Few places showcase the geologic origins of our area as vividly as Newberry National Volcanic Monument in sunny Central Oregon. And you can explore it all on horseback!
The 80 square mile Newberry National Volcanic Monument encompasses volcanic peaks and cinder cones, pristine lakes, thick forest, and both recent and ancient lava flows. The crown jewel is Newberry Crater, an impressive caldera that was formed when Newberry Volcano blew its top some 75,000 years ago. With a horse camp located inside the crater and a trail network that explores the crater rim and beyond, this is a fascinating area to experience on horseback.
If you’re up for it, the 25-mile trail that circles the entire rim of the crater is impressive. However, that’s a bit far for most riders, especially since there is no stock water along the trail.
A shorter and more manageable loop starts at Chief Paulina Horse Camp and explores the south rim of the caldera. This loop runs along the base of Big Obsidian Flow, a lava flow that occurred only 1,500 years ago – a mere blink of an eye in geologic terms. It then climbs toward the crater rim on the Lost Lake Trail, offering amazing views of the Big Obsidian Flow, Paulina Lake, Paulina Peak, and the snow-capped Cascades before descending gradually to the bottom of the crater.
To ride the South Rim Loop, you’ll start at Chief Paulina Horse Camp (see directions below). Pick up the trail between campsites 2 and 3, and in 200 feet turn left at the junction with the Newberry Crater Trail #3958. It will take you through lodgepole pine forest and along the base of the Big Obsidian Flow, which towers 100 feet or more above the trail. Big chunks of obsidian embedded in the lava sparkle like diamonds in the bright sunlight.
After 2.2 miles, turn right on the Lost Lake Trail #3958.2. It runs along the side of Big Obsidian Flow, gaining about 700 feet of elevation in 1.6 miles as it switchbacks up to the crater rim. The views along this stretch are more than adequate compensation for the climb, however, with the lava flow glinting beside you, sapphire Paulina Lake below, and the Cascade peaks on the horizon. Wow!
At the next junction, veer left on the Lost Lake Trail toward Pumice Flat, and in 1.5 miles the Lost Lake Trail meets the Crater Rim Trail #3957. Turn left here and in a mile you’ll cross gravel Road 21. On the other side, turn left on the Parallel Trail #3958.3 and ride it gently downward for 2.1 miles to the crater floor, then turn left on the Newberry Crater Trail and follow it 4.6 miles back to the horse camp.
Ride Statistics: The South Rim Loop is 13.5 miles round trip, going from 6,400 to 7,300 feet in elevation. Hoof protection is recommended. The trail is open summer through fall. There is no stock water on the trail, but you’ll find stock water at Chief Paulina Horse Camp. The best map of the area is the Newberry National Volcanic Monument map, available at the entrance kiosk or at the monument office located between the entrance kiosk and the horse camp.
Getting to Chief Paulina Horse Camp: From Bend, drive south on Hwy. 97 for 23 miles and turn left on Paulina Lake Road. Follow it 11 miles to the monument’s entrance kiosk, then drive 1 mile past it and turn right at the intersection. The horse camp is ahead on the right in 1.2 miles. The road is paved all the way to the horse camp.
Season: May to October
Trailhead and Camping Facilities: Chief Paulina Horse Camp has a day-use parking area in addition to 14 campsites with 2- or 4-horse corrals, fire pits, and picnic tables. Facilities include a vault toilet, stock water, and a manure bin. If you’re planning to camp, note that the campsites that can accommodate larger trailers are a very long way from the stock water and manure bin. You may want to bring lidded containers to carry water and plan to unhitch your trailer and drive to fetch water and drop off manure. Because of the proximity of the horse camp to Paulina Lake, mosquitoes can be fierce in early summer, though they won’t bother you once you get out on the trail and away from the lake. Fee for overnight camping; no fee for day use.
More Information: The South Rim Loop Trail is covered in the Newberry Crater chapter of Riding Central Oregon Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, (Ponderosa Press, 2012)
Reprinted with permission from Northwest Rider Magazine, October 2014.