Newberry National Volcanic National Monument has lakes, lava flows and spectacular geologic features

It was lovely, warm September day when we travelled from our home town of Bend, Oregon 40 miles south to the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, set in the spectacular Deschutes National Forest. The monument is huge, covering 54,000+ acres (about the size of Rhode Island) of lakes, lava flows, and spectacular geologic features. The highest point within the Monument is the summit Paulina Peak (7,985 ft.), which offers amazing, jaw-dropping views of the Cascades, Newberry Caldera and across the High Desert.

Newberry Volcano is the largest volcano in the Cascades volcanic arc. Unlike familiar cone-shaped Cascades volcanoes, Newberry was built into the shape of a broad shield by repeated eruptions over the past 400,000 years. About 75,000 years ago a major explosive eruption and collapse event created a large volcanic depression at its summit that now hosts two caldera lakes. Newberry last erupted about 1,300 years ago, and present-day hot springs and geologically young lava flows indicate that it is still an active volcano.

Location: Highway 97, around 40 miles south of Bend
Hours:  The visitor centres are open in the Summer months but closed in the winter. You can visit Paulina Peak, the lakes and waterfalls – although this could be challenging in the winter due to snow
Map: Google Map
Website: Website
Prices: There are day-fees in some of the areas. You can also use your Northwest Forest Pass

If you travel down South from Bend along Highway 97 toward the areas of the Newberry Volcanic National Monument there are a couple of places to stop and check out if you are interested that are part of the monument. Lava River Cave is a mile-long lava tube you can explore – they provide flashlights but I would plan to bring your own – a headlamp would be even better. The second places in the Lava Land Interpretive Center, where you can take a 5.5-mile hike around a large lava flow and also climb to the top of a cinder cone, Lava Butte, that gives great views across Central Oregon.

Paulina Peak

We decided to start with a trip to the top of Paulina Peak as we knew this was going to get crowded later in the day. There is the option to hike to the top or take a long, slow bike ride but we decided on the softie’s option and drove the road in our car. This road is a dirt track and fairly narrow, with steep drop-offs – it is also two-way with only a few real passing points. If you don’t like narrow roads with no barriers and hundreds of feet drops don’t do this!

Having said all of this the views at the top of Paulina Peak are amazing. You can see for miles and miles on a clear day across the high desert to the Cascades mountains and the vast spread of Oregon’s high desert. You also get spectacular views of the twin lakes, Paulina and East Lake that we’d be visiting later in the day.

After a few minutes of snapping photos and admiring the views, we decided to head down the mountain.

Big Obsidian Flow

Just a short drive, or longish hike, from the base of Paulina Peak, is the Big Obsidian Flow. At a mere 1300 years old, the Big Obsidian Flow is the youngest lava flow in Oregon. A one-mile interpretive trail climbs up and onto this impressive lava flow of obsidian (black glass) and pumice. The obsidian here is amazing – there are huge chunks of this. For those Game of Thrones fans out there obsidian is “dragon” glass – so if we ever get attacked by White Walkers guess where I am heading.

The trail itself is short but does require going-up some steps and then there are rocks and tight spaces to negotiate. This is not a place to walk your dog (the obsidian is like glass) or try if you are not very sure on your feet.

The Newberry Crater Trail also passes through this site, which connects to the Lost Lake Trail.

East Lake and Paulina Lake

There are two lakes within the boundaries of the Newberry Monument. The smallest of these is East Lake, which has a lovely campsite – suitable for tents, trailers and RVs (there are size limitations so check it out). This would be a great place to spend a weekend camping – note to self! It has a nice beach and places to launch your boat.

Our favourite lake though is Paulina. It is the larger of the two lakes and is, in our opinion, my more scenic. There is a larger area to launch boats, and you can also rent boats and kayaks for an hour or two – or the whole day. The Lodge at Paulina Lake has a small shop, cabins to rent and a large bar and restaurant to kick back in.

The beach is very cute and safe for the kiddos to paddle in.

Paulina Creek Falls

Just a short distance from Paulina Lake lodge is Paulina Creek Falls. You can walk from the lodge or there a dedicated parking lot a bit closer. It is an easy downhill hike of less than half-a-mile from the parking lot down to the falls.  The waterfall is notable for its side-by-side drop of 80 feet that surrounds a small island at the edge of the cliff.

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