There is one terrific thing about Newberry National Volcanic Monument: the volcanic features here are really cool, and you can actually experience them without signs saying, “Say out! Stay off! Unsafe! Fragile!” Some of the areas are like experiencing another planet, especially the Big Obsidian Flow, as well as the view from the Paulina Peak. The park is also very family friendly, with shorter hikes and natural playgrounds made of hardened lava.
Newberry is located a little over 10 miles south of Bend, Oregon, on Hwy 97. The features are slightly spread out, with most of the sights on roads off of the highway.
One of the things that we enjoyed most was the walk through the Lava Cast Forest. A long time ago Newberry Volcano sent lava flowing through a mature ponderosa pine forest. The lava encased the trees and cooled, leaving the burned trees to decay. These trees eventually rotted away, leaving “holes” in the lava flow. There is an aproxmently 1 mile loop through the forest that isn’t here anymore. In other words, the forest is now a lava field, but you can still see the remains of the forest in the lava casts that were left behind. This hike is great for children and the child-at-heart, because they can crawl through the tunnels that were left when fallen trees were covered with lava. Of course, to get through the tunnels you need to be small or don’t mind squeezing a bit. The tunnels are near the end of the loop if you go around it clockwise, which is the way the trail makers intended you to go. There are also some holes that were left from standing trees which are fun to climb into.
If climbing in and out of holes isn’t your idea of fun and adventure, this trail is also fun to walk and enjoy the amazing beauty of a lava flow, and to enjoy the holes and how they were made. The trail is a self-guided tour with 12 stops. At the trail head you can buy a booklet with a short paragraph for what you see at each numbered post. The hike is located on Road 9735 which goes off U.S. highway 97 on the east side.
Another point of interests in this area is the Lava River Cave, open mid-May to mid-September. When hot lava flowed out of Newberry Volcano, the outer layers cooled faster than the inside of the flow. The inside lava kept flowing, while the outside hardened. Eventually, the inside lava drained out, leaving the cooled outside layers with a cave inside. The trail from the parking lot to the cave is 1.1 miles one way, and the cave itself ends after about 3,000-5,200 ft in a sand plug, but it is still a very interesting experience to see where lava once ran. There is a small fee to enter the cave, and lanterns can be rented. One of the fun things is that you get to walk under Hwy 97 in the cave! The cave is 42 degrees year-round, so warm clothing is recommended. The parking area for the cave is located 12 miles south of Bend on Highway 97.
Another short, nice walk is through the big obsidian flow. This one is a rougher trail (the Lava Cast Forest trail at least attempts to be paved) that takes you right up on top of the obsidian flow. Obsidian is like chunks of shiny, smooth, black glass, and can be both blinding and amazingly sparkling in the sun. Here you can feel it, look at it up-close, and see what it’s like in the middle of an obsidian flow. If you want to experience it even more, you can go off the trail a few feet and you will be in another world (my brother says it’s like Mordor in the Lord of the Rings—he’s sure they should have done some on-sight filming here!). Be careful to have a compass and a good sense of direction if you try this, as the trail becomes invisible quickly—you could be 2 feet from the trail and never know it (I’ve done it).
After you do the big obsidian flow, it is fun to drive to the top of Paulina Peak which overlooks the flow. You have to get above it to really appreciate how big it is. Even if you don’t do the big obsidian flow, doing the peak is worth while as it has great views of the park and the surrounding mountains, including the Three Sisters. Our information said the trail on the top was about ½ a mile, but we found the longest distance to be about 500 feet. Signboards at the top tell you what you are seeing, including the names of the mountains and lakes.
There are other hiking trails in the park as well, some of which allow horses and bikes as well as hikers. There are also ten campgrounds that have drinking water, picnic tables, fireplaces, toilets, and access to boat ramps. Visitor centers are nearby at Pauline Lake and East Lake.
So…if you’ve ever wanted to experience the remains of a once-active volcano, this is the place to do it. You won’t find tons to do, but you can actually experience the volcanic remains without feeling like someone is looking over your shoulder to see that you don’t do anything but look and leave be. For example, we climbed inside of the holes in the Lava Cast Forest. How many parks would allow that? We even got some great pictures where all you can see is a hand sticking out of a hole!