The Cascade Lakes Highway (a.k.a. Century Drive or Route 46)

Trees carpet a rise in the mountains above the tranquil surface of Cultus Lake.

The tranquil waters of Cultus Lake. Photo © Nick Perla, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

The Cascade Lakes Highway (a.k.a. Century Dr. or Rte. 46) is an 89-mile drive leading to more than half a dozen lakes in the shadow of the snowcapped Cascades. These lakes feature boating, fishing, and other water sports, and just about every lake has at least one campground on its shore. Hiking, bird-watching, biking, and skiing also attract visitors. From downtown Bend, drive south on Franklin Avenue, which becomes Galveston Avenue, to the traffic circle at Galveston Avenue and Century Drive (at 14th St., about 1 mile from downtown). Go three-quarters of the way around the circle and you’ll be headed south on Century Drive. The route is well marked, and the road climbs in elevation for a significant portion of the drive.

Although there are many places to stop and explore along the highway, the stretch between Mount Bachelor and Crane Prairie Reservoir is the most spectacular, so if you’re just out for an eye-popping drive, you can take the shortened version described here.

The area around the Cascade Lakes Highway is part of the Deschutes National Forest (541/383-5300). A Northwest Forest Pass ($5 one-day, $30 one-year) is required to park at most trailheads.


Information

For information about sites along the Cascade Lakes Highway, contact the Bend–Fort Rock Ranger Station (1230 NE 3rd St., Suite A-262, Bend, 541/383-4000).


Sights

Todd Lake

Shortly after you pass Mount Bachelor, you’ll find the turnoff to the exceptionally beautiful but equally rustic National Forest Service campground at Todd Lake. It’s a short walk up the trail from a parking area to the campsites at this 6,200-foot-high alpine lake. Tables, fire grills, and a vault toilet are provided, but you will need to pack in your own water and supplies, as no vehicles are allowed—a good thing, because the drone of a Winnebago generator into the wee hours of the night would definitely detract from the grandeur of this pristine spot. You’ll find good swimming and wading on the sandy shoal on the south end of the lake, and you can’t miss the captivating views of Broken Top to the north. Hardy explorers can portage a canoe up the trail for a paddle around Todd Lake. Because of the lake’s high elevation, it is often socked in by snow until about the Fourth of July. A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park at the Todd Lake trailhead, but there is no additional camping fee.

Sparks Lake

Clear and shallow Sparks Lake, located about 25 miles west of Bend, was a favorite of Oregon photographer Ray Atkeson, and most visitors can’t resist trying to capture views of Mount Bachelor, South Sister, and Broken Top reflected in the lake. Broken volcanic rock forms the lakebed, and water slowly drains out during the course of the summer, leaving not much more than a marsh by late summer. This is a good place to let go of the idea of a formal trail and just explore the lakeshore on foot or in a canoe.

There is a campground, Soda Creek (mid- June–Oct., $10); bring your own drinking water, or be prepared to filter lake water.

The lake is open to fly-fishing only for the local brook trout and cutthroat trout, and the use of barbless hooks is encouraged.

Green Lakes Trailhead

Begin a hike into the Three Sisters Wilderness Area from this trailhead, 27 miles west of Bend. It’s about 4.5 miles from the trailhead along waterfall-studded Fall Creek, past a big lava flow, to Green Lakes. From Green Lakes the trail continues to the pass between Broken Top and South Sister. This trail is extremely popular, so it’s best to hike it on a weekday.

Devils Lake

The eerily green Devils Lake (29 miles west of Bend) is home to a very nice campground (Northwest Forest Pass required, no piped water) and an easy lakeside trail. Just across the highway from the lake is a popular trailhead used by South Sister climbers. The climb up 10,358-foot South Sister (Oregon’s thirdhighest peak) is challenging but not technical. Many choose to do this 11-mile round-trip as an overnight backpacking trip. Many more hike the trail just as far as the pretty Moraine Lake area (about 3.5 miles), then return along the same route.

Elk Lake

A resort and a marina mean that this is not the quietest lake in the Cascades. Elk Lake is just about the only place along this road that you’ll see sailboats, and it’s also a good swimming lake by about August. The cabins at the Elk Lake Resort (541/480-7378, $58 and up) make a good base for exploring the local trails if you are not up for camping, and are open during the winter for cross-country skiers and snowmobilers. Accommodations range from small rustic cabins to larger, though still fairly rustic, cabins ($199) and modern homes ($299). An on-site restaurant is surprisingly good. During the summer a campground ($14) and marina are open.

