When the boss asked me to spend a couple days visiting Newberry National Volcanic Monument to give a first-hand report on what it’s like to explore the area with a family, I wept with misery at how much my job sucks.
That’s so obviously a lie that I can’t even type it with a straight face.
Truth is, I immediately texted the kids with the all caps message: GUESS WHAT AMAZING THING WE GET TO DO?!?!
The Newberry National Volcanic Monument is a breathtaking natural playground just south of Bend, teeming with ancient lava flows, cinder cones, caves, obsidian flows, lakes, rivers, forests, and mountains. I’ve been there many times, but never with the intent of mapping out the absolute perfect agenda for a limited time.
Next week’s post will spotlight the once-in-a-lifetime adventure of the Paulina Plunge, but today I’m giving you an easy itinerary to maximize a single fun-filled day at Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Here’s how we did it:
8:45 a.m.: Breakfast at Sparrow Bakery
As we headed south on the Bend Parkway, we took exit 138 and popped in at Sparrow Bakery. I opted for their bacon breakfast sandwich (a poached egg, bakery-smoked bacon, avocado, arugula, and aioli served on a hand-rolled croissant). The meal was easy to eat in the car, and provided the perfect sustenance for our morning journey.
9:15 a.m.: Arrive at the Lava Lands Visitor Center
Knowing the Lava Lands Visitor Center gets busy with folks jockeying for the chance to drive to the top of Lava Butte, we wanted to hit this stop first thing. We flashed our Northwest Forest Pass for access (though a three-day Monument Pass is just $10 and gets you in to all the areas. A one-day Northwest Forest Pass will do the trick as well if you plan to stick with this itinerary). The attendant granted us a 30-minute permit to drive to the top of Lava Butte.
The kids loved exploring the fire lookout tower at the top of the butte and snapping photos of the panoramic views. We opted to burn off a little energy with the ¼ mile hike around the rim of the caldera, oohing and aahing over the different types of lava rock and the fact that we were standing on the largest volcano in the Cascades.
Back at the bottom, we headed into the Visitor Center facility for a bathroom break and a chance to check out the interpretive exhibits, a short film, and a giant map showing us all the areas we’d be exploring that day.
10 a.m.: Explore Lava River Cave
I’ve had the pleasure of doing several Cave Tours with the folks from Wanderlust Tours, and I’m always in awe of the knowledge and experience offered by their naturalist guides, and impressed by the fact that they’re the only group permitted to take folks into some of Central Oregon’s most pristine natural caves.
But if you’re short on time or cash, or you just want to explore on your own, the Lava River Cave at Newberry National Monument is a good option. Located adjacent to the Lava Lands Visitor Center, the cave is one mile long and the longest lava tube in Central Oregon. You can bring your own headlamps or flashlights if you’ve got them, but I love the experience of renting a propane-fueled lantern for just $5 at the entrance.
The kids both told me the Lava River Cave was their favorite part of our day, and it was easy to see why. We hiked all the way to the end, making spooky noises and shadow-puppets as we went. A few scattered signs along the way shared interesting tidbits like the spot where we were standing directly under Highway 97.
Closed-toe shoes are a good idea for this hike, and a lightweight sweatshirt is a must, since it’s 45 degrees in the cave all year-round. Claustrophobes who feel nervous in smaller caves will appreciate the relatively open spaces in this one.
11 a.m.: Drive to Paulina Falls
We emerged from the cave and drove 12.5 miles to Paulina Lake Road. From there, it was another 12.5 miles to the Newberry Welcome Station where we kicked off the next portion of our journey.
Since tummies weren’t rumbling yet, we decided to see Paulina Falls before lunchtime. The lookout over the top of the 80-foot waterfall is just a short walk from the parking lot off road 21, and I expected the kids to be satisfied with a 10-minute stop for snapping some photos and chucking pine cones over the falls.
They surprised me by loving the waterfall so much they wanted to see it from all angles. We made the short hike to the bottom where they saw the falls from a different viewpoint. 12-year-old Cedar snapped a lovely waterfall photo we shared on Visit Bend’s Facebook page, promptly racking up more than 1,000 likes and making the kid’s day.
Noon: Lunch at Paulina Lake Lodge
I’d stopped at this lodge plenty of times for a potty break or a snack at the gift store, but I’d never bothered to sit down for a meal. What a treat!
We sat on the deck outside to enjoy panoramic views of the lake and mountains while we studied the surprisingly expansive menu. The kids’ menu boasted standard kid-friendly fare like chicken strips and grilled cheese, both of which were deemed delicious by my traveling companions. I opted for a pulled pork sandwich with homemade coleslaw. It was zingy and tasty, and the views made everything that much more scrumptious. After we ate, the kids enjoyed a few minutes of skipping rocks from the edge of the dock beside the lodge.
Added bonus: the staff was so friendly and helpful they provided detailed instructions for reaching the next stop on our adventure and recommended a shovel to help scoop gravel from the hot springs. When we admitted we didn’t have one, they helpfully cleaned out an empty coffee can for us to use.
1 p.m.: Hike from Little Crater Campground to Paulina Lake Hot Springs
This is one of those “locals’ secrets” I’m probably going to get yelled at for revealing to you, but I don’t believe in hoarding all the good spots for myself. Besides, you have to work a little to find this one, so it’s unlikely to be overrun by a million beer-guzzling graffiti artists.
After lunch, we drove a short distance from Paulina Lake Lodge to the Little Crater Campground on the edge of the lake. There’s a day-use area at the very end of the campground, and that’s where we parked to begin the roughly two-mile hike along the lakeshore to the hot springs. At the point where the trail veers uphill, stick to the shoreline and watch for shallow pools fringed with logs. There are several hot springs along the way, and you’ll usually find a few folks soaking in them.
Don’t go expecting a deep soaking pool with seats and towel racks. The springs are shallow and rustic, and it’s a good idea to have something to dig with so you can make a larger spot for soaking and optimize the mix of chilly lake water and piping hot spring water.
Remember your sunscreen before heading out, and don’t forget a bottle of water and sturdy water shoes.
3:45 p.m.: Scope out the Big Obsidian Flow
By the time we’d hiked to and from the hot springs and expended a fair amount of energy splashing in the water, we were feeling pretty wiped. Luckily, The Big Obsidian Flow was just a short drive up the road and a fairly easy walk to the trailhead.
From there you can scope out views of glassy obsidian and a breathtaking hidden lake. This is Oregon’s youngest lava flow, where more than 170 million cubic yards of obsidian and pumice erupted from a vent in the caldera. A one-mile loop interpretive trail covers one corner of the flow.
The Big Obsidian Flow is one of several sites covered in the Volcano Tour from Wanderlust, so if you’d rather have someone else handle all the driving, planning, navigating, and narrating of cool geological facts, that’s a handy option.
4:30 p.m. A trip to East Lake? A drive up Paulina Peak? Or time to head home?
We briefly considered a short drive to East Lake for more sightseeing or a trip up 8,000-foot Paulina Peak for 360-degree volcanic views, but we had tickets to a concert at the Les Schwab Amphitheater, so it was time to head home.
Visitors without concert tickets could probably manage either (possibly both) of these additional side trips. Those with an interest in seeing the Lava Cast Forest (a 7,000-year-old basalt lava flow that enveloped a mature forest and took the shape of trees while it cooled) would be wise to tack on that detour near the start of the trip while still near the Lava Lands Visitor Center.
But overall, we were satisfied with what we managed to pack in on day one of our Newberry National Volcanic Monument tour.
STILL TO COME NEXT WEEK:
Read about day two of our Newberry National Monument adventure, which includes a full day of biking, hiking, splashing, jumping, and sliding in waterfalls on the Paulina Plunge!