Posted on 3/1/2024

What You Need to Know About Newberry Volcanic National Monument

A short 40-minute drive southeast of Sisters lies an adventure of epic proportions (and an active volcano the size of Rhode Island): The Newberry Volcanic National Monument. Spanning over 54,000 acres of ancient lava flows, volcanic craters, lakes, waterfalls, and hiking trails, the monument offers a unique blend of geological wonders, breathtaking vistas, and outdoor recreation. Whether you're a history buff, an outdoor enthusiast, or simply in search of beauty, Newberry has something special in store.

Newberry Volcano: Ancient and Active History

The area officially became a national monument in 1990, but its history stretches back nearly half a million years. It began as Newberry Volcano, a shield-shaped composite volcano, was formed by repeated eruptions that spanned roughly 400,000 years. The Newberry Caldera, a bowl-shaped volcanic crater, was created about 75,000 years ago when another sizable eruption caused the summit walls to collapse inward.

Today, the area is divided into three major regions: the Lava Lands, the Lava Cast Forest, and Newberry Caldera. Each region offers its own unique terrain and explosive natural beauty, along with outdoor activities and must-see formations that make this little-known monument a can’t-miss attraction.

The Lava Lands

"Lava Lands" refers to the expansive lava flows and related volcanic features that dominate the landscape with a stark, moon-like terrain that's both haunting and beautiful. Your first stop is the Lava Lands Visitor Center, an interpretive hub where you’ll find park exhibits, area and trail maps, ranger talks and guided tours, and other helpful information. If you want to see the flows for yourself, walk right outside to explore the Trail of Molten Land and the Trail of the Whispering Pines, which have interpretive signs explaining the local geography.

You can also enjoy an aerial view from Lava Butte, a cinder cone volcano rising 500 feet above the Visitor Center that offers panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. A drive or hike up to the rim reveals the scale of the lava flows that emanate from its base. During peak summer season, you can also catch a shuttle ride to the top at the Visitor Center.

Perhaps the most popular attraction in the Lava Lands area, Lava River Cave is a mile-long trail that ventures into the depths of Oregon's longest lava tube, an underground passage formed by flowing lava. Open from May to September, you’ll need to book a timed reservation ticket in advance to enjoy this attraction.

The Lava Cast Forest

The least-visited part of the Newberry Volcanic Monument is also one of the most fascinating. The Lava Cast Forest is an otherworldly terrain full of hardened lava casts that were left when molten lava flowed through an old-growth forest, turning the vibrant trees into stone-like statues. An easy 1-mile loop trail winds through the area, allowing visitors to explore at their leisure.

The Newberry Caldera

Arguably the most popular area of the park, the Newberry Caldera stretches across 17 square miles in the heart of Newberry Volcano. It remains seismically and geothermically active, with over 400 cinder cones and vents scattered across the landscape. The Caldera is also home to two alpine lakes, Paulina Lake and East Lake, which provide opportunities for boating, fishing, swimming and sightseeing. Other notable features of this area include:

  • Paulina Falls. At the lowest point of the Newberry Caldera, Paulina Lake drains into twin cascading waterfalls that plunge 80 feet over the volcanic cliff face and into the rocks below. The Paula Falls Trail forks into two easy hiking paths that offer views from above and below the falls.

  • Paulina Peak: The highest point on the Newberry Volcano at nearly 8,000 feet, the summit and observation site offer unmatched views of the caldera and beyond. The drive or hike up is well worth the effort for the breathtaking vistas.

  • Big Obsidian Flow: A 1-mile loop interpretive trail winds through the youngest lava flow in the state, which formed about 1,300 years ago when lava erupted from Paulina Peak. The flow is composed of black obsidian (volcanic glass) and pumice, and on sunny days it sparkles like a glittering carpet of glass.

General Info

  • Park Hours: The park is open daily from 9am to 5pm. Certain areas are open seasonally due to snowfall. Check the U.S. Forest Service website for specific hours and road closures.

  • Entry Fees: A Northwest Forest Pass is required for entry to the monument; passes can be bought online or on-site for $5.

  • Best Time to Visit: Summer and early fall offer the most accessible and enjoyable conditions for exploring the monument's features. Winter provides a stunning snow-covered landscape for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, though access is limited.

The Newberry Volcanic National Monument is a living museum of volcanic activity, a playground for adventurers, and a sanctuary for those seeking the beauty of nature. By staying with Sisters Vacation Rentals, you'll ensure that your visit to this volcanic wonderland is comfortable, convenient, and full of memories to last a lifetime. Our vacation rentals in the city of Sisters are a short 30-mile drive from the monument and right in the middle of a charming town full of boutique shops, mouthwatering restaurants, lively arts and culture, and plenty of ways to enjoy your stay.

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