Great Oregon Road Trip: Lava River Cave

To see a map of our entire journey and photos from our first day of travel, click here. The first half of our Volcanic Monument visit is here.

More Great Oregon Road trip posts.

We decided to stop at the Lava River Cave on our way back to Sunriver. There was a little trepidation thanks to this warning on the website:

It takes approximately 1.5 hours to tour the entire cave. Initial access descends 150 stairs to an uneven floor and can be challenging. Please wear close-toed shoes and warm clothing. Average temperature in the Cave is 42 degrees Fahrenheit.

But of course we were all up to the challenge, even after we were told to rent a lantern because, and I quote the guide, “there is NO light at all down there”. Dum dum dummmmmmmm.

The most surprising thing to me as we approached the cave, apart from the swarm of bees that surrounded the entrance, was the dramatic drop in temperature. We hadn’t even reached the cave opening when it felt like the temperature dropped from a comfortable to 85 to around 60F. It was a little spooky.

We descended the 150 stairs which weren’t too bad at all. Five year old Samuel had no problem with them and my parents didn’t find them too strenuous. In fact Samuel wasn’t even the youngest child we passed in the cave. I’m not sure if I’d recommend it for younger children, however. Five seems just about right.

At the bottom of the stairs we found ourselves in absolute and total darkness. No false advertising here. So you won’t be surprised to know that I took very few photos in the cave. It’s hard to find focus when you can’t see what you’re focusing on. Still, we managed to have a little fun with the lantern light.

Disembodied legs. Spooky.

The cave itself was pretty fascinating. The beginning of it was a little rocky and we had to be careful with our footing but about half way through we found ourselves in a perfectly formed tunnel with a sandy surface. The hike was flat and easy for the most part.

Sadly we didn’t quite make it to the end. We arrived late in the day and they told us that there would be a ranger in the cave to start guiding people out with plenty of time before the park closed. I think we had about 10 minutes of hiking left to make it to the end so we were a little disappointed, but the ranger assured us that, by that point, we’d seen most of what the cave had to offer.

The walk back was a lot quicker and we soon found ourselves back outside in the Summer heat.

I’m glad we decided to tour the Lava caves. It was definitely unlike anything I’d experienced before. Here are a few tips based on our experience:

  • Don’t tour the cave if you’re afraid of the dark.
  • This cave doesn’t have any tight spaces so it’s perfect if you like your caves…well…cavernous.
  • I probably wouldn’t recommend the cave for children younger than five unless they have experience hiking.
  • Wear comfortable shoes (we saw some people hiking in flip flops – insanity!).
  • Wear sensible clothing and definitely bring a jacket. 90 minutes is a long time when you’re cold.
  • Bring your own flashlights and lanterns if you want to save a little money. They have kerosene lanterns for rent but they’re not for kids so we had to take turns with our headlamp. One more would have been useful.

Finally, leave plenty of time to walk through the cave if you want to make it to the end. We cut it a little close.

Coming soon: Spending some time with pioneers and birds of prey at the High Desert Museum.

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