Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway: Oregon’s Most Scenic Drive Where Alpine Lakes & Snowcapped Peaks Are Showstoppers

The Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway is Oregon’s most scenic drive featuring show stopping mountain peaks and dazzling alpine lakes. This road trip will take you through the Central Cascades region of Oregon which is an outdoor lover’s paradise.

Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway In Central Oregon

Outdoor recreation abounds along this 66-mile stretch of road offering endless hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, paddle boarding, canoeing, fishing, and camping opportunities!

But if you’re looking for a more leisurely experience, you won’t have to venture too far to enjoy the epic views! In fact, you won’t have to leave your vehicle at all to see stunning peaks and gorgeous lakes!!

There are two lakeside resorts with restaurants along Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway that are ideal for relaxing. Take yourself to either of these resorts and enjoy a good cup of coffee or cocktail with views if you’d prefer to take it easy on this road trip.

Photographers will also be in heaven traveling through this landscape full of dark green forests, bright green meadows, big blue skies, and interesting volcanic landscapes.

Beginning your drive in Bend, it won’t be long before you round a curve in the road where a stunning view of Mount Bachelor emerges. Soon after this magnificent sight, Broken Top and South Sister mountains will appear which is when you’ll be truly awestruck. The byway continues through extraordinary mountain wilderness and past several sparkling alpine lakes.

How Long Does It Take To Drive Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway?

Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway is only 66 miles and you could drive its entire length with enough time to briefly stop and see all of the highlights on this itinerary in three to four hours. If you have a full day to dedicate to this drive and want to include a few hiking trails to your itinerary or would like to spend time on the water, choose only one or two destinations to visit.

If you plan to spend two days in the area, you should be able to see all of the highlights, cover a few easy to moderate hiking trails, and spend some time at one of the many lakes swimming, kayaking, or fishing. If you don’t have your own water toys you won’t miss out on the fun because there are three marinas with watercraft rentals along the way.

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The Driving Itinerary

Distance: 66 miles
Drive Time:
3-4 hours

Suggested Stops

Mt Bachelor
Todd Lake
Sparks Lake
Devil’s Lake
Elk Lake
Hosmer Lake
Cultus Lake
Crane Prairie Reserve

Where To Start And End This Road Trip: Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway starts out as Century Drive in Bend, climbing quickly before entering the Deschutes National Forest. The byway travels for 66 miles and ends in Crescent at the junction of Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway and Highway 97. Return back to Bend along Highway 97 or consider adding a side trip to Crater Lake National Park which is located an hour south.

Where To Stay On Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway

This road trip can easily be completed in one day however if you are planning on turning it into a weekend getaway or longer trip, there are numerous campgrounds to choose from including several free campgrounds.

There are two resorts along Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway; Elk Lake Resort and Cultus Lake Resort. Both offer rustic cabin rentals and glamping tents but these should be booked well in advance for weekend stays and public holidays.

Cultus Lake Resort In Central Oregon
Cultus Lake Resort

The Shelter Cove Resort also has really beautiful log cabins on the shores of nearby Odell Lake. If you’d prefer hotel style accommodations, the Best Western Newberry Station has affordable rooms that come with breakfast on Highway 97.

Best Time To Drive Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway

Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway opens seasonally some time in mid-May or June and closes late October. The road closure is a few miles beyond Mt. Bachelor. Anytime is a good time to drive the byway once the road opens however, if you plan to hike, keep in mind there may still be snow on the ground in June and more than likely even into July in the higher elevations.

Because the byway travels through an area with an elevation of nearly 4,900 feet (1,500m) above sea level, you can expect temperatures to be about ten degrees cooler than in Bend. If you are planning on camping, bring some warmer gear as it does get a little chilly in the evenings.

Best Stops On Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway

Mt Bachelor

Mt Bachelor in Oregon

Mt Bachelor is nationally recognized for being a premier ski resort in the Pacific Northwest but did you know it is a fantastic destination for summer recreation too? It’s true!

While Mt Bachelor is home to one of the largest skiable areas in Oregon and is an epic place to ski, snowboard and snowshoe, come the summer months this mountain provides outdoor enthusiasts with plenty of opportunities to hike, mountain bike, and play disc golf!!

Every summer, Mt Bachelor operates the Pine Marten Lift daily from 10am to 5pm which takes visitors from the West Village (6,300ft) up to Pine Marten Lodge at 7,775 feet. The ride up is about ten minutes long and once up the top you’ll get to enjoy stunning panoramic views of the Cascades and the Central Oregon landscape. Besides epic views, there are also ranger talks which discuss information about volcanoes, geology, and the ecology of the area.

After you’re done soaking in the views and learning about the Cascade region you can get a bite to eat from Scapolo’s, a restaurant on the mountain serving pizza, burgers, and salad.

