Post Summary: How to visit the Skylight Cave in Oregon + responsible travel tips
One of the coolest caves near Bend is also one of the hardest to reach!
The Skylight Cave near Sisters, Oregon is honestly, an ethereal experience.
If you visit at the right time, you’ll be greeted with light beams that shoot directly into the cave, creating a one-of-a-kind experience that can only be found in the forests of Central Oregon.
In this post, we’ll share how to get to Skylight Cave in Oregon (with exact directions), how to prepare, and how to capture the best pictures.
Make this part of a bigger trip: Plan a 4-day Bend, Oregon itinerary!
What is the Skylight Cave?
Skylight Cave in Oregon is a lava tube that is famous for its three “skylights” that shoot beams of light into the dark cavern.
The skylights formed when the outer shell of the cave collapsed inside itself, creating these natural skylights.
Come at the right time of day, and the sun will alight with these holes, shooting gorgeous sunlight into the cave!
Love spelunking (cave exploring)? Discover a similar one (with a light beam!) in Idaho called Tea Kettle Cave!
Where is Skylight Cave in Oregon? (How To Get There)
So, you might be wondering how to get to Skylight Cave in Oregon?
The Skylight cave is about a 30-minute drive from Sisters, Oregon, and a 1-hour drive from Bend.
Located in the Deschutes National Forest, the journey requires visitors to drive on unpaved forest roads and uneven terrain to reach the parking area near the cave.
We recommend a 4-wheel drive vehicle or a car with high clearance. It’s possible to make the journey with a 2-wheel drive car, but as someone who doesn’t like to risk getting stuck in the forest, I would recommend against a 2-wheel drive car.
You’ll be driving 6-7 miles on dirt roads, and these road conditions can vary from season to season.
Love finding unique places? Discover other epic Oregon photography locations for your next trip!
Skylight Cave Oregon Directions
The GPS coordinates for the Skylight Cave in Oregon are here (44°20’55.3″N 121°42’55.9″W).
The Google Maps pinpoint is correct, but instead of relying solely on Google directions, follow these instructions as well:
1. Turn left from Highway 20/126 northwest of Sisters, Oregon, and turn onto McAllister Road The road is direct across the turnoff for Camp Sherman.
2. At the first fork (1/4 mile), go right onto the NF-2061
3. This road continues for about 5 miles and goes between being called 400 Rd, NF-2061, and 800 Rd on Google Maps. Eventually, you will arrive at a clearing with bare trees, and a fork in the road shortly following.
4. Turn left at that fork onto 1028. Keep driving for about 0.5 more miles.
5. Turn left onto McAllister Road going east.
6. Skylight Cave will be on the right after about a mile. Keep your eye out for a Forest Service sign.
If you get lost, be patient, look at Google maps, and try a combination of forest roads until you reach the cave! It’s also important to note that camping is NOT permitted at the parking lot!
Navigation Tip: You’ll likely lose cell service out there, so we recommend downloading an offline map of the area before your journey. See how we do it here.
Hot Tip: Approach the Skylight cave from the west side of McAllister Road. We followed forest roads and entered McAllister Road east of the Skylight Cave, and had to get out of the car and walk for a mile.
It’s certainly not a maintained trail, and entering from the west side would have been much easier.
Parking at Skylight Cave in Oregon
Parking is not allowed at the entrance of the actual cave. You can drive all the way to the cave entrance (you’ll see a posted sign) to locate it, and then turn around to park at a pullout a little earlier on the road.
There isn’t a sign for this parking area, so watch your pin on Google Maps and keep an eye for the pullout when you get close.
There is room for about 5 cars. It’s important to park ONLY in the pullout so you don’t block others or get blocked in.
Discover more cool trails: Read about the 14 best hikes in Bend, Oregon!
The Skylight Cave’s Resident Bats
Visiting the Skylight Cave in Oregon, you are actually visiting someone’s home – bats!
In the wintertime, Central Oregon’s bat population hibernates in the nearby caves, including this one.
In order to preserve this fragile ecosystem, here are some rules and guidelines for visiting all caves in Bend:
- Don’t wear the same clothes you’ve worn in other caves.
- Clean off your shoes right after visiting the cave.
- Don’t visit in the winter season. They are hibernating and your presence will disturb them.
- Wash your hands after visiting the cave.
Why? This is because of a disease called “White Nose Syndrome.” It’s transferred from cave to cave by people like us. If it enters a cave, it prevents bats from properly hibernating, ultimately causing them to lose energy and starve before spring emerges. Please do your part in keeping these bats safe!
Tips for Visiting Skylight Cave Oregon (+ What To Pack)
How can you best prepare for a visit to the Skylight Cave in Oregon? Here are some things to keep in mind, and what to pack for your trip.
