Lava tubes are one of the most striking geological features unique to Central Oregon. Because the caves are far underground and stay at a constant temperature of 45 degrees, there are year-round opportunities for descending into the cool darkness of these winding tunnels that were formed thousands of years ago.
There are said to be as many as 400 lava tubes in Central Oregon, many of which are on public lands. These caves were formed by molten lava when the Newberry Volcano erupted and the lava flowed north. As it cooled, tunnels were created when a crust formed on the top and sides of the flow, while the hot magma in the middle continued to rush north.
If you’d like to try caving and spelunking, your journey begins with Wanderlust Tours, the only permitted guide service in Central Oregon that can take you deep into the National Forest to explore beautiful geological wonders that are not open to the public. Experienced guides will lead you through the fascinating human history of the caves as well as explain the sensitive ecosystems, which have formed in and around the caves. Kids over the age of five are welcome, and a shuttle ride, helmets, and headlamps are provided.
Another popular attraction for cave exploration is at the Lava River Caves run by the U.S. Forest Service. The caves are located off Hwy 97, adjacent to the Lava Lands Visitor Center. This is the longest, continuous lava tube in Oregon, running nearly 7,000 feet. It is a great beginner cave that the whole family can explore, with reinforcements like railings and concrete steps to guide you along the way. Lantern rentals are available at the visitor center along with interpretive maps for a self-guided tour.