Hosmer Lake

Just off the highway, Hosmer Lake (39 miles from Bend) is a favorite fishing and canoeing lake. It’s stocked with Atlantic salmon, but don’t count on eating them. Fishing is limited to catch-and-release fly-fishing with barbless hooks.

Even if you don’t fish and don’t have a canoe, it’s worth visiting Hosmer Lake for its spectacular views of Mount Bachelor, South Sister, and Broken Top. Of the two campgrounds on the lake, South ($10, no drinking water) has the best views and the best lake access.

Lava Lake

Lava flows formed a dam that created Lava Lake, which is fed largely by underground springs. Rainbow trout, brook trout, whitefish, and illegally introduced tui chub live in the lake, which is 30 feet deep at its deepest point and open to bait fishing as well as fly-fishing. A lakeside lodge (541/382-9443) rents boats and operates an RV park; there is also a Forest Service campground (mid-May–mid-Oct., $14, drinking water) near the resort.

Little Lava Lake

Make a pilgrimage to Little Lava Lake and stand at the headwaters of the Deschutes River. Groundwater from the snowpack percolates down from the Mount Bachelor and Three Sisters area to fill the lake (it’s thought that a large groundwater reservoir exists upstream from the lake); the Deschutes exits the lake as a meandering stream, flowing south about 8.4 miles to Crane Prairie Reservoir. Little Lava Lake shares a highway turnoff with Lava Lake.

Cultus Lake

Glacier-formed Cultus Lake is popular with campers, swimmers, boaters, waterskiers, Jet Skiers, and windsurfers. Anglers go for the big lake trout, also called mackinaw. An easy hiking trail follows the northern shore of the lake and then heads north along the Winopee Lake Trail to Teddy Lakes. From the trailhead to Teddy Lakes is about 4 miles.

The Cultus Lake Resort (541/408-1560 summer, 541/389-3230 winter, mid-May–mid-Sept.) rents cabins ($85 and up), motorboats, canoes, kayaks, and Jet Skis; it also operates a restaurant. During the peak of the summer season, cabins are only rented by the week.

Crane Prairie Reservoir

Crane Prairie Reservoir, an artificial lake, is a breeding ground for ospreys. These large birds, sometimes known as fish hawks, nest in the snags surrounding the lake and fish by plunging headfirst into the water from great heights. Cormorants, terns, bald eagles, and a variety of ducks are also commonly seen. Humans also like to fish—the most-prized fish is a “cranebow,” a rainbow trout that grows almost freakishly large in this shallow nutrient-rich reservoir.

A Forest Service campground (reservations, $16, drinking water) and the private Crane Prairie Resort RV park and fishing guide service (541/383-3939) are located here.

Wickiup Reservoir

The area of the Deschutes River around present-day Wickiup Reservoir was a traditional Native American camping area during the fall. When the dam was completed in 1949, these campsites were flooded. Today, the reservoir (about 60 miles from Bend) is known for its relatively warm water and its good fishing, especially for brown trout, which can weigh in at over 20 pounds. Kokanee and coho salmon as well as rainbow trout, brook trout, whitefish, and the nasty invasive tui chub also live here. Campgrounds are at Wickiup Reservoir ($10, no drinking water) and across an access road at North ($12, no drinking water) and South ($16, drinking water) Twin Lakes, small natural lakes that flank the large reservoir.

From Wickiup Reservoir, Route 42 heads east and north along the Fall River toward Sunriver. The Cascade Lakes Highway, Route 46, continues south past Davis Lake.

Davis Lake

It takes a little doing to get to large and shallow Davis Lake, and many of those who make it come for fly-fishing. It’s known for large rainbow trout as well as illegally introduced largemouth bass. Most anglers use boats or float tubes because the vegetation along the shoreline and the muddy lake bottom make it difficult to wade.

Davis Lake was formed about 6,000 years ago when a lava flow cut off Odell Creek. A fire in 2003 wiped out the West Davis campground; the East Davis campground ($12, drinking water), though reduced in size by the fire, still exists. Davis Lake is a good spot for bird-watching—expect to see waterfowl, woodpeckers, owls, and ospreys.


Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon Oregon.


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