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Round a bend to find Mt. Bachelor looming larger than life—and find its image perfectly reflected in a mile-high lake around another bend—and you’ll understand why Scenic America named the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway one of the nation’s most important byways. The Byway passes through the heart of central Oregon, with the towering Cascade Mountains providing a constant backdrop for a recreational paradise that offers first class fishing, boating, hiking, rock climbing opportunities and wonderful alpine and Nordic skiing in the winter. The mountains provide practical as well as scenic pleasures; they block moist air from the Pacific, giving this region as many as 250 sunny days a year!

You’ll pass along the shores of the Deschutes River and a dozen lakes, as well as many noteworthy geological formations hewn by glacial and volcanic activity. Several old-time lakeside resorts offer respite from the road in the form of an ice cream cone or a comfortable room. Campers will find a bounty of excellent campgrounds.

Begin in Bend
This incredible journey begins in Bend, the hub of central Oregon’s recreational paradise. Visit Bend, located downtown, and Central Oregon Visitors Association
at the Old Mill district offer excellent overviews of the many vacation possibilities. Before heading into the mountains, wander through downtown and take in Drake Park, where the meandering Deschutes River reflects snowy Cascade peaks. Follow the signs from here to Mt. Bachelor and the Cascade Lakes.

Century Drive
From the outskirts of town, Century Drive (Oregon Route 372) climbs steadily through the Deschutes National Forest. In the days of the horse and buggy, it was a 100-mile dirt road—hence the name! Throughout time, different tribes have used ancient trade routes throughout this area for hunting, gathering, and fishing. Just within the forest boundary, Forest Service Road 41 accesses the Deschutes River, which offers camping, fishing, rafting, kayaking and canoeing with take-outs above the falls. A few miles west, a vast lava flow that altered the river’s course can be seen from the road.

Mt. Bachelor
As you continue west, the horizon is soon dominated by the enormous cone of Mt. Bachelor, home of the Pacific Northwest’s top ski resort. Mt. Bachelor boasts dependable, dry powder and a 3,300-foot elevation drop; the ski season typically extends through June. During summer months, the Pine Marten Express Lift spirits sight-seers to the 7,700-foot level. The dramatic view sweeps a volcanic skyline, Sparks Lake, Broken Top and the Three Sisters peaks and wilderness area. You can see for hundreds of miles — from Mt. Adams in Washington to Mt. Shasta in California. The landscape around Bachelor — dark lava flows, pale pumice fields, lofty domes and deep chasms — is evidence of the fierce volcanic activity that shaped it.

High Mountain Playground
Moviegoers may recognize the view from Dutchman Flat at the base of Mt. Bachelor. The panorama of Broken Top and the Three Sisters was featured in “Homeward Bound” and “Rooster Cogburn”, among other films. Take a short turn-off to Todd Lake, the first of a dozen Cascade gems, bookended by Mt. Bachelor and Broken Top. As the Byway drops down to a large meadow, you’ll reach Sparks Lake, chosen to commemorate Ray Atkeson, Oregon’s photographer laureate. Watch the meadow closely at dawn and dusk; this is an excellent spot to see elk and deer.Next, you’ll reach the emerald waters of Devils Lake, a popular picnic and camping spot that treats visitors to an eerie optical illusion: crystal clear water and a shallow white pumice bottom make it seem as if boats on the surface are floating in midair. A few miles south, you’ll reach Elk Lake, which offers a marina and rustic lodge, and an historic guard station staffed by volunteers providing information and lots of stories. Boats can be rented by the hour. Just off the Byway and adjoining Elk Lake is Hosmer Lake, a fly-fishing-only fishery that’s prized for its brook trout and landlocked salmon. This is a great place for “fish watching.” Primitive campsites are available here.

Lakes Galore
As the Byway descends, you’ll reach Lava Lake, home of a quaint resort with a marina, lodging and camping. Rent a skiff, pack a picnic lunch and putter about in the shadow
of Mt. Bachelor. Nearby Little Lava Lake is the source of the Deschutes River, which meanders through a lush meadow along the Byway as you move south toward Cultus
Lake and Crane Prairie Reservoir. Crane Prairie is home of the famous “cranebows,” oversize rainbow trout that grow quickly in this shallow, food-rich impoundment.
The record rainbow to date, for this lake, weighed over 19 pounds, with fish in the 4 to 10 pound range common. Wildlife enthusiasts will delight in Crane Prairie’s
Quinn River campground and boat launch along the eastern shore of Crane Prairie Reservoir. Cormorant, osprey, bald eagle, northern goshawk, egret, and owls are some
of the bird species to be seen.

Still More Lakes
South of Crane Prairie, more lakes await you. A short detour east on Forest Service Road 42 takes you past Wickiup Reservoir (another angler’s favorite) and Twin Lakes, to Highway 97. The Byway continues south to Davis Lake, a large, shallow impoundment that was formed by a lava flow cutting off Odell Creek. Historically known for large rainbow trout, Davis offers excellent flyfishing, with South Sister providing a stunning backdrop. Abundant waterfowl are also present, along with many campsites. The Byway ends at Oregon Route 58 near Crescent and Odell lakes, two popular recreation sites with complete resort facilities.

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Keep in mind many of the routes listed here travel through remote areas where gas stations are few and far between. And since road and weather conditions can be hazardous, even into summer, we urge you to call 800-977-6368 or check Trip Check before starting out.

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  1. Dawn Hull says…

    Eastern Oregons scenic byways are the best ever.

    Written on July 1st, 2014 / Flag this Comment
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