Many visitors to Bend, and of course locals to the area, are quite familiar with the Lava River Cave at the Newberry National Monument just South of Bend. The lava tube is pretty much a road-side attraction on highway 97 – and due to its close proximity to both Bend and Sunriver – it receives quite a bit of traffic. And rightfully so – it is an amazing place.
But just a bit to the North East of the National Monument, a series of lava tubes that comprise the Arnold Lava Tube System offer another geological wonderland to explore – responsibly.
History of the Arnold Ice Cave
The namesake lava tube, Arnold Ice Cave, is a tube that is steeped in historical significance for Central Oregon. Evidence of human use of caves in the area dates back to nearly 10,000 years ago. As early as 1889, ice was harvested from the cave and used by settlers in nearby Bend to preserve foods and cool cocktails ( Central Oregon Caves by Charlie and Jo Larson ).
In more recent history, the lava tube system has made the news for a number of human blights that have left near permanent damage to this fragile environment. But fortunately others in the local community have recently worked to restore the caves via cleanup efforts.
The Hidden Forest
Due to the issues of vandalism in the past, and the threat of White Nose Syndrome to the resident Townsend Big Eared Bats, many of the caves in the Arnold System are either closed partially during the year, or completely. But there is one cave in the system that is open year round, and is quite magical to explore: Hidden Forest Cave.
While it is not a large long cave like Lava Island, the forest at its’ entrance, and a tight passage to a collapsed sink – the Hidden Forest Cave is a wonderful place to explore the Arnold system.
Directions to Hidden Forest Cave
To get to Hidden Forest Cave, travel 27th Street / Knott road on Bend’s East side to China Hat Road ( FS18 ), and turn East. Travel 7.6 miles to the end of the paved portion of China Hat, and then travel and additional 2.8 miles to a road signed FS 300 where you will turn right. Follow this road to its end at the Arnold Geological Area trail head.
At the trail head, take some time to familiarize yourself with the rules of exploring the lava tubes. My favorite take-away from this signage is to bring the following with you into the caves:
- A conservation ethic
- Three sources of light and extra batteries
- A friend or two – don’t cave alone
- Knowledge of your personal limits
- Water and food
- Clean Equipment: Caving helmet, long pants, sturdy boots and gloves
- Clean layered clothing – cave temperatures are 22 to 50 degrees
- As little gear as possible, but enough to be safe
- Non-glass containers to pack out food and body waste
- No dogs!
From the trail head follow the main path to the South to reach Hidden Forest Cave. The first cave-like feature you will encounter is a collapsed sink, press on further to what appears to be a canyon with a forest inside of it. Check a satellite image before you go of the area ( map above ) to familiarize yourself with the landmarks – doing so will make discovering the hidden forest canyon much easier.
A well worn path leads down into the canyon from the South, from there wander into the mouth and enjoy. Watch the video below for some more details and banter on the wonders of the Hidden Forest Cave. And of course, take some time and a trash bag with you to help leave the cave better than you found it.