Down and Dirty in Oregon – Exploring the Lava Tubes of Bend

When visiting the area of Smith Rock in Central Oregon, most itineraries include rock climbing, horseback riding, a ranch visit and several hikes, but did you know there is a fascinating system underground too? Deschutes County encompassing the cities of Bend, Sisters and Redmond (our 3 stops on our Oregon adventure) houses 1000 lava tubes created by volcanic activity thousands of years ago.

oregon lava tubes darkness

The exit to the cave

We met up with our guide Nick of Wanderlust Tours in the town of Bend. Our directions stated “in the Fred Meyer parking lot” I guess Fred Meyer is a big chain of stores, but Dave and I had the hardest time finding it. We were like, “Maybe Fred Meyer is the mayor of the town and it's in the main square.

Our GPS wasn't picking it up and we tried everything. Eventually we stumbled across a big parking lot housing a big Fred Meyer sign and turned in. Sure enough, Wanderlust Tours is located right inside. Ha, it's an adventure wherever we go. 

Boyd Lava Tube

The drive to the Boyd Lava Tube was about 20 minutes. Nick told us about the history and geology of the area during the ride, but for some reason my brain turns off when driving. I looked at the scene out the window and didn't catch a thing that he said while Dave was busy grabbing the last of the internet signal before we got out of range.

Have you ever noticed that cell signal is terrible in the US? The minute you get out of town it drops. But that is another story….

oregon lava tubes entrance

Dave heads down to explore Boyd Lava Tube

It was a windy day and as we got out of the van, we were thankful we were going underground. 60 feet underground to be exact. We walked down a set of metal stairs and began the tour. Dave stayed behind to grab some photographs while I listened to Nick tell us some history.

That's how things usually go on our tours, Dave wanders off to take his incredible photographs and I stay close taking notes on my iPhone while everyone else in the group thinks I'm busy browsing Facebook or something.

oregon lava tubes group

Nick explains the Geology of the Caves

The lava tubes in the area house hibernating bats in the winter, but the Boyd Lava Cave has only one very narrow opening making entry and exit difficult for them. That's a good thing for tours as this is the only cave still open to the public so as not to disturb the bats.

oregon lava tubes stairs

The narrow cave opening of Boyd Lava Tube

Bat Hibernation Lesson and the Lava Caves

Nick explained to us that bats are true hibernating animals unlike bears. Bears eat a lot of food, store their fat and simply sleep in the winter. Bats, don't stock up on food, instead they slow down their metabolisms, drop their heart rates and lower their body temperature.

It would be very dangerous to wake them in the middle of hibernation because they would need to immediately look for food and there aren't any insects around in the middle of winter. So the tubes that bats frequent are closed and we are free to explore Boyd Cave.

oregon lava tubes tour

Dark corners are a perfect place for a bat to hibernate.

When exploring Boyd Cave, be sure to take extra batteries and more than one headlamp. There are no other light sources besides the entrance and the cave runs 1800 feet (600 metres) long. Within minutes we were in complete darkness. Have you ever been in the dark where absolutely no light can enter?

It's a creepy feeling to not be able to even see the slightest shadow. At one point during our tour, Nick had us all turn our headlamps off to experience it. It was only a few seconds before someone turned their headlamp back on. I am assuming because they were a little freaked out.

oregon lava tubes dave

A headlamp is our only source of light

I remember eating at O Noir in Toronto a few years ago. It is a dark dining experience to help customers understand what life is like for the visually impaired. Visually impaired servers also work there. It took me a while to get over the anxiety of being in complete darkness.

Even though it was already black inside, I kept my eyes squeezed shut though the entire experience because when I opened them and saw nothing, but grew anxious. I'm sure that person was experiencing what I felt during my dining adventure.

lava tube darkness

This is what you see in pitch darkness – nothing

The tour lasted about an hour and a half where we crawled through thin cracks, over rock rubble and on smooth paths. The tubes were made from an eruption 150,000 years ago. It was the first large eruption causing giant lava rivers flowing through the valley.

Over the next tens of thousands of years, smaller eruptions occurred creating smaller rivers. There was a little trench in the side of the huge cave that was caused by one of the later eruptions. It looked like a little ditch on the side of the road.

oregon lava tubes exploring

Deb taking a break

We walked right to the end of the line. Nick told us that not everyone makes it, but I have a feeling he was just being nice. It wasn't that difficult at all and we've been through plenty of narrower passages. For the most part the lava tube is very wide and spacious with just a few small squeezes and one final crawl space where you have to get down on your hands and knees.

oregon lava tubes headlamp

Dave squeezing through

 It is a very short crawl, so you won't feel any anxiety.

We had a tour of all ages. A three generation family was on tour with us, and the grandmother was crawling through with as much gusto as her grandkids. So don't be afraid, the Lava Tube tour is fascinating, fun, and one of the most unique experiences you'll have in Oregon.

oregon lava tubes deb

Exploring the tube

Tips for the Lava Tube tour

  • Bring a jacket, it can be cold down there
  • Wear clothes that you are willing to get dirty – it's dusty
  • Wanderlust Tours supplies headlamps and batteries including helmets
  • If you are exploring on your own (which you shouldn't be because Wanderlust Tours has permits and others in the caves are exploring illegally) make sure to bring an extra headlamp or flashlight with extra batteries. You don't want to be trying to make your way back in the dark.
  • Be prepared to crawl around a bit and to scramble over rocks
  • Enjoy!

Our Tour was provided by Wanderlust Tours. TripAdvisors number one rated tour company in Bend. We understand why, these guides are passionate about their jobs! I have never had a guide makes rock history so much fun.

Nick loved talking about the different types of lava flows like the fan-like flow known as pahoehoe flow as opposed to the flow leaving behind clumpy rock formations known as aa. Yes, I learned a lot that day and retained it. You know why? Because it was fun!

Wanderlust Tours Bend

For more on Oregon visit the Travel Oregon Website and explore their Seven Wonders of Oregon. We spent our time exploring one of them known as Smith Rock and we can't wait to see the remaining Six in the near future.

Thank you Oregon for having us! Be sure to check out their Instagram feed. Influencers like us have helped them build it and there are some amazing photographs.


Read More:

Sisters to Smith Rock, Oregon’s Scenic Bikeway Cycling Tour

Cowboy up at Brasada Ranch Resort in Central Oregon

High on Misery Ridge at Smith Rock

Cycling Africa in the Tour d’Afrique – Gear List

Cycling the Countryside of Incredible Yangshuo

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