, and tip toed our way down to the entrance, and we hadn’t even made it inside yet! The rocks were damp and slick, and the cold air surging from the cave opening was not at all inviting. We were disappointed to see someone had vandalized the entrance to the cave with some nonsensical graffiti. (Why do people do this?!)

View of blue sky with rocks overtop of Arnold ice cave
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At the mouth of the cave, Kimber was ready to traverse the ever steepening rocks, but Mom and I were not so sure. We saw remnants of a stone staircase and handrails, that had long been destroyed. With it getting later in the evening, we decided it was not a good time to attempt the precipitous, treacherous climb into the cave, much to little goat dog’s dismay. Plus, the National Forest service prohibits canines from some area caves, so as not to endanger bat populations. Not being certain if this was one, we decided it best not to enter.

However, if you’re intent on finding the ice in Arnold Ice Cave, we strongly recommend you pack in a high-powered flashlight. You may want to consider upper body strength as well. Dropping down into the cave is one thing. Pulling yourself out again is another.

Onward and Upward to the Next Lava Cave Bend

We climbed back upwards, out of the mouth surrounding Arnold Cave in search of the next Bend Lava cave on our checklist: Hidden Forest Cave. Hidden Forest Cave had unfortunately suffered some severe vandalism, and even arson in the recent years. The cave used to boast pine trees in it’s opening, with the tops of them reaching up to the floor of the dry land above it.

Entrance to Hidden Forest Cave with trees surrounding
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After many many years of people visiting the caves adhering to the motto of “leave nothing but footprints,” it seems times have changed. In 2011, vandals covered the lava cave in crude graffiti, and even lit fires that destroyed many of the pines that made the cave’s entrance so unique and special. On our visit, we took the time to imagine what the cave had looked like before the destruction. Some pines were left standing, but Hidden Forest cave was not a forest anymore.

Things to Know Before You Visit the Lava Caves of Bend

First things first, and one of the most important things: bring a flashlight. Bring two flashlights, even better, bring seven! There is no shortage of stories of people entering caves then having their lights die and being so disoriented they have a hard time finding their way out. It is recommended that you bring a headlamp as your main source of light in all of the Bend lava caves so your hands are free to aid in balance as you climb over and under rock formations.

Small rock opening of Hidden Forest Cave
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Another thing to keep in mind, even in the summer, is dressing warmly! All the caves in this system are very cold inside, and quite damp. Dressing in layers will keep you comfortable on your hikes on the surface, as well as keep you warm as you crawl farther and father into the cave systems.

If you deal with claustrophobia, some (or all) of these cave journeys might not be for you. Boyd Cave is easy to access and for the most part very open. The other two caves require much more crawling around and wedging your way through tight, dark, and narrow spaces. And remember that the complete darkness of a cave system can be disorienting, even with adequate light. If you have ever suffered from cave sickness or panic in dark places, rethink your journey to the lava caves in Bend Oregon. Or do like we did and stick to the openings.

If you’d like to visit any of the lava caves in Bend but are hesitant to strike out on your own, we hear that Wanderlust Tours offers guided experiences into several of Bend’s lava tubes. We haven’t used them ourselves but have noticed positive reviews.

For the ultimate lava tube experience, visit the nearby Lava River Cave. While the tube itself is part of the Newberry Volcanic Monument, you can explore this 1-mile cavern at your leisure. You can even rent high-powered lanterns that are easy to carry and use. Learn more about this experience in our Lava River Cave blog.

If you plan to visit any of Bend’s lava tube caves, avoid the winter months when bats are hibernating. Entering the caves during bat hibernation season endangers the population, an essential component of Oregon’s ecosystem.

Last, be prepared to get dirty. The lava tubes listed here could offer opportunities for crawling, so keeping shoes and clothes clean might not be on the agenda, depending on your adventurous spirit.






Dog Friendly Places in Bend- 30 minutes away

Explore With Us

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Ali Patton

Ali is a travel blogger for Seconds to Go, where she shares her experiences traveling the U.S. with her co-blogger Mom, Kathleen. She is also an avid Disney travel enthusiast, and with multiple Disney World trips under her belt, is a knoweldgeable resource for all things related to Disney vacations. Ali can be found managing the Seconds to Go social media accounts as well as the famed Double Z Farm pages on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok.

Thanks for Joining Our Adventure

Kathleen Hesketh and Ali Patton, mother daughter travel bloggers

We're Kat and Ali, a pair of mother-daughter travel bloggers exploring the U.S. We're sharing our experiences, tips and insights to help you more easily get out and explore the beautiful landscapes and places of this nation.


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