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Explore Oregon’s Geological Formations

Much of the natural beauty you see throughout Oregon is a direct result of early volcanic activity. Nowhere is this more evident than in Central Oregon’s Newberry National Volcanic Monument, which encompasses more than 50,000 protected acres.

Explorers, put a visit to the Lava River Cave in Bend on your itinerary. Thought to be the state’s “longest continuous lava tube,” the 5,000-foot developed interior reveals stalactites and stalagmites. Enjoy the cool interior before moving on to the Lava Cast Forest and the Newberry Volcano.

Crack in the Ground in Christmas Valley is a two-mile long, 70-foot deep fissure, related to the Four Craters Lava Field, that has to be seen to be believed. The Dee Wright Observatory in Sisters is another “must see” destination. Built out of lava rock, it features interpretive displays and impressive viewing points for the Cascade Mountains.

The Pillars of Rome in Eastern Oregon capture the imagination as each formation seems to reflect the light in different ways. The 100-foot formations run for five miles and resemble the ruins of Ancient Rome. Malheur Butte is also worth a visit. The 320-foot tall rocks, created by volcanic eruptions, are popular climbing locales offering stunning views of Treasure Valley. 

Crack in the Ground

One of the most unique destinations in central Oregon, Crack in the Ground is a naturally occurring fissure not far from La Pine. At two miles long and up to 70 feet deep, the Crack in the Ground is an off-shoot of the nearby Four Craters Lava Field.

Open year round, the Crack in the Ground is a popular hiking destination – choose to take on the side paths, or head down into the fissure and hike its path. Most large fissures near volcanic activity are naturally filled over time with soil and debris, but because the Cascades tend to be more arid, the Crack in the Ground has maintained it's open space.

Dee Wright Observatory

Located at an elevation of 5,187 feet, the Dee Wright Observatory is found in the Oregon Cascades.

Built from lava rock by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935, the observatory has "lava tube" viewing holes for windows, allowing for incredible views of the Cascade Mountains.

Many visitors travel to the Sisters area, to see this wonderful Oregon attraction.

While walking along the paved trail, stop to read the interpretive panels to learn more about the observatory and area's geology.

Lava River Cave

A top attraction in the Cascades of Oregon, Lave River Cave is a naturally formed lava tube, stretching 5,211 feet, end to end. Discovered in 1889, the Lava River Cave features self-guided tours usually lasting one to two hours.

At the Lava River Cave, it's recommended to visit in July and August, as those are the ideal months. The Lava River Cave is, however, open from May through the end of September, so plan your visit to Bend or La Pine accordingly.

Malheur Butte

Located nine miles west of Ontario, Malheur Butte is one of eastern Oregon's most recognizable landmarks. Formed by volcanic eruptions 20 million years ago, the butte gained its distinctive shape thanks to eroding forces from the Malheur River.

Standing over 320 feet tall, the rocks are a popular climbing spot and offer sweeping views of the Treasure Valley. The butte is also famed for its hot springs, which remain active due to geothermal activity. Visitors will find the butte off of U.S. Highway 26 and Butte Drive.