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Pets allowed
Yes
Elevation Gain
?
Trail type
There-and-back
Distance
0.50 mi (0.80 km)
Please respect the outdoors and leave no trace. One tip how to dispose of waste properly: Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products. For more information, visit https://lnt.org/learn/7-principles

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:

  • Charcoal Cave
  • Hidden Forest Cave
  • Dark Hole
  • Pictograph Cave (1,640 feet long)
  • Stookey Ranch Cave
  • Bat Cave
  • Deg Cave

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.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Winter
Spring
Summer
Fall

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

Not Required

Pros

Large caverns. Ice stalagmites. Solitude.

Cons

Narrow passages. Sharp lava rocks. Steep and icy entrance.

Trailhead Elevation

4,540.00 ft (1,383.79 m)

Net Elevation Gain

40.00 ft (12.19 m)

Address

Swamp Wells Rd
Bend, OR 97702
United States

Features

Mine
Cave
Geologically significant

Location

Field Guide + Map

Nearby Adventures

Comments

11.15.16
Visited the cave last year. It is really quite an experience.

2 updates:

No ice was blocking any openings. In fact, we only saw a very small amount of ice in the cave at all. There was frost on the ceiling in one area, but really not much ice. I read articles that stated that the entire entrance used to be sealed by ice prior to 2010ish.

There is no mention of it in the main description, but upon entering the cave, you will shortly come to what appears to be the end. Last year, there were faint arrows painted on the rock pointing towards a narrow passageway through some fallen rock. It is quite narrow- and you end up going forwards, then straight up through a narrow crack in some rocks to enter into a large chamber. The tube then continues for about a half mile to the right.

When exploring caves, it's recommended to have at least 3 light sources per person, and also to wear a helmet.
05.29.15
Some resources show a wooden stairway into this cave, but it has since collapsed. It's a great cave to explore, but take caution when scrambling your way to the cave's bottom.
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