Last week I told you all about the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, and how to make the most of a one-day itinerary.
But I’d be doing you a great disservice if I didn’t tell you that you absolutely, positively MUST stick around for a second day and add the Paulina Plunge to your agenda. I promise, you’ll thank me for this later.
What’s the Paulina Plunge?
It’s honestly one of the coolest things I’ve experienced in 17 years of living in Bend and nearly 40 years spending summer vacations here. I can’t believe it took me this long to try this full-day adventure tour that includes mountain biking, hiking, and visits to half-a-dozen pristine waterfalls for swimming, splashing, jumping, and sliding.
We kicked off our morning at 10 a.m. by meeting our tour group at the Paulina Plunge office in Sunriver. Participants ranged in age from a five-year-old who spent much of his ride time hitched to the back of dad’s bicycle, to a retired couple on an anniversary adventure.
Roughly 40 of us loaded into a school bus and rode to our starting point as one of the tour guides shared a bit of history about Chief Paulina and the area we’d be visiting on the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. After a 25-minute ride, we disembarked and got outfitted with appropriately-sized bikes and helmets.
My eight-year-old stepdaughter is a fairly new bike rider, so she was nervous about the cycling aspect of the trip. We were relieved to see how thoroughly they checked her skill level and made sure she was comfortable with hand brakes. They also split the 40 of us into two groups of 20—one with more experienced riders, and one with young kids and less-confident cyclists. Our group also got two tour guides instead of one, and it was clear they both had a knack for wrangling kids.
The biking portion of the trip is split into four segments of roughly 1.5 miles each, and most of it is downhill. The short uphill climb in the first segment gave us a good chance to assess everyone’s fitness and experience level so we had a better idea how to space ourselves in the pack. I’ll admit the cycling portion was the part I most fretted about (not being much of a bike rider myself) but it was way easier than I expected.
The waterfalls along the Paulina Plunge route range from 10 feet to 40 feet tall. The first one on our list required a short half-mile hike to reach and gave everyone a chance to splash around, wade, or lie down in the water.
We got back on our bikes and pedaled another 1.5 miles to the next waterfall. This one was more interactive, with lots of space for swimming and wading. The guides led a few brave kids to a spot at the bottom edge of the waterfall where it’s safe to jump. After a few minutes, all the grownups started muttering, “that looks fun,” and pretty soon everyone was in line to give it a try.
After we’d all cooled off in the water, we hiked the half-mile back to our bikes and pedaled a short distance to a spot the guides had chosen for a lunchtime picnic. We had spectacular views of the Cascade Mountains and surrounding volcanic landscape while we enjoyed the lunch we’d packed that morning. For $10 extra per person, the Paulina Plunge folks will pack a lunch for you.
By the time the meal was over, we were all air-dried and ready to hit the water again. We pedaled another 1.5 miles or so for the portion of the outing the kids had been squealing about all week—natural waterfall slides!
There are two different slides to try. The first is a smooth, sloped plane that lends itself well to both upright sliding or going down on your belly. Not wanting to lose my top, I stuck with the former.
The second slide just a bit downstream is a more twisty, turny waterfall with separate sections allowing two people to converge at the midpoint in a splashy, giggly mess. We stayed here until everyone was exhausted and drenched and possibly a bit butt-bruised.
The next leg of our journey took us to a great big waterfall with a pool at the bottom for swimming. This was a more relaxing segment of the trip, and my fiancé enjoyed sitting under the pounding water for a natural massage.
We ended the journey with a longer downhill bike leg and a cold soda at the end. We were back at our car by about 4:30 p.m. with the kids fast asleep in the backseat about two minutes later.
The price per person for the Paulina Plunge is $65, which is a screamin’ deal considering it includes all your transportation, bike and helmet, a day pack if you need it, tour guides with CPR and first aid training, and a full day of the sort of once-in-a-lifetime you’ll only find in the volcanic wonderland of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument.
There’s a great FAQ page that covers a lot of ground, but allow me to add a few tips of my own:
- The FAQ page advises people to dress in shorts, t-shirts, and old sneakers. Admittedly, that outfit provides adequate protection, but it made me feel like a soggy dork with sand in my socks. Regular sandals or Tevas aren’t a good option (the most common injury is to the big toe) but if you’ve got a pair of Keen sandals with burly toe protection, wear those instead. I also opted to wear a bikini with a super-supportive top (bike riding can be bumpy!) with shorts and a top with a built-in bra, plus a lightweight sweatshirt in my pack. That provided a pretty good system for donning and removing layers, and I didn’t have to pedal anywhere in a dripping t-shirt.
- The FAQ page downplays the necessity of sunscreen a bit, but trust me, you need it. A LOT. You’ll be at a high altitude with several long stretches without the protection of a forest canopy. Make sure you’ve got plenty of water-resistant stuff and reapply often!
- Bring plenty of water—follow the guidelines on the FAQ page, and don’t forget to add a little extra for your lunchtime stop.
- Remember to bring a little cash to tip your guide(s) at the end. It’s not mandatory, of course, but it’s a nice gesture, and trust me—these guys earn it.
For more info on the Paulina Plunge, check out their website or call 1-800-296-0562.
Here are a couple videos of the kids having a ball in the waterfalls.