Top Outdoor Adventures in the Spectacular Central Cascades of Oregon

The Central Cascades of Oregon are filled with natural beauty, including dazzling lakes and rivers, soaring mountains and waterfalls, that make it the area ideal for all sorts of outdoor adventures. In fact, there are so many, you’d have to spend a significant amount of time here to experience it all.

To get you started, here’s a look at some of the best.

Broken Top Crater photo credit:

Hike Broken Top Crater

One of the most iconic mountains in the Central Cascades of Oregon, Broken Top’s jagged peaks can be seen for miles away, as the fourth highest peak in the Three Sisters Wilderness. Over centuries of time, the volcano was eroded by glaciers, eventually exposing the cone. The summit, at 9,175 feet in elevation, is also home to a beautiful emerald colored alpine lake that makes for a refreshingly cool dip after the 3-mile hike to reach it.

Unless you choose to trek over fields of endless snow, you can only accomplish this hike during the warmest months a year, and you’ll need a high-clearance four-wheel drive to reach the trailhead. Of course, its somewhat difficult accessibility means that you’re unlikely to see many others there, making it even more alluring.

Fishing and Bird Watching at Crane Prairie Reservoir

Crane Prairie Reservoir is situated in the Deschutes National Forest, just off the scenic Cascade Lakes Highway, about 40 miles southwest of Bend. This is a true fishing and bird watching paradise as one of Central Oregon’s premier wildlife viewing areas. An impressive of array of waterfowl can be seen in abundance here, including bald eagles, osprey, and Sandhill Cranes. Head to Osprey Point for interpretive signs about the local fauna, and to see artificial osprey nesting platforms erected after natural snags toppled from age. This prime fishing spot is home to massive rainbow trout, brook trout, largemouth bass and mountain whitefish too, and there are numerous campsites around the shoreline if you want to stick around awhile, including free spots right along the water.

Crater Lake photo credit: Flickr, Ray Bouknight

Dive Into a Flooded Volcano and More at Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake is the country’s deepest lake at nearly 2,000 feet deep, and there are few others on the planet that can match to its intense blue shade. The incredibly tranquil waters reflect the mountain peaks as if they’re a huge, dark blue mirror, and with the sheer cliffs that surround it, it’s truly a jaw-dropping sight. Created by the collapse of Mount Mazama over 7,500 years ago, the lake sits within the state’s only national park, which is popular for hiking, swimming, fishing, camping and boat tours. You can even dive here – while other lakes may have sunken towns or shipwrecks, only Crater Lake offers the opportunity to dive right into a flooded volcano, viewing underwater moss meadows, lava formations and fish in crystal clear waters.

Lava River Cave photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Caving at Lava River Cave

If the underground interests you, check out the mile-long Lava River Cave in the Deschutes National Forest near Bend. It was formed from a volcanic eruption somne 80,000 years ago and visitors can take a self-guided tour in the dark and chilly, but fascinating environment. The Lava River Cave is the longest, continuous lava tube in all of Oregon, and it’s ideal for “beginner caving” with reinforcements like railings and concrete steps to help guide you along the way. Stop at the visitor center first and you can pick up an interpretive map and rent a lantern if you need one.

photo credit: flickr/dougtone

Climbing at Smith Rock State Park

If you’re into rock climbing, Smith Rock State Park is a must-experience. This is the state’s premier rock climbing destination, and one of the best sport climbing areas in the entire nation. A world-renowned sport climbing mecca, it offers everything from from classic beginner routes to hardcore challenges on a wide variety of rock, providing something for climbers of all skills and types. There are several thousand climbs right in the park, with over 1,000 bolted routes, as well as miles and miles of scenic hiking trails and an abundance of wildlife, including golden eagles, prairie falcons, mule deer, river otter and beaver.