Exploring the Land of Lakes

September 6, 2018 (Updated April 24, 2019)

With our camping gear packed in the back of our Subaru Forester, we started our journey home along a highway filled with alpine lakes, majestic pine trees and lava rock as far as you could see. Around every corner the sun sparked off the clear water of a lake or a trailhead marked the entrance to a hidden gem. Mountains played peek-a-boo with us and glistened against the bright blue sky. Even if you didn’t plan on stopping at any lakes, this highway takes you on a gorgeous adventure.

The Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway is a 66-mile stretch of highway that starts near Bend and continues west until it hits OR-58, near Crescent Lake. Adventure seekers can start on either end and can plan a day trip or camp at the lake campgrounds. Backpackers can enjoy hike-in only lakes like Green Lakes, Doris Lake or Lucky Lake.

A girl stands with her dog at a lakeside trail with a snowcapped peak in the background.
Sparks Lake was a favorite subject of photographer Ray Atkeson, and a short loop hike is named in his honor.

One of the first lakes on the byway is Sparks Lake. This lake is known for its epic views of the South Sister and Broken Top. The Ray Atekeson Trail circles the lake, providing hikers (and photographers like the trail’s namesake) with numerous spectacular views.

Formed by lava flow centuries ago, Devils Lake is shallow with an average depth of just over three feet and a maximum depth of 10 feet.

Devils Lake is easily spotted from the byway: the emerald green waters can be seen from the road. Devils Lake is a small and shallow lake, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth spending some time at. With a walk-in campground right on the edge of the water, this lake offers a beautiful place to camp. Bring your fishing pole and catch some rainbow or brown trout.

Sail boats look tiny on the large Elk Lake.
Elk Lake's waters are so transparent that you can see the bottom — and kokanee — from the surface.

Want to take your sail boat out for an afternoon? Hit up Elk Lake or Hosmer Lake, two of the bigger lakes on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway.

Lava Lake offers beautiful views of the Three Sisters and is known for great boat fishing.

Lava Lake offers beautiful views of the Three Sisters and is known for great boat fishing. A small lakeside store offers snacks, drinks and supplies to day-goers or Lava Lake Lodge guests. Little Lava Lake offers more seclusion than its big sister.

A red canoe sits on the banks of Davis Lake.
Davis Lake is a popular fly fishing lake, with an abundance of large rainbow trout.

With all of these lakes being so close to one another, trails go from lake to lake along this byway and many can easily be done in a day. Ditch the car and head out to explore. If you’re wanting to mix it up from a lake setting, the Deschutes River Trail offers a riverside hike as well as two waterfalls.

If you want to explore epic lava rock formations, Davis Lake is the lake for you. Huge hillsides of black volcanic rock jut up against the edge of the highway as you near Davis Lake. There’s also a few campgrounds dispersed around this large body of water.

With an adventure around every corner, the Cascades Lakes Scenic Byway is a place you’ll find yourself coming back to — there’s too much beauty to be seen in just one trip. Pack up your car, your backpack, your camera (and maybe your fishing pole or kayak) and start exploring!

About The

Mecca Ray-Rouse
Mecca Ray-Rouse is a freelance writer, blogger and photographer. A native to Eugene, she loves the rainy weather and everything Oregon has to offer. When she isn't out exploring, you can find her baking cheesecakes, running her wedding photography business, having a beer with friends or cuddling with her dog, Finn.

Trip Ideas

Ask Oregon

What are the must-do trails south of Bend?

Definitely check out the Green Lakes Trail on Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. It’s popular, but for a good reason — it’s a very scenic and a great trail. The more ambitious climb would be South Sister, an accessible but challenging hike. In Newberry, don’t miss the Obsidian Trail. There’s also a short hike to the Paulina…