Don’t visit the cave in clothes or shoes that you’ve worn in another cave. This helps prevent spreading “White Mose Syndrome” which is dangerous for the resident bat populations.
You will need a light source. A headlamp is ideal (hands-free) but a strong flashlight works, or even your cell phone light in a pinch.
Wear hiking shoes with heavy traction and ankle support. The ground is rocky and uneven, with tripping hazards everywhere.
Sign the entrance log at the entrance. This gives the forest service information about how many people visit the cave each year. It also can determine if this place needs extra maintenance or oversight – depending on future crowds.
Take your trash home. There are no trash bins at the Skylight Cave, so practice a pack in, pack out attitude.
Bring water! There is none on site, and summer days can get quite hot here.
Wear layers. It can be cold in caves, even 40 degrees in the summer.
Love Oregon? Make this part of a bigger Oregon road trip route! (we share 5 day to 2 week itineraries)
Going Inside the Skylight Cave
After signing the visitor’s log, locate the staircase into the cave just beyond the forest service sign.
To get down into the cave, you’ll need to descend down a metal ladder. It’s not a tall ladder but it’s sturdy, about 10-15 feet tall.
At the bottom, there are two options. To the right, you can venture 900 feet into the dark until the cave dead ends.
To the left, 300 feet toward the light, it will open up into a bigger area with three holes in the ceiling. This is where you’ll want to be – these are the ‘skylights’!
It’s not a far walk at all, but there is really uneven ground and loose rock underfoot. Go slowly, and make sure to watch where you step!
If you come at the right time of day, each of these skylights will have sun beams shining through the holes, putting on a glorious and photogenic display!
When To Visit Skylight Cave For the Light Beams
The Skylight Cave is open for visitors from May to mid-Setpember. If you are coming anywhere close to these dates, call the ranger station before you go to double check that it’s open. The office is located at US-20 & S Pine St (open M-F, 8am-4:30pm), and their number is 541-549-7700.
In the off-season, Skylight Cave Oregon is home to a bat population, and entry is prohibited.
We haven’t visited during off-season, but it looks like the ladder may be removable. In that case, if you come when the cave isn’t open, there won’t even be a ladder to climb down.
In order to see the three beams of light shining through the cave, you’ll need to visit at the right time of day. Those beams aren’t on display 24/7!
You will need to plan your visit on a clear, sunny day. The beams will become visible anywhere between 8 am-11 am, depending on the month you visit.
On our most recent visit, we arrived around 9:45am, with one beam visible. The light became stronger, and the final beams visible 30 minutes later, around 10:15am. This was around summer solstice, June 24th.
Tips For Photographing the Skylight Cave
So, how do you photography this incredible spectacle?
Keep reading for the best times to visit and tips on how to best photograph in caves.
When is the best time to visit Skylight Cave?
To capture the Skylight Cave in all its illuminated glory, you’ll want to get to the cave between 8 am and 11 am, depending on the time of year you visit. Around or after the summer solstice is the best time in our opinion.
Do not come in winter (for multiple reasons as stated able), but also because the angle of the sun isn’t right to shine its rays through the holes in the cave.
It’s open from May through September, but we think July and August are the best times to visit. This is because these months have a better chance of clear, sunny days, which are necessary for capturing the light rays.
It’s important to watch the weather closely before visiting the Skylight Cave. Coming on an overcast day, you will not be able to see the night rays.
Skylight Cave Photography Tips
Here are some blog posts you should read to improve your travel photography:
– 31 Brilliant Smartphone Landscape Photography Tips
– Our Go-To Travel Photography Gear List
– The 20 Best Travel Photography Acessories
– 12 Photo Editing Apps for Busy Travelers
– 8 Ways To Drastically Improve Your Travel Photography
Consider bringing a tripod. It’s dark down there, so you’ll need to capture it with a slow shutter, and a very steady hand.
Play around with subjects and light. The beams are kind of light stage lights, so you can get really creative with your shots!
More likely than not, there will be other photographers around. Respect each other’s space! It’s also polite to ask if it’s okay to walk up to the skylights. When we were there, everyone took turns capturing photos and walking in the light.
Come on a weekday for a better chance of getting it to yourself.
Bring a lens cloth. It can get dusty down there!
Be patient. As soon as the light beams hit, there were many people taking photos, but they slowly trickled away until we were the last ones there. It pays to be patient!
More nearby photogenic spots: Read our guide to Smith Rock State Park near Bend, Oregon.
Skylight Cave in Oregon Conclusion
We hope you enjoyed this blog post about visiting the Skylight Cave in Oregon!
Remeber, this is a fragile environment, so it’s essential to follow Leave No Trace principles.
If you choose to share about this place like us, it’s a good idea to also educate about White Nose Syndrome, safety, and sustainability. Thank you for preserving this place for generations to come!
Have you ever visited Skylight Cave in Oregon? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments below!