Explore Derrick Cave in Central Oregon

It’s hard to beat Central Oregon when it comes to great caving experiences, and one visit to Derrick Cave will fulfill all your subterranean explorer dreams. Although it’s third on the list of Oregon’s longest lava tube caves, it still winds an impressive 1,200 feet. It's also open year-round, although it's best experienced in the summer months.

For those interested in its origins, Derrick Cave was born from Oregon’s restless period of volcanic activity several millennia ago during which most of the high desert area took shape. A river of molten lava once rolled through Derrick’s Cave from the origin point of Devil's Garden, a 45-square-mile lava field administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). As lava slowly drained from the tube, the shell remained mostly intact, with weaker areas collapsing to form skylights, as well as the cave’s entrance.

Exploring the cave is fairly straightforward once you find the entrance. There’s more than one way to drop in, but all of them require a scramble across slippery and cool volcanic rock. The best way to access the cave is next to the official parking lot in the main, wide-mouthed entrance, which is much safer than dropping in through a random skylight.

It’s a good 15 or 20 degrees cooler at the lava tube floor level, and a great deal darker, in spite of semi-frequent natural skylights. Bring your own light source and watch for ice and loose rock as you wander. Also be prepared for low-roof sections. The southern end of the cave is narrow, deep, and has less light. The northern end has a higher ceiling, more light filtering down, sandy floors and multi-leveled inclines. Keep these differences (and your caving skills) in mind as you explore.

You’ll hear small mammals moving around in the dark and spot clusters of insects flying in and out of the skylights, but no other animals reside in these depths. You will find large boulders looming out of the darkness, the result of ceiling collapses over time. But otherwise it’s usually just a few lone visitors poking around the musty dark, as few folks make the trek out in this area, even during caving season.

As this is not a well-trafficked area, be extra careful before heading below ground. It’s essential to carry light sources such as flashlights or headlamps, and backups are a very smart idea. The layout of the cave makes it hard to get lost, but loose rocks, patches of ice, and tight corridors should be noted with caution.

The actual cave entrance can be difficult to find due to poor signage, including an incorrect marking on some BLM maps. Follow the directions below to find it.

Directions

  • Starting from Bend, take Highway 20 until you hit Forest Road 23, and turn right. You’ll find that turn after descending from the Dry River Canyon area.
  • Stay alert on the bumpy dirt road after that, and take another right onto Road 2325 after 23 hits a junction.
  • Stay straight until you start seeing the blowout of volcanic debris in the form of splatter cones. Look for a grove of Ponderosa pines, as you’ll find a parking lot and the cave entrance set amidst them.
  • Be aware that there are no restrooms or water available at the cave, and BLM does not allow these activities in and around natural caves:

  • Defacing, removing or destroying plants, soil, rocks, minerals, or other cave resources,
  • Digging, excavating, or displacing any natural or cultural features,
  • Camping,
  • Building campfires, using stoves, or smoking,
  • Depositing or disposing of human waste in or near a cave,
  • Discharging a firearm, air rifle, or paint gun,
  • Possessing or discharging fireworks or other pyrotechnics,
  • Bringing a domestic animal into a cave,
  • Any activity that disturbs the environment within a 350 feet radius of a cave opening or any known cave passages.
  • You can call BLM for more information: 541-947-2177.

    Region(s):
    Central Oregon
    Eastern Oregon
    Greater Portland
    The Gorge + Mt. Hood
    Oregon Coast
    Southern Oregon
    Willamette Valley

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