Located roughly 12 miles southeast of Bend, the Arnold Ice Cave makes for a remarkable visit for the adventurous explorer. Deep in the Central Oregon outback off of China Hat Road, sage brush, juniper trees and ponderosa pines surround a secret volcanic underground world that was created by a basalt lava flow roughly 80,000 years ago.
This amazing cave system on the far northern slopes of Newberry Volcano has Native American artifacts that have been carbon dated back to as early as 1370 A.D. Originally called Crook County Ice Caves, the site's present name was given by Ronald Greeley during an extensive examination of the lava tubes for the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries. Like the nearby and heavily visited Lava River Cave (5,466 feet long), these lava tubes formed as the top layer of a lava flow was exposed to air. The air cooled the lava, which slowed as it solidified. The lava lower down remained at temperatures as high as 2,000 degrees and continued to flow like a river below the hardened top crust. The lava then drained away and left the empty tube in place.
As the name implies, Arnold Ice Cave is full of ice. In fact, parts of the cave are blockaded by ice as ground water seeps through the porous basalt into the well-insulated and frigid cave. In other parts, hundreds of ice stalagmites dot the caves rocky bottom. Interestingly, the caves were once used to extract ice for commercial use in Bend, where debris from the 1950s mining operation can still be found. The cave itself is actually part of a larger network of lava tubes known as the Arnold Ice Cave System. There are 19 caves in total that measure 4.5 miles from end-to-end, and most are little more than a few hundred feet deep. Wind Cave, located just 1.5 miles to the north on the other side of China Hat Road, is the longest, measuring 3,839 feet long. Due to its critical bat population, Wind Cave is permanently closed. Other notable caves in the system include:
Visiting the Cave: As you can imagine, temperatures in the cave hover just below freezing, so be sure to dress warmly. The entrance of the cave can be quite icy, slippery, and steep, so some rappelling equipment may be desired. When in the area, you can also enjoy nearby Boyd Cave and Skeleton Cave (by special permit only), roughly 3 miles northwest of China Hat Road.