: Steve Heinrichs

Off-the-Grid Adventures on the Newberry Country Trail

June 30, 2020

Editor’s note: Call destinations before you visit to make sure they’re open. Stay posted on what Oregon’s phased reopening means for you, and follow these steps for social distancing outdoors. Also, remember to bring your face covering, which is required for all public indoor spaces in Oregon. Here’s what to know about Oregon’s outdoors right now.

Seeking a sojourn in some of the state’s most secluded and serene natural areas? Set amidst alpine lakes and ancient lava flows, the Newberry Country Trail in Central and Southern Oregon is the spot to unplug and unwind. Located just south of Bend and Sunriver, and home to the 54,000-acre Newberry National Volcanic Monument, the region combines the best of Oregon’s blue-ribbon rivers and mountain peaks. 

Spend a few days roaming and you’ll discover that while the far-off valleys and furrowed desert plateaus evoke a sense of remoteness, you’re surrounded by endless opportunities for adventure. Take a horseback ride, zip down a mountain bike trail or summit one of the largest volcanoes in Oregon. Whether you have a few days or longer, here’s how to explore the stunning and spirited Newberry Country Trail.

More than 40 miles of car-free, paved paths await at Sunriver Resort, a high-desert family favorite for generations. (Photo by Steve Heinrichs)

Lava Lands Area

Lava Tubes, Bike Trails, Paddling and a Family Resort

Get briefed on the area’s fascinating geologic and cultural history at Lava Lands Visitor Center, the educational hub for the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Then hit the trails just outside the center, where you can walk atop ancient volcanic rock on the Trail of the Molten Land (1.25 miles round-trip), where astronauts trained in the 1960s before going to the moon. You can also explore high-desert botanical wonders on the Whispering Pines Trail — a short, connecting footpath that meanders through ponderosa pines. You could trek or bike part-way up the lunar-like landscape along the paved road to the top of Lava Butte. But a better way to see the 500-foot-tall cinder cone — with its spectacular views of Mt. Bachelor and the rest of the Cascade Mountains — is by shuttle bus. Hop aboard the shuttle, which costs $2 per person and runs Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend from the Visitor Center. 

Take your sense of adventure a mile south to Lava River Cave, the longest continuous lava tube in Oregon. Rent a lantern at the ranger station and embark on a self-guided exploration of the colossal and cathedral-like lava tunnel made from eruptions over 100,000 years ago. (Be prepared for temperatures around 45 degrees in the cave, and make sure to wear clothing and closed-toe shoes that have not been in any other cave, to prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome in bats.) 

Stay in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains at nearby Sunriver Resort, where you can immerse yourself in the beauty of the high desert, pedaling a network of over 40 miles of paved bike paths. Or opt for scenic horseback riding, stand-up paddling, canoeing and more. For RV and tent camping, spend the night at Bend-Sunriver RV Campground, an idyllic perch set along the Little Deschutes River. Fuel up with seasonal pints and dishes at Sunriver Brewing Company and spend some time at the Oregon Observatory, the largest of its kind in the country, for year-round family activities and a fascinating view of the sun or night sky through a giant telescope. 

Take in the vast beauty of the region at Paulina Peak, where wildlife abounds and there's plenty of space for reflection. (Photo by Steve Heinrichs)

Newberry Caldera Area

Waterfalls, Wildlife, Mountain Biking and Family Hikes

Start your day with a moment of zen at Paulina Falls, an 80-foot double waterfall that cascades over rugged volcanic cliffs. From there, drive a couple of miles to explore Paulina Lake or nearby East Lake, the two glinting alpine lakes that define the Newberry Crater. Both pristine bodies of water are home to countless wildlife species including kokanee salmon, brown trout, rainbow trout, bald eagles, osprey and tundra swans. You can also play on the water here. Along with watercraft rentals (from stand-up paddleboards to pontoons and fishing boats), you’ll find family-friendly cabin rentals, campgrounds and pub-style dining at both East Lake Resort and Paulina Lake Lodge

Adventure enthusiasts can plan to hike or mountain bike the 21-mile rim trail from Paulina Peak, the highest point on the Newberry volcano, for sensational views. (You can also drive to the peak.) For a family-friendly trek, visit the 1-mile Big Obsidian Flow Trailhead and Interpretive Site, which climbs up and onto a flow of glistening black obsidian and gray pumice. Check the schedule of year-round events at the Paulina Visitor Center. At night, whether you choose to camp or stay in a cabin, catch the dazzling canopy of stars overhead.   

