One of the largest shield volcanoes in North America, Newberry Crater is all that remains of a mountain that once towered above the central Oregon basin. In the not so distant geological past this mountain was over 10,000 feet in height but centuries of violent eruptions and the eventual collapse of the entire summit have left only a huge crater in its place. The 21 mile long rim of this crater varies in height but Paulina Peak is clearly the high point at nearly 8,000 feet. This peak offers views of all the Cascade mountains from Adams to Shasta and of the Oregon desert to the Southeast.
While it is neither rock climbing (Smith Rocks is certainly better and closer to Bend and Portland) nor pure mountaineering (Three Sisters offer a true alpine experience) that attracts us to Newberry Crater, this geological freak-show of a mountain more than makes up for it. The crater boasts one of the most amazing collections of geological wonders found anywhere in the Pacific Northwest: cinder cones, lava flows, waterfalls, crater lakes, several gigantic obsidian flows, jagged cliffs, and steep yet forested crater walls. All of this can be seen from or encountered on the climb to the summit of Paulina Peak.
The hike (or run) to the summit of Paulina Peak is steep but very easy (I ran to the summit) and there is even a service road open during the Summer that allows mountain bikes and vehicles to gain the highest ground. With about 1500 feet of elevation gain, the entire climb takes but a portion of the day. And while the peak still holds patches of snow into June it does not inhibit climbing. There are few climbers on the trail and though the lakeside campgrounds are often full of families, the rim trail and the peak are much less crowded.
If you are looking for glaciers, technical climbs or mountains with altitude you can brag about, forget Paulina Peak. But this is a worthy destination for anyone who is interested in mountains, volcanoes, hiking, scrambling, mountain biking, camping, trail running, hot springs (there is one site on the north side of Paulina Lake that you might enjoy) or any type of geology related to mountains. Newberry Crater won't do much for your ego but it might make you feel like a kid on a 17 square mile playground.
To get there from Bend travel south on Hwy. 97 for about 24 miles. Then turn east on Rd. 21 and go 13 miles up into the caldera. Once you are inside Newberry Crater you can look for Forest Service Rd. 2100 500 which will be on the right. From the start of this road you can hike, run, bike or bushwhack your way to the summit (4 miles?).
The standard Northwest Forest Pass is required to park within the crater. No other permits or fees apply.
The entire area is very hard to access when snow blocks the main road into the caldera. Click here for weather conditions. If you go in late Spring you will find a lot of snow still on the ground. Summer and early Fall are certainly the best time of year, but if you can get there, the climb would be great in any season (another disadvantage to the Summer besides the greater number of people is the flies and insects). A winter tour would be ideal and I imagine backcountry skis or snowshoes would be perfectly suited to this type of climb. Plus the service road would make a great ski descent! Still, I have only been there in the Summer and cannot offer more specific seasonal information.
There are seven campgrounds within the Newberry National Volcanic Monument and small cabins can also be rented. There are of course fees for all official campsites.
Campers who prefer solitude can certainly find other places to pitch a tent. We enjoyed a site on the north side of Paulina Lake that featured a hot spring at the lake's edge. We needed to dig it out but it was a serene experience to sit in the hot water of the spring with only a sandbank separating me from the cold water of the lake.
Please remember to keep any campsite clean and free of potential fire hazards.
The best sites for this mountain are run by the forest service. Click here for more information about the area in general.
The North face of Paulina Peak is nearly 1,500 feet high and almost vertical. I have no record of any attempts to climb this face.
The stream of obsidian that poured out of the South wall of the caldera is know as the Big Obsidian Flow. It is one hundred feet thick at its terminus. The flow was used as a source for arrowheads and other cutting tools by Native Americans. This obsidian can even be used to make blades that are shaper and cut more cleanly than steel surgical instruments. But please do not remove any obsidian from Newberry Crater. It is tempting to take a small blade or coal-like chunk of naturally formed glass but don't do it. Leave it were it belongs, in the caldera.
East Lake is forty feet above Paulina Lake and has no known outlet. Paulina Lake issues through a crack in the Western rim of the crater and gushes over a waterfall into the ravine below.
Bears are common at all of the campsites within the crater.
Elite endurance athletes (runners) from around the Northwest have used the crater as a training ground because of the altitude (6,500 feet), clean air and wonderful trails. Astronauts also trained here albeit for another reason. The harsh rock and barren landscape on the outer walls of the crater were used to simulate the surface of the moon before the first lunar landings.
For more geological information please refer to the excellent work on Cascade Volcanoes titled Fire & Ice by Stephen Harris (1980).