My kids can never get enough of things that go BOOM! I have a family full of active kids, and we just had to head to central Oregon to hike in the center of a volcano. Newberry National Volcanic Monument has plains of lava, piles of lava and a tube made from lava. If your kids are fascinated by all things lava, like my kids, add this National Park site to your next Oregon road trip.
Every summer I load up my three kids (8, 12 and 13) and hit the road. This summer we explored the Pacific Northwest. In-between Crater Lake and the Columbia River Gorge, I found Bend, Oregon. Located in central Oregon where the ponderosa pine forest transitions to the high desert.
I did a little research and found Bend is a favorite outdoor destination throughout the seasons. I knew the area had a national park site so I added it to my itinerary.
When I got to Bend, we spent the day at the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. With two different locations, it offers families lakes, hot springs, lava flows, a lava cave and cinder cones in the middle of the Deschutes National Forest.
History of Newberry National Volcanic Monument
Located on the eastern edge of the Cascade mountain range, known for its volcanic activity, the Newberry Caldera is really a 1,200-square mile volcano. About the size of Rhode Island, the Newberry Caldera is still active with seismic and geothermal activity. Ordinarily kids would snooze through this in science class but mention seismic anything when standing next to a volcano and they’re all ears.
Approximately 500,000 years ago the top layer of the earth collapsed and formed the crater, or Newberry Caldera. Subsequent eruptions formed cinder cones and lava flows.
Named after John Newberry, who explored the area in 1855 for the Pacific Railroad, the Newberry National Volcanic Monument was dedicated in 1990. Astronauts used the area to train during NASA’s Apollo program.
The Setup at Newberry National Volcanic Monument
Since the Newberry National Volcanic Monument is 50,000 acres in size, it’s divided into basic two areas. The northern end of the monument, Lava Lands, and the southern end of the monument, Newberry Caldera, each have a visitor center, staffed with U.S. Forest Rangers.
Paulina Visitor Center, located in a historic Forest Service guard station, is at the southern end of the monument, off Paulina Lake Road or County Road 21. During the summer season (open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.), it’s staffed with a forest ranger to answer questions and provide directions. Staffed weekends only during the spring and fall from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
During our visit, we hiked to the Big Obsidian Flow, a 1-mile moderate loop trail with a 500-foot elevation gain. The obsidian, or black glass, was formed 1,300 years ago and is the youngest lava flow in Oregon. This area has a vault toilet (not a flushing toilet) and picnic tables along with seasonal (summer) interpretive rangers.
Another hike for families, and especially anyone that loves waterfalls, is the Paulina Falls trail, an easy .25-mile trail to an 80-foot twin falls. Both hikes have parking areas.
Within the the Newberry Caldera, I found two lakes with hot springs, Paulina Lake and East Lake. Boating is permitted though both lakes have a 10-mph speed limit. Kayaks and paddle boards can be rented onsite.
Conveniently located off U.S Route 97, Lava Lands Visitor Center is at the northern end of the monument, closest to Bend. If limited on time, stop at the Lava Lands interpretive center with its 3D topographic map, introductory movie, nearby cinder cone and restrooms.
During our visit, we hopped the shuttle bus ($2 per person, round trip) to the top of Lava Butte, a 500-foot tall cinder cone volcano. A must-do for our family, we hiked up to the Lava Butte Lookout, an historic and active U.S. Forest Service fire lookout since 1913.
An official fire lookout is on staff to scan the surrounding area for tiny columns of smoke before they turn into raging infernos. During our visit, I found a volunteer forest ranger who told us about the eruption 7,000 years ago that formed the butte and its crater. On the way back to the shuttle bus stop, we hiked the easy .25-mile hike along the Lava Butte Rim.
If visiting the Newberry National Volcanic Monument during the summer season (May 1 to Labor Day), explore the Lava River Cave, Oregon’s longest lava tube. It’s an unguided tour that descends 55 steps into an unlit one-mile long cavity created by a massive lava flow.
Lava River Cave requires a 2-mile round trip hike and you must carry two light sources. Open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the season. A ranger-led tour starts at 3 p.m. and reservations are made the day of the tour.
Kids at Newberry National Volcanic Monument
Since the Newberry National Volcanic Monument is managed by the United States Forest Service, kids can earn a Junior Forest Ranger badge. Pick up a booklet at the Lava Lands Visitor Center or the Paulina Visitor Center. The booklet focuses on activities for kids 7 to 12, though I always help my younger kids.
The Junior Forest Ranger badge is rather painless, with a few easy to complete activities. Most kids should finish it under an hour. My two boys, 8 and 12, did it with no real complaints. It doesn’t require attending a ranger program; instead, kids interview a ranger.
Lodging near Newberry National Volcanic Monument
Bend, Oregon, offers lots of options in dining, lodging and camping. During my visit, I stayed at the Riverhouse on the Deschutes ($$-$$$), located at 3075 N. Business 97 in Bend.
The Riverhouse on the Deschutes is the ultimate base. The newly renovated rooms offer sophisticated, modern details with a convenient location perfect for family travelers. Centrally located on a major route, the Riverhouse on the Deschutes offers quick access to necessities before venturing out and enjoying Bend’s outdoor adventures.
I found six campgrounds in the Deschutes National Forest; some of the sites are reservable.
Getting to Newberry National Volcanic Monument
Newberry National Volcanic Monument is located 95 miles east from Crater Lake National Park and 140 miles south from Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Lava Lands Visitor Center is 12 miles south of Bend, Oregon, with the largest town in central Oregon.
Newberry National Volcanic Monument is 175 miles from Portland, Oregon. Portland offers the closest international airport along with lots of options in lodging and dining.
Getting Around Newberry National Volcanic Monument
Newberry National Volcanic is open year-round though the visitor centers are open seasonally from May 1 to October 31. The monument requires admission, so use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase a day-use pass for $5 per vehicle, good at all designated parking lots.
If visiting Lava Lands in the off season, the parking lots remain open and visitors can hike to the top of the Lava Butte. The Newberry Caldera closes for the season though the nearby area has a couple of popular snow parks during the winter.
Bats and White-Nose Syndrome
If you plan on exploring Lava River Cave, the lava tube, you will be asked if you have explored a cave recently, like Oregon Caves National Monument in southern Oregon. This is because you can not wear any clothing, including shoes, that have been into another cave due to White-Nose Syndrome.
White-Nose Syndrome, caused by a fungus that thrives in low temperatures and high humidity, kills hibernating bat colonies across the U.S. and Canada. Since the fungus survives in a cave’s soil for years, scientists and rangers forbid visitors that have explored other caves to enter any Oregon caves with the same clothing or shoes.
Tips from a TravelingMom
- Wear appropriate shoes for hiking on the lava flows, like hiking or athletic shoes. I slipped a couple of times even with hiking sandals.
- The lava flows offer little shade. Wear a hat, light-colored clothing and bring plenty of water if hiking in the summer.
- The shuttle bus to the top of Lava Butte takes exact change only and kids under 2 ride for free.
- Kids under 6 can earn a Smokey the Bear pin by completing the Smokey’s Helper Booklet.