Stephanie has lived in Central Oregon since 2006. She has been raising four kids and enjoying the many recreational amenities here
If you come to visit the Central Oregon area during spring, summer, or fall, you must take the time to visit the Lava Cast Forest, just east of Sunriver. Take the exit off Highway 97, as if you are going to Sunriver, but head east instead. You'll follow an unpaved road for 9 miles until the final destination. It is totally worth the drive!
Step back into history and witness the remnants of an explosive volcanic eruption more than 6,000 years ago. The Newberry Volcano to the south spewed hot lava through standing forests thousands of years before anyone inhabited this area. The trees that existed at the time became encased in stone when the lava cooled. What remained were "casts" of the trees, many of which go down several feet below surface level. Lava fields still remain over much of the area. But, wondrously, new life erupts from the stone ground.
Only 15 miles south of Bend, the Lava Cast Forest should definitely be on your list of places to visit when you come to Central Oregon! The elevation is a little over 5,700 feet, so you may want to bring a sweatshirt, just in case. Not surprisingly, the area is not open during the winter months when the ground is covered in deep snow.
What to Expect at the Lava Cast Forest
This site is maintained by the United States Forest Service. You will need to have either a recreation pass ($30 a year), or $5 to park in the lot (bring exact change). Restrooms are available right at the trailhead. There is a paved trail on which you can wander through the area, which is only about 1 mile and relatively flat. Twelve marked areas are along the trail for viewing, but there is much more natural wonder. On the last 1/4 mile of the loop, you can see Mount Bachelor and the Sisters over the lava fields. Beautiful wild flowers, juniper and Ponderosa pines amazingly grow out of the stone ground.
Our family has also visited the Newberry Caldera National Monument further to the south (about 8 miles south, then 8 miles east). This is another must-see area for visitors to Central Oregon. It is worth a separate Hub. The area is 17 square miles and is at the base of a 500 square mile volcano, which is still currently active. As stated on the official website: "Geologists believe the caldera sits over a shallow magma body only 2 to 5 kilometers deep. Visitors see numerous cinder cones (over 400 throughout the area), miles of basalt flows, as well as rhyolite flows of obsidian."
There are a number of lava fields throughout the area just south of Bend. Fortunately, the Forest Service has opened many of these up to the public for a small fee, and you can explore the areas, take photographs, and learn about the geologic history of the region. Many active volcanoes remain and one can imagine what it must have been like to see the hot lava flow through the area!
Perhaps most amazingly, the lava rocks are very light. When you pick one up, you would not imagine that it would be so weightless. As with any natural area, however, be sure to leave everything as you find it. Lava rocks should be replaced, and all trees and vegetation should remain as is. Take nothing but photographs. As the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts recognize, we should all Leave No Trace.
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After your time at the Forest, drive back down the 9-mile cinder/gravel road and then cross Highway 97 directly towards Sunriver. The community is only 3 miles from the highway. The village at Sunriver boasts numerous restaurants, coffee cafes, and speciality stores. There is even a grocery store. Ample parking is available, so you won't have to walk too far.
The wooded resort is open to the public for shopping and recreation year-round. Many people rent or own accommodations at Sunriver from which they can head out to enjoy the great outdoors of the Central Oregon region. From skiing and snowboarding in the winter, to fly-fishing, hiking and biking in the summer, there is so much to do! Sunriver also has horse stables. You can go on guided rides (ages 7 and up), and ponies are available for the younger set. Paved trails wind throughout the resort on which people can bike or run.
We enjoyed lunch at the Aloha BBQ after our walk through the Forest. The aroma alone of the variety of barbecued meats, served up with rice, potato salad, noodles or pineapple coleslaw, is bound to make your mouth water! It is located right in the middle of the Sunriver square. I highly recommend it.
Visit Central Oregon
This area south of Bend is filled with wondrous locations to explore. From the Lava Cast Forest to the Lava River Cave, including Lava Butte, the explosive history of the region is clearly evident. Just a little longer drive will take you to Fort Rock.
This geologic formation, known as a "tuff ring" was formed 50,000 to 100,000 years ago when molten lava exploded from vents in the bottom of a lake and then cooled in the waters in a circular shape. The lake is long gone, but the amazing rocks stand testament to the earth's formative years. Unlike the parking at Lava Cast Forest, you can park for free at Fort Rock. Hike around the crater and marvel at the earth's creation.
Of the many things to do in Central Oregon, most definitely get out and enjoy the scenery!
Footage of the Amazing Lava Fields at the Lava Cast Forest
Where is Sunriver Oregon and the Lava Cast Forest?
© 2008 Stephanie Marshall