Newberry Crater, a hidden gem of central Oregon

Newberry National Volcanic Monument, known affectionately as Newberry Crater, is one of the most beautiful places in the Pacific Northwest. The volcanic landscape features 54,000+ acres of lakes, lava flows, and one of the most amazing geological features in central Oregon. Imagine Crater Lake, its more well-known cousin, except Newberry has two lakes. They are not as blue and deep as Crater Lake, but they are majestic twins. The highest point is Paulina Peak, 7,985 feet above sea level, which provides a commanding view of the natural area’s lava flows and cinder cones.

In their misguided wisdom decades earlier, U.S. Forest Service planners built a road to its top–evoking the lyrics of Joni Mitchell: “They paved paradise and put of a parking lot.” Hardy hikers can walk up. Everyone is rewarded with one of the greatest views in all of Oregon. You can see the vast expanse of high desert in all directions and the beautiful volcanic peaks of central Oregon: Mts. Bachelor, the Sisters, and Jefferson.Welcome to East Lake Resort Poster

I first came here in 2014, biking up from Highway 97. I pedaled up the steep climb and was rewarded by two clean mountain lakes (Paulina and East), a massive field of obsidian, photo-perfect lakeside campgrounds, and decades-old lodges on both lakes that seemed right out of the 1950s. I finally came back in August 2016. There is something for everyone here.

The four campgrounds are well-maintained, fronting the two lakes. Anglers bring in boats casting for kokanee and several species of trout (watch out there is natural mercury contamination). Fly fishermen can find many empty beach spaces to practice. A set of hot springs bubbles out of the gravel on the north shore of Paulina Lake–the hike to the springs and around the lake is fantastic! Lots of kayakers bring in their boats to explore the rocky shores. There are more than 30 trails. For a trail runner, you can circumnavigate the entire rim, or climb Paulina Peak, lap Paulina Lake, and more. You can also take a trail from the valley of the Deschutes National Forest along Paulina Creek to the majestic Paulina Falls, pouring from Paulina Lake. If you visit, be sure to bring your mountain bike to get around.

Visitors, if you can characterize them, mostly have massive V-8 trucks and large camping trailers towed behind. I saw lots of families, and plenty of dogs. The only people who were not white were adopted kids of some family members. Hiking and camping in central Oregon is still not a diverse activity. I kept wondering, would an African-American family want to spend a summer trip here? Likely not.

At the beautiful East Lake resort, which has old cabins looking west on East Lake, I grabbed morning coffee and got to know a retired Gresham principal who has been coming here with three generations of his family for 16 years. He boasted his 14-year-old granddaughter caught 17 trout one morning.

I doubt Newberry Crater will ever become “cool.” I hope it stays old-fashioned and affordable for locals seeking a cool getaway from their homes in the Northwest.

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