If you love to hike and are up for a challenge, you can hike up to Mt Bachelor’s summit from the mountain’s base area at West Village (6,390 feet). There are two trails, one that starts away from the busy mountain bike park and chairlift, and one that follows the Pine Marten Chairlift. Both trails are three miles long to the Pine Marten Lodge (7,800 feet). You can also continue to the official summit which stands at 9,065 feet (elevation gain of 2,765 feet). I recommend hiking up and taking the chairlift back down.

Fun Fact: Mt Bachelor was given its name because it stands apart from the nearby Three Sister mountains (South Sister, Middle Sister, and North Sister).

Todd Lake

Todd Lake In Central Oregon

Todd Lake is the first lake encountered along Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway and is one of the most popular recreation areas with Bend locals due to its close proximity to the city.

During the summer visitors come to hike, swim, canoe, kayak, and paddleboard. Motorized boats are not allowed on the lake so it is a very peaceful place not only for people on the water but for picnickers too. The lake is stocked with Brook trout so it’s a good place to head to if you enjoy fishing.

Todd Lake is situated in a small glacial valley at the base of beautiful Broken Top mountain. The area offers incredible mountainous scenery and both Broken Top and Mount Bachelor are visible from around the lake making this a great destination for photographers!

Hiking Around Todd Lake On Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway
Mt Bachelor seen from Todd Lake Loop Trail

The glacier that created the valley that Todd Lake is cradled in disappeared about 13,000 years ago leaving a glacial cirque. As a result, Todd Lake is relatively deep for its size. Most of the lake’s water comes from snowmelt and if you visit during late spring and early summer, there may still be snow on the ground. Keep in mind if you do visit in spring or early summer, recently melted snow can make the area surrounding the lake very muddy.

For those of you who enjoy viewing wildflower blooms, the meadows surrounding Todd Lake are famous in Oregon for their colorful wildflower display. So much so that the Forest Service has designated Todd Lake as a Pacific Northwest Region Wildflower Viewing Area. The wildflowers start to bloom around late June through mid-August, but mid-July is considered peak season.

If you like to hike, there is a short hiking trail that circles Todd Lake which is easy enough for all fitness levels. The trail is only 2.7 miles in total and takes about thirty minutes to complete. It might take you a little bit longer if you hike when there is still snow on the ground. We hiked in late June and there was still A LOT of snow cover. Expect wet and possibly muddy shoes if hiking this trail in Spring.

Todd Lake is not visible from Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. You will need to drive to the lake trailhead and hike a short quarter mile to see the lake.

  • Recreation Fee: $5/vehicle/day (On-site payment available).
  • Passes: Northwest Forest Pass and Annual National Parks Pass is accepted.
  • Permit Info: Wilderness permits are not required to access/use Todd Lake. However, permits are required to hike the nearby Todd Lake Trail #34 or if entering the Three Sisters Wilderness. The permit (Central Cascades Wilderness Permit) is only required between June 15 and October 15. 
  • Water: No
  • Restroom: Vault toilet
  • Dogs: Must be leashed
  • Directions: From Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway take Forest Road 4600-370 to Todd Lake Trailhead (0.5 miles). From the trailhead it is 0.25 miles to Todd Lake.

Read: Todd Lake Loop Trail: An Easy Hike Near Bend, Oregon

Sparks Lake

Sparks Lake In Central Oregon

Sparks Lake is arguably the most picturesque destination found along Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. This alpine lake is a photographers dream, especially early in the morning when the lake’s calm waters perfectly reflect South Sister and Broken Top mountains.

Sparks Lake’s 370 acres of wetlands provide outdoor enthusiasts with a fantastic spot for kayaking and paddle boarding but even if you don’t have your own watercraft, the area is still worth stopping by to see the postcard scenery.

Surrounding the lake are hundreds of acres of meadows and marshland which you can explore along the lakeshore or on the easy Ray Atkeson Loop Trail located near the boat ramp.

If you’re here for the fishing, you might like to know that the lake supports Brook and Cutthroat trout but keep in mind fly-fishing is the only kind of angling allowed on this lake.

Sparks Lake can be accessed via a short gravel road off Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. Keep an eye out for the gravel road on your left-hand side after passing Mt. Bachelor. Take a left on the gravel road and follow it all the way to the end where you will find a large parking area with restrooms.

There is a paid camping area at the start of the gravel road which offers outstanding views of South Sister mountain. This campsite is called Soda Creek Campground and is operated by the Forest Service. There is also limited free dispersed camping around Sparks Lake.

Both of these campgrounds are fantastic and have amazing views. This is our favorite place to camp whenever we visit the area and I highly recommend camping here if you plan to hike South Sister. Be aware though that campsites at Sparks Lake are limited and first come first served only so you are not always likely to score a site if you are arriving late in the afternoon.

  • Recreation Fee: $5/vehicle/day (On-site payment available).
  • Passes: Northwest Forest Pass and Annual National Parks Pass are accepted.
  • Permit Info: Wilderness permits are not required to access/use Sparks Lake. 
  • Water: No
  • Restroom: Vault toilet
  • Dogs: Must be leashed
  • Directions: From Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway take a left turn onto a gravel road at Soda Creek Campground. Follow the gravel road for about 0.5 miles to the Sparks Lake Day Use Area.

Devil’s Lake

Devil's Lake On Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, Oregon.

Devil’s Lake is an unforgettable vivid turquoise color and in my opinion, is the prettiest lake in all of Oregon! Well, certainly the prettiest among all of the lakes I have visited in Oregon. If you disagree or have your own top picks for most beautiful lake in Oregon, please let me know in the comment section below.

This exquisite lake will surprise you with its beauty just after you round a bend on Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway a few miles past Sparks Lake.

As soon as you round the bend, there will be a small turnout that can fit several cars. If you want to pull over for a few quick photos before continuing on your road trip, stop here if there is room. You can access the lake from here but the embankment is rather steep.

A better place to park if you want to spend time at Devil’s Lake is the designated parking area which can be found on the western side of the lake. However, there is a $5 parking fee (Northwest Forest Pass and Annual National Park Passes are acceptable instead if you have one).

Devil’s Lake is the perfect place to spend a hot summer’s day because the water is so refreshing. When I say this lake’s waters are refreshing, I mean the water here is REALLY COLD. But its astoundingly crystal clear waters are too hard to pass up, even if just for a quick dip.

There is a short hiking trail that hugs the Devil’s Lake shoreline but the trail is shaded and quite dark, and the views from the trail are not that spectacular. The best way to enjoy the lake if you have time is from on the water. Bring your inflatable toys or a kayak!

We’ve spent many summer days floating around on this lake and it is such a lovely spot to relax. Bring a picnic blanket, some lunch, and a couple of drinks and you are definitely in for a great day!

  • Recreation Fee: $5/vehicle/day (On-site payment available).
  • Passes: Northwest Forest Pass and Annual National Parks Pass are accepted.
  • Permit Info: Wilderness permits are not required to access/use Devil’s Lake. 
  • Water: No
  • Restroom: Vault toilet
  • Dogs: Must be leashed
  • Directions: From Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway take a left at the paved road into the Devil’s Lake/South Sister Trailhead parking lot

Elk Lake

Elk Lake is the largest lake on Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway and the location of Elk Lake Resort. The resort is one of only two resorts found in the Cascade Lakes region so if want to stay overnight in the area but don’t want to camp, be sure to make your reservation in advance as there are only thirteen cabins available to rent.

The majority of the cabins here are rustic log cabins that were built in the 1940s. They do have kitchens and can sleep between six to ten guests. Glamping tents, tent sites, and RV sites are also available.

One of the best things about Elk Lake is that there is a marina with watercraft rentals which means you can enjoy water activities even if you don’t have your own gear. Rentals include pontoon boats, kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes. Rentals are on a first come first served basis and are available for walk-ins daily from 10am to 6pm, with the last rental available at 5pm.

Fishermen can try their luck for Brook trout (average length is 7-14 inches) and Kokanee (average length is 7-10 inches) which are mainly found at the south end of the lake near the lava flow where the lake is its deepest.

If you didn’t bring enough food for your road trip, or are camping in the area and would prefer a hot meal that you didn’t have to cook up yourself, the Elk Lake Resort has a number of tasty food options on the menu in their restaurant which is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Another good reason to stop by Elk Lake is the resort’s Music on the Water event which takes place on Saturday nights throughout summer.

Whether you choose to camp here or not, Elk Lake is definitely a must see even if it’s just a quick stop. The lake is very picturesque and is so much bigger in comparison to the other lakes mentioned on this driving itinerary. Looking towards the north end of the lake are spectacular views of the Three Sisters and dominating the eastern horizon is Mount Bachelor.

Hosmer Lake

Hosmer Lake In Central Oregon

Hosmer Lake is a hidden gem on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. This stunning lake is situated behind Elk Lake and is a great spot for kayaking and paddle boarding. Although every lake along Cascade Lakes Highway is excellent for water activities, this particular lake is unique for a number of reasons.

To begin with, Hosmer Lake has a little more of a marsh-like appearance because of all the vegetation that encroaches on the lake. Secondly, the water is unbelievably clear, and because this lake is very shallow (average depth is three feet), you can easily see large fish underwater.

The area is really popular with canoers, kayakers and paddleboarders so expect it to be busy on weekends. However, if you come on a weekday or on a Sunday afternoon, you might be lucky enough to score the place to yourself.

