Newberry National Volcanic Monument

Newberry National Volcanic Monument and Lava River Cave

The day Dead & Company announced the dates of their summer tour, we started making our summer travel plans. We did this in 2016, building a summer family road trip around five concerts, we did it again in 2017 with six concerts and an epic vacation in Chicago, and we had so much fun that it’s now become part of how we plan our summer vacations.

For 2018, our 5,090 mile, three-week summer road trip took us across seven states and included 11 hotels, six concerts, a lava cave, a cavern, a gold mine, museums, historic towns, abandoned buildings, Dinosaur National Monument, ancient cliff dwellings, a national park, amazing hiking trails, plunging waterfalls, delicious food, and more.

Our very first stop on this unforgettable adventure was Newberry National Volcanic Monument within the boundaries of Deschutes National Forest in Oregon.

Newberry National Volcanic National Monument includes 54,000+ acres of lakes, lava flows, a lava cave, and spectacular geologic features, including Newberry Volcano, the largest volcano in the Cascade Range.

Newberry’s history began 400,000 years ago and created massive lava flows covering 1,200 square miles that produced lava tubes and over 400 cinder cones and volcanic vents. Newberry Caldera, often mistakenly called Newberry Crater, stretches 17 square miles in the heart of the volcano. The last eruption of Newberry Volcano, just 1,300 years ago, formed the youngest lava flow in Oregon.

The Lava Lands Visitor Center at Newberry National Volcanic Monument
The Lava Lands Visitor Center at Newberry National Volcanic Monument.

Things To Do

There are several things to do at Newberry National Volcanic National Monument, including:

  • Visiting Lava Butte which rises 500 feet above its 9 square mile lava flow. It erupted 7,000 years ago and is one of Newberry’s cinder cones.
  • Hiking through Lava Cast Forest, formed when a lava flow overtook an old-growth forest and cooled to form casts of the trees that once stood there. The 1.0 mile Lava Cast Forest loop trail has interpretive panