Visiting the Lava Cast Forest outside of Bend is an excellent way to explore more sites in Central Oregon off the beaten path. This interesting natural area features various lava flows with tree molds that were created as the lava burnt through the ancient forest. You can spend the day strolling through the 1-mile interpretive trail and picnic at the trailhead.
In this quick guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know about visiting the Lava Cast Forest near Bend.
What is Lava Cast Forest
Lava Cast Forest is part of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument that is located 12 miles east of Sunriver and 24 miles south of Bend. In this unique location, there are 3 ancient lava flows, all of which originated from Newberry Caldera.
Lava cast forest was created when the most recent lava flow (around 6,000 years ago) floated across the landscape and encased trees in molten rock over a 5 square mile area. The evidence you can witness today shows that some trees fell over and others stood upright.
As the lava encased the trees and the trees burnt completely out, steam was given off during this process and cooled off the lava to create a molten cast of rock. Over the following years, the remnants of the burnt trees decomposed and left what you’ll see today, a cast of the tree trunk. Unfortunately what you can discover today at Lava Cast Forest is only the remains of the casts, as at some point in the first half of the 20th century most of the beautiful, extraordinary casts were destroyed by vandalism.
The interpretive trail shows a glimpse of nature in human history and is well worth exploring on your way around the loop.
How to Get There
It takes approximately 45 minutes by car from Bend to reach the Lava Cast Forest. The natural site is reached by traveling 15 miles south on Highway 97 until you reach exit 153. After taking exit 153 you turn left on Lava Cast Forest (Forest Road 9720). Follow Forest Road 9720 for 10 miles until you arrive at the Lava Cast Forest parking area.
Note: Forest Road 9720 is a gravel road and sporadically maintained. So be prepared to encounter plenty of washboards along this road.
The parking area at Lava Cast Forest Trailhead requires that you have a Northwest Forest Pass or an America The Beautiful Pass. Alternatively, you can buy a daily parking pass for $5 on-site (cash only). In the parking area, you will find restrooms and a picnic area for your convenience.
According to the US Forest Service, the site is technically open from May to September 30th. However, it can be potentially reached year-round depending on the weather and road conditions. Lava Cast Forest is located at an elevation of 5700 feet, which means it receives considerably more snow than Bend. So if you’re applying to visit the site in the fall, winter, or early spring be sure to pack warm layers as it can be much colder.
Lava Cast Forest Hike
The best way to experience Lava Cast Forest is by strolling along the enjoyable 1-mile Lava Cast Forest Loop with an elevation gain of only 60 feet. The interpretive trail is easy and well maintained as well as partially ADA accessible. Don’t forget that dogs must be on a leash at this site.
Enjoy this beautiful natural area with your family, if possible during the week to avoid crowds on weekends, and try to find those casts where you can even see the imprint of the bark of an ancient tree.