Hosmer Lake is also popular with fly-fishermen because it is one of only two lakes in Oregon planted with Atlantic salmon. Brook and Rainbow trout can also be fished for at Hosmer Lake. Do note that you can only fly-fish here and all fish are catch and release.

The area is great for wildlife viewing and you might see Rocky Mountain elk grazing along the lake’s northwest shore and a number of different bird species that include hummingbirds, blackbirds, and nighthawks.

Cultus Lake Resort

Cultus Lake Resort is a popular family vacation destination with Oregonians. The resort sits on the shores of Cultus Lake and features 23 rustic cabins, a general store, a restaurant serving in-house smoked meats, and a marina where you can rent everything from motor boats to pontoon boats, jet skis, kayaks, and paddleboards. If you are looking for a place to enjoy an adventurous day out, this is the place to go!

Cultus Lake itself is one of the largest and deepest lakes in Central Oregon, and one of the few lakes in the area that allows high speed motorized water craft. The two mile long lake sits at the base of Cultus Mountain and is lined with tall Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir trees.

Several species of fish inhabit the lake including Rainbow trout, Lake trout, and Brook trout. In fact, Cultus Lake is well-known for producing trophy size trout and many are in the ten pound and over range. The resort even has an annual fishing derby!

Of course you don’t need to be a fishermen to enjoy this resort. I recommend booking a pontoon boat or jet ski (which you can do online) for half a day, and then spending the afternoon paddle boarding or swimming from the floating dock, before finishing up the day relaxing on the resort’s outdoor deck with a delicious brisket dinner and cold beer.

  • Directions: From Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway turn right onto FS 4635, there is a large sign for Cultus Lake Resort and Lake. Follow the signs to Cultus Lake Resort.

Crane Prairie Reservoir

Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway In Central Oregon

Crane Prairie Reservoir was named for the cranes that thrive in this habitat and unlike the other lakes mentioned in this guide, the Crane Prairie Reservoir is man-made. This doesn’t make it any less beautiful though.

At this lake you’ll still enjoy wonderful mountain views that the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway is known for. In addition, this is a great spot for viewing birdlife because it attracts a lot of migrating birds including bald eagles, great blue herons, cormorants, and pelicans.

There are several artificial osprey nesting platforms that have been erected in the area and if you’re lucky you may see some ospreys nesting in them. Take the short Osprey Point Trail which offers interpretive signs and great wildlife viewing opportunities through a pine forest.

This lake is most notable for being one of Oregon’s largest Rainbow trout fisheries with abundant Rainbows in the four to ten pound range. The record to date weighed over nineteen pounds! These monster Rainbows are referred to as ‘Cranebows’ by locals and can be fished for with bait or by trolling. The reservoir also boasts one of the largest populations of bass in Oregon making it an excellent place for bass fishing too.

There is a nice campground here and a general store with camping supplies, food, and gifts. You can also rent boats and canoes from the general store.

  • Recreation Fee: None
  • Passes: Northwest Forest Pass and Annual National Parks Pass are accepted.
  • Permit Info: Wilderness permits are not required to access/use Crane Prairie Reservoir. 
  • Water: Yes
  • Restroom: Yes
  • Dogs: Yes
  • Directions: From Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, take Forest Road 4600-620 to Century Drive and turn right, follow this road around a bend which becomes Gales Landing Road to Crane Prairie Resort.

End of the road trip

How To Plan Your Road Trip Itinerary

If you can’t decide where you want to spend your time along Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, here is a guide to what we consider the best areas for swimming, water activities, fishing, hiking, and camping to help you plan your driving itinerary.

  • Best Lakes For Swimming: Devil’s Lake, Elk Lake, and Cultus Lake
  • Best Lakes For Kayaking and Paddle Boarding: Sparks Lake, Hosmer Lake, Elk Lake
  • Best Lakes For Highspeed Motorboats: Cultus Lake
  • Best Lakes For Fishing: Crane Prairie Reservoir, Wickiup Reservoir, Davis Lake
  • Best Easy Hiking Trail: Todd Lake Loop Trail
  • Best Challenging Hiking Trail: South Sister Hiking Trail
  • Best Tent Camping Spots: see this guide to camping in the Cascade Lakes area
  • Best RV Campsites: Crane Prairie Reservoir
  • Best Lodging: Cultus Lake Resort, Elk Lake Resort, The Woodsman Country Lodge, Best Western Newberry Station
More Information To Help You Explore Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway & Central Oregon

Hiking: 11 Best Hiking Trails To Add To Your Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway Road Trip

Camping: Guide To Campgrounds On Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway

Road Trips: Central Oregon Road Trip: Best Stops On Highway 97

Highway 97 In Central Oregon
Driving on Highway 97 in Central Oregon

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