Explore the inner outcropping of Fort Rock on a moderate 1.7-mile loop hike, or tour the cave with Oregon State Parks to uncover its historic treasures. (Photo by Jak Wonderly / Travel Southern Oregon)

Fort Rock Area

Cave Tours, Natural History, Comfort Food and Camping

Rising majestically from sagebrush-dusted plains, Fort Rock captivates at first glance. A highlight of the route and the namesake for Fort Rock State Natural Area, this wondrous natural phenomenon is the tuff ring of an ancient volcanic crater, soaring 325 feet high into clear blue desert sky. 

Explore the rock’s inner outcropping on a moderate 1.7-mile loop hike, where you can see subtle changes each season from scarlet paintbrush wildflowers in summer to golden rabbitbrush in autumn. In advance, book an Oregon State Parks guided tour of Fort Rock Cave, where archaeologists discovered several 9,000- to 11,000-year-old sagebrush-bark sandals, including a pair believed to be the oldest known shoes in the world. 

Encounter pioneer life on a self-guided walking tour of Fort Rock Homestead Museum, a collection of historical buildings and gardens that includes an authentic one-room schoolhouse, a church and a mercantile. Grab comfort food and a nostalgic root-beer float at Fort Rock Restaurant and Pub, or join locals at the popular Waterin’ Hole Tavern for a classic pizza pie. Head 20 miles out of town for RV and tent camping at Rockhorse Park at Horse Ranch, which has an on-site market featuring local produce, bulk-food staples and craft beer and wine. 

It's easy to escape from the world along the 2-mile trail at the bottom of a volcanic fissure known as Crack in the Ground. (Photo by Cavan Images / Alamy Stock)

Christmas Valley Area

Geologic Wonders, High-Desert Lakes, Stargazing and Sand Domes

Skirt past juniper-speckled plateaus and sagebrush prairie on the Oregon Outback Scenic Byway to reach Crack in the Ground. An ancient volcanic fissure that formed thousands of years ago, this unique 2-mile trail spans along the bottom of the fissure, at times dipping more than 30 feet below ground offering a cool respite from the sun-drenched terrain. 

For an ever-shifting landscape, check out Christmas Valley Sand Dunes, an expansive 11,000 acres of Sahara-like sand domes, some higher than 60 feet. Composed largely of ash and pumice that blew into the area over 7,000 years ago when Mt. Mazama erupted and formed Crater Lake, the windswept dunes are open for hiking and biking as well as ATVs by permit only

On the southeast side of the sand dunes, you can channel your inner Indiana Jones while exploring Fossil Lake, a dry lakebed where fossils of mammoths, dire wolves, giant beavers and more than 100 other species have been found. Fuel up on house-made soups and daily specials like the bacon-apple-cheddar melt at the cozy Farmhouse Cafe and Bakery. Don’t miss their signature bundt cakes, famous among locals (and rightfully so). 

For a night of unrivaled stargazing, head to Green Mountain Camp Site, a tiny campground with spectacular views of the surrounding cinder cones, lava flows and ethereal high-desert sunsets. Other lovely places to stay in town include Lakeside Terrace and Christmas Valley Desert Inn Motel.  

Go back in time and stay in a rustic cabin at Cowboy Dinner Tree, also known for their legendary steaks. (Photo by Jak Wonderly / Travel Southern Oregon)

Silver Lake Area

Remote Fire Lookouts, Backcountry Trails, Cowboy Culture and Rustic Cabins

If you’ve ever dreamed of sleeping in a lookout, the remarkable Hager Mountain Lookout in the Fremont-Winema National Forest is one of four open in this forest for rental between Nov. 15 and May 15, during the winter months and early spring. The 14-by-14-foot glass room sits at an elevation of 7,195 feet and, on clear days, boasts panoramic views all the way to Mt. Hood and Mt. Shasta. Only accessible by foot, snowshoes or cross-country skis, this off-the-grid wonder calls to the heartiest of adventurers. 

In summertime, active travelers can catch wildflowers pop along the Hager Mountain Lookout via 160 Trail (7.3 miles out and back) for a satisfying day hike. If a two-wheel trek beckons, North America’s premier long-distance mountain bike route, the 670-mile backcountry Oregon Timber Trail, runs through the area, with the Fremont Tier being one of the most challenging and exhilarating sections. 

At the end of the day, bring your appetite to the legendary Cowboy Dinner Tree, where an authentic home-on-the-range setting and signature feast of extra-large steaks, whole roasted chicken, hearty bean soups and old-fashioned sweet yeast rolls bring bucket-list diners. Dinner reservations are required in advance for this spirited cowboy-culture experience. Plan ahead and stay the night in one of the on-site rustic cabins. Or opt for the forested Silver Creek Marsh Campground, flanked by meadows, marshland and a popular fishing hole. 

About The
Author

Kerry Newberry
Kerry Newberry is a Portland-based writer who covers food, wine, farms and travel for a variety of publications. Her work has appeared in Forbes, Fodor’s Travel, Edible Portland, Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) and more.

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