The Lava River Cave is the longest lava tube cave in Oregon, extending 5,211 feet beneath the ground.
Created by a volcanic eruption more than 80,000 years ago, it is now a geologic site you can visit and hike through.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the top insider tips to help you make the best of your trip to the Lava River Cave.
Lava River Cave (Oregon): Insider Tips
Visit During the Summer
The Lava River Cave is open from May to September every year and is closed during the winter.
The summer is the perfect time for a warm hike in the forest and a spelunking expedition to cool off in the caves.
You can visit at any time during the summer months, but it is worth noting that tours are busiest and most crowded in July and August.
Check the opening and closing dates online before arriving, because they can change from year to year.
Off-season entrance to the cave is strictly prohibited to help protect the local environment.
Purchase A Recreation Pass for Parking
The tour itself is free and offered by the parks service, but if you want to park your vehicle, you’ll need to pay for a $5 daily recreation pass.
You can purchase a pass on-site, or at many local retailers in Bend, Oregon, about 12 miles away.
You can also purchase an annual pass. Free passes are available to some government workers and military personnel.
Set Your Expectations
The Lava River Cave is a volcanic lava tube that was formed by magma traveling beneath the earth’s surface thousands of years ago.
This makes it a very different kind of cave than some people expect.
The ceilings are not as high as they are in other caves and there are many areas where you might feel claustrophobic, as the lava tube constricts and widens in areas.
There are no stalactites or stalagmites in the cave to see.
There is a small local bat population, but they are shy, so it’s unusual to see bats in the cave. The walls of the cave are not stratified with different colors and minerals.
If you are expecting a stereotypical cave experience, you might be disappointed by the Lava River Cave, which is more like a basalt tunnel running underneath the ground, crumbling in places and expanding in others.
It’s a dark, interesting, and challenging hike, but it might not be the cave you are imagining.
Don’t Bring Anything That Has Been in A Different Cave
This rule might not apply to you, but if you have been doing a lot of spelunking, you will want to pay attention to which clothes you bring with you.
White Nose Syndrome affects bats.
It is caused by a fungus that grows in some caves, and when it grows on bats who are trying to hibernate it disturbs their sleep and leads to dehydration, starvation, and death.
The fungus that causes white-nose syndrome can be transferred from cave to cave by tourists who wear the same clothing on multiple cave tours.
If you are a regular visitor to caves, make sure to wash your clothes carefully, and don’t wear any clothes to the Lava River Cave that has been in a different cave.
Dress in Layers and Bring Good Footwear
The Lava River Cave is cold – averaging 42 F year-round.
When you enter the mouth of the cave and descend the stairs into an area called “The Collapsed Corridor”, you will find snow and ice, even into June and July.
Bring a heavy jacket to stay comfortable in the low temperatures of the cave. Even during the hottest summer months, it is a cold hike.
You’ll also want a good pair of hiking boots to help you stay comfortable and maintain your footing on the hike.
There are many uneven areas where it is easy to slip, and you will benefit from comfortable shoes with good traction.
Bring (or Rent) a Headlamp
The cave is very dark, and you’ll want to bring a reliable light source that will help you see and navigate underground.
Gas lamps, as well as glass bulb flashlights, are prohibited. The best option is a strong LED headlamp.
You can bring your own from home, purchase one in a store in Bend (they are for sale pretty much everywhere) or you can rent one for $5 when you arrive for your hike.
Keep in mind that your phone’s flashlight will not be bright enough, and it is recommended that you bring 2 or even more sources of light with you.
Expect a Challenging Hike
This is not an easy hike, and it can be challenging or even inaccessible for people with mobility issues.
The lava tube itself is even and flat, but there is a long descent into the tube and uneven ground throughout that makes things difficult for people who are not sure-footed and confident in their movements.
The most challenging part of the hike is the first 1000 feet – the collapsed corridor, where freezing and thawing cause bits of rock to fall to the floor.
After this initial uneven section, it does get easier.
The entire hike takes about 1.5 hours and although there are handrails for the most difficult sections, it is challenging.
There are better hikes for young children, elderly people, and the physically disabled who want to experience a cave.
Making the Most of Your Lava River Cave Hike
Hiking the longest continuous lava tube in the state is an interesting and memorable experience, and you can make the most of it by arriving prepared with the right expectations.
If you come expecting a cinematic cave experience, what you’ll get is something different.
There are no stalactites or stalagmites and no bats fluttering around, but there is a subterranean basalt lava cave to explore.
If you and the people you are traveling with understand this in advance, you can enjoy the cave for what it is, rather than being disappointed.
Bring warm clothes, good hiking boots, and preferably more than 1 source of LED light to help you see in the pitch darkness.
If you come prepared, the Lava River Cave hike will provide you with a challenging hike and some great memories.
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