Days 3 and 4 : Lava Lake camping and Cascade scenic bypass.
Deschutes National Forest and the Cascade lakes offer a lot of possibilities for camping either in wilderness, for backpackers, or more comfortable campgrounds suitable for tents and RVs. This time we did not plan to go backpacking and reserved a camping spot on the Big Lava Lake campground.
In the summertime I would highly recommend to reserve your spot at least a couple of weeks in advance! The Big Lava Lake campground, as well as the nearby Little Lava Lake camp, is quite comfortable with large sites, a large amount of clean restrooms, and easy access to the lakes for swimming or kayaking. We paddled around Big Lava Lake for an hour and a half, enjoying the scenery, watching the birds and taking a lot of photographs. I could easily have spent even more time on the water.
Of all the nearby lakes (Little Lava, Elk Lake, Sparks lake and Devils lake), our Big Lava was the best spot for watching sunsets with a view of the South Sister and Broken Top peaks. And we were pleasantly surprised to find there was a good reception on the campground and a small camp store that sells some food, ice cream, propane, beverages, fishing equipment and some more stuff!
We also checked out some of the other lakes in the vicinity. Elk Lake is bigger, there is a resort and marina pretty much right the road, and a campground nearby. Also, there is a dirt road loop around the lake which leads to a day use area and the Little Fawn campground on the opposite shore. These places were probably nice spots some time ago, but now the water level has dropped down, so you’ll have to walk for a while to take a dip.
Another branch leads from the loop to Hosmer Lake which is good for boating and watching wildlife, but we did not see a good beach there.
Devils Lake is very pretty, not too deep, nice for kayaking and swimming. Park along the road.
Sparks Lake: I would guess it mostly attracts anglers. The day use area is a long drive via dirt road. We did not see a beach there, but saw lots of people fishing. The campground sites have no shade and are far from the lake, but close to the creek - another advantage for fishermen.
Speaking of the Cascade Lakes scenic bypass, I can't not mention the numerous lava flows and huge lava beds. At some point we were driving 10 minutes along a lava flow that was the height of a three-story building!
But even those huge and impressive lava flows were nothing compared to what we saw later, near the Dee Wright observatory. Read about it in Day 6 of this diary!