5 Fun Caves to Explore Near Bend

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Did you know that Central Oregon has the highest density of caves of any region in Oregon? There are more than 350 known caves in Deschutes National Forest alone!

While not all of these cave locations are publicized or open to the public there are still plenty of caves that are open to explore and many are only a 20-minute drive from Bend!

Exploring the region’s caves is a great way to stay cool on a hot summer day as the interior of the caves always stays a cool 33 – 50 degrees no matter what the weather is outside.

Tips to Know Before Visiting a Cave

  • Never go alone if you plan on going beyond the entrance of the caves.
  • Bring 3 sources of light.
  • Never wear the same pair of shoes if traveling to multiple caves. This is to help stop the spread of white nose syndrome which is deadly to bats that live in the caves.
  • Be respectful of the caves and never carve, draw, or otherwise deface the cave walls.
  • Leave the pets at home as they can carry diseases that can be deadly to the bat populations that call these caves home.
  • Wear warm clothing as the temperature inside the caves rarely rises above 50 degrees.
  • Know your limits. Some caves are easily accessible while others require special gear or long approaches through rough terrain.

Our Favorite Caves to Visit in Central Oregon

Here are our favorite caves to visit near Bend. All of these caves are easy to find and require minimal hiking or scrambling to access.

We’ve brought our 4 and 6-year-olds on trips to all of these caves and the only time we’ve had to turn back early was the scramble down to Arnold Ice Cave.

Lava River Cave

Looking back at the entrance to the lava river cave

Lava River Cave is one of the longest caves in Oregon and a major tourist attraction. Because of its popularity, the cave now requires advanced reservations for visiting.

Luckily, the fee is only $2 per group but plan ahead as some busy summer weekends will sell out ahead of time.

The cave itself is approximately a mile long which makes for a surreal experience to walk that far underground. The tour is 2 miles round trip and usually takes around 1 hour for most folks. You’ll be walking on a combination of stairs, walkways, and uneven cave ground throughout the tour.

We visited the cave on a sweltering 90-degree July day yet the inside of the cave remains a steady 42 degrees year round. Because of this, you’ll want to dress warmly when visiting.

When to Visit Lava River Cave

Lava River Cave is open from mid-May to mid-September. It remains closed the rest of the year to protect the bats who live inside. Because the temperature inside the cave remains a constant 42 degrees there really is no bad day to visit.

If you’re planning on visiting we recommend checking out the available dates on Recreation.gov ahead of time as tickets are released 30 days in advance.

Note that the cave is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

How to Make a Reservation at Lava River Cave

Reservations can be made on Recreation.gov. Each reservation is good for a 2-hour window which allows for plenty of time to walk the 2.2 miles it takes to explore the entire cave.

Reservations are by car so your entire group can enter on a single reservation.

What to Bring When Visiting

Despite being a forest service operated site you’ll still be on your own once you enter the cave.

This means you’ll want to bring warm clothes, clean shoes, 3 sources of light (lanterns are available for rent on-site but availability is not guaranteed), and a sense of adventure!

How to Get There

Lava River Cave is located right off of Highway 97 between Bend and Sunriver so this is one of the easiest to access caves in the area. Once you have a parking reservation you can drive right up and start the tour from the paved parking lot.

Boyd Cave

Inside of Boyd Cave and Entrance

Boyd Cave is probably the 2nd most popular cave in Central Oregon due to its easy access off of China Hat Road. The cave is unique for the area in that it has a stairway that takes you into the cave through a hole in the ceiling.

Most other accesssible caves in the area are entered through a collapsed end so this makes for a much more dramatic scene once inside.

The cave itself is over 1,800 feet long so there is plenty of room to explore as you often won’t be alone here.

When we visited there were at least 4 other groups, including one who brough their dog into the cave (DO NOT DO THIS!).

The kids got a little frightened once we got a couple hundred feet into the cave and turned off our headlamps to show them what total darkness looked like. So our journey was cut short that day although I’d love to go back again and explore a bit more.

Climbing down into Boyd Cave near Bend, Oregon

Boyd cave is located on BLM land so there are no passes required to visit or park here.

If you’re a mountain biker this area is full of trails so you can make a day of it by biking Horse Ridge loop and capping it off with a cave tour! Note that this area gets very dried out and sandy in the summer so riding is best in the shoulder months or even warmer winter days.

How to Get There

Boyd cave is located just 25 minutes from Bend off of China Hat road before the pavement turns to gravel. You’ll see the sign on the north side of the road that leads you to a small parking area.

Arnold Ice Cave

Entrance to Arnold Ice Cave in Bend

Arnold Ice Cave is located a few miles down China Hat Road from Boyd cave. This area is home to a number of caves so its worth stopping here to wander around and check out the sink holes and caves that are open to the public.

Arnold Ice cave is unique in that at the bottom of the cave tends to hold ice year round. In face, in the early days of Bend they used to mine ice from the cave during the warmer months to supply Bend.

Today the cave is open to the public but requires a steep scramble over sand and boulders to get to the bottom.

On our visit I brought the kids into the cave but they weren’t interested in going much beyond the entrance so a trip to the bottom will have to wait for another day.

How to Get There

When visiting Arnold Ice Cave you will most likely be without cell reception so I highly recommend downloading an app like Gaia.

Gaia is a GPS map app that allows you to download the maps for offline use and will usually show your location even when you’re without cell service. The detail shown on this app when visiting BLM or Forest Service land is far better than what you’ll find on Google maps.

Before the trip I marked the location of Arnold Ice Cave along with a few other caves in the area and it was super helpful to reference when we visited as their are no signs and trails which crisscross the area.

It would be VERY easy to get turned around if you’re not careful.

To get to Arnold Ice Cave take China Hat Road until you get to Swamp Wells Rd. Note that this road is not marked so you’ll need to rely on your GPS here.

A short drive down this moderately rough road will take you to a small parking area.

You’ll notice large sink holes on both sides of the parking area. Go to the one on the north side of the parking area and you should see a trail through the brush leading down into the sinkhole.

Follow this and you’ll make your way into the cave.

We didn’t look up precise directions before arriving and ended up walking a full circle around the entrance before realizing where we were supposed to go!

Hidden Forest Cave

Top of Hidden Forest Cave

Hidden Forest Cave is located just a 1/4 mile from Arnold Ice Cave and is definitely worth checking out while you’re here.

The walk to hidden forest cave will actually take you right by charcoal cave as well but this cave is closed to the public.

Like Arnold Ice Cave, the entrance to Hidden Forest Cave is through one end where the roof long ago collapsed.

When you first arrive at the cave you’ll be standing directly over the entrance but you’ll need to make your way to the far end to find a way down to the bottom. There are trails on either side of the sinkhole and both will take you to the path leading down.

Inside of Hidden Forest Cave

This cave is unique in that there is a mini forest of ponderose pine growing up from the bottom of the cave floor that stand out amongst the scraggly sagebrush and junipers that dominate this area.

Once you’re at the bottom it almost feels like you’re in an oasis as you’ll see birds flying around and greenery that feels just a touch too lush for this part of the high desert.

The actual cave itself is short but very impressive in its size. Our kids had a great time playing around the rocks and watching the birds fly in and out of the cave entrance.

Unfortunately, you’ll notice graffiti that dots the cave walls. This area was heavily vandelized around a decade ago and, despite impressive cleanup efforts, there is still some graffiti remaining. You may also notice fire pits or evidence of fires on the cave floor. Please do not light fires here as they are not permitted and can damage this fragile environment.

How to Get There

From the Arnold Ice Cave parking lot walk approximately 1/4 mile west until you see the rim of the cave. Walk around either side until you get to the trail that leads down to the cave floor.

Redmond Caves

The Redmond caves are a series of 5 caves that were formed by the same lava flows that formed almost all of the caves in Central Oregon.

Located just south of the Redmond airport these caves are very easily accessible and are a fun way to burn an hour when you’re in the area.

One fun thing about these caves is you’re able to walk entirely through some all the way to an exit at the other end. Doing this requires getting a little dirty at times as the ceilings can get low. Make sure to also bring your multiple sources of light as it does get dark in the caves and hitting your head on the ceiling is not a pleasant experience!

One downside with these caves is with their close proximity to civilization you’ll probably notice more trash littering the cave floors so watch out for broken glass if you’re visiting with little ones.

How to Get There

The Redmond Caves are located on the north side of Airport Way just before you arrive at the airport. There is a small parking area with a map showing the enterances to the five caves.

About the author
Derek Carlson
Pacific Northwest native, cross-country skier, hiker, mountain biker, wannabe fly fisherman, writer and owner of Roam the Northwest