Driving from Western Oregon to Bend in Central Oregon, a great route is the McKenzie Highway, Rt. 242. Snow closes this highway from November to July, so you’ve got to plan your trip for the late summer or early fall.
At the McKenzie Pass summit at 5325 feet in the Willamette National Forest, you’ll be surrounded by lava beds as far as the eye can see. There are places to park so you can get out and do some exploring, and on a clear day, this is one of the most stunning places in the world.
Near the summit, you’ll see a round structure built from the volcanic rock on top of a hill of volcanic rock. This is the Dee Wright Observatory, where visitors can peek through lava tube viewing holes at each of the major landmarks surrounding the area. Several of the tallest peaks of the Cascade Range are visible from the observatory, including Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, and the Three Sisters. Their bright white snowy peaks give a spectacular contrast to the dark gray lava beds all around you.
A paved 1/2-mile loop through the lava beds gives travelers a nice way to stretch their legs while taking in the scenery. Along the path are signs with interesting facts and information about the lava beds and how the scenery came to look this way. It’s fascinating, and definitely worth a detour if you’re anywhere near the area.