Exploring the Lava Tubes of Bend, Oregon

Written By: The Planet D

Did you know Oregon has 10,000-year-old lava tubes that you can explore near 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.

We met up with our guide Nick of Wanderlust Tours in the town of Bend to explore Boyd Lava Tube

Tour of the Lava Tubes

oregon lava tubes entrance
Dave heads down to explore 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.

Going into the Lava Tube.

oregon lava tubes group
Nick explains the Geology of the Caves

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 the 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.

Bats of the Lava Tubes

oregon lava tubes stairs
The narrow cave opening of Boyd Lava Tube

There are 1000 lava tubes in the area and most of them house hibernating bats in the winter. They are not open to the public. The Boyd Lava Cave has only one very narrow opening making entry and exit difficult for bats. That’s a good thing for tours as it is the only cave still open to the public so as not to disturb the bats.

Bat Hibernation Lesson and the Lava Caves

oregon lava tubes tour
Dark corners are a perfect place for a bat to hibernate.

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 lava tubes that bats frequent are closed to the public.

Be Prepared for Darkness

oregon lava tubes dave
A headlamp is our only source of light

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.

The Feeling of Pure Darkness

lava tube darkness
This is what you see in pitch darkness – nothing

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 through 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.

The tour lasted about an hour and a half where we crawled through thin cracks, over rock rubble and on smooth paths.

How Were the Lava Tubes Made?

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. TripAdvisor’s number one rated tour company in Bend.

We understand why these guides are passionate about their jobs! I have never had a guide make rock history so much fun.

Nick loved talking about the different types of lava flows.

He spoke with passion about how the fan-like flow known as “pahoehoe flow” is different from a 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! And if you go on a Lava Tube Tour You’ll have fun too!

About our visit: 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 State Park and we can’t wait to see the remaining Six in the near future. Thank you, Oregon for having us!

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About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

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14 thoughts on “Exploring the Lava Tubes of Bend, Oregon”

  1. OREGON… THIS CITY LOOK SO BEAUTIFUL. THIS CITY IS POPULARLY KNOWN FOR IT’S ICONIC COFFEE SHOPS, AVANT CULTURE, AND LAST BUT LEAST THE AWESOME BOUTIQUES…
    READING THIS ADVENTUROUS ARTICLE I THINK IT’S BIT SCARY…

    Reply
  2. This is extremely inaccurate . next time you want info on caves in the bend Oregon area contact the Oregon high desert grotto. Ohdgrotto.com sorry but wanderlust gave you a load of crap on info. Its not illegal to explore most of the caves in the county. Only the gated ones and certain others during winter. Do not let wanderlust make you think you have to pay them to cave ! What crap . this article pisses me off! I can name 50 legal open caves off a GPS wanderlust doesn’t even know exist. And there alllllll open and legal some bigger than Boyd cave! Remember ohdgrotto.com contact us for articles. Were a local NSS group

    Reply
  3. Looks like a one of a kind experience! Must have been strange but maybe peaceful too to turn off all the headlamps and just be in the darkness. Very interesting about the restaurant in Toronto. Thanks for sharing!

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  4. Hi Dave
    This looks adventurous but a little scary at the same time. Can I reblog the photos on my blog, of-course with credits to you and Deb.

    Thanks. 🙂

    Reply
  5. This looks like great fun! I love caves, and I can do without the bats–so I’m glad their tubes are closed.

    Reply
    • Yep, no bats in this cave. They want to make sure they don’t disrupt the eco-system so the caves with the bats are protected. They are such an important part of the food chain.

      Reply
  6. I never honestly considered Oregon for the travel destination until I was seeing your Instagrams from your trip. Looks beautiful and like an excellent destination for adventure travel!

    Reply
  7. 40 years ago, (wow really that long ago!) A another woman and I took our kids my 3 and her 4 and one she was babysitting through here. The oldest were 8 and the two youngest were 2, we had one flashlight…we had a wonderful time.
    The stairs weren’t there at that time, you had to climb down. 8 kids under 8 what a day.

    Reply
    • Now that would have been an adventure without the stairs! Very cool that you were there 40 years ago! Way to go to have an adventurous spirit all your life!

      Reply
  8. These lava tubes remind me of the Ape caves found near Mt. St. Helens. With fallen debris and darkness to traverse. Great photos and post.

    Reply
    • I can imagine they’d be very similar. Sort of the same area and both from volcanic activity. I’ll definitely check out the Ape Caves if we make it to Mt. St. Helens one day, thanks for the heads up!And thank you for the kind words.

      Reply
  9. Nice one, this reminds me of Vietnam’s largest cave, the light effect though (but then again they’re all caves!). Be safe always on your adventures!

    Reply
    • Yep, that’s the only thing it’s missing the lighting effects. Are you talking about the cave at Ha Long Bay? We visited that one as well and it was spectacular. When we saw it they had it all lit up with red, green and regular lighting. But you could really get a sense of how big it was.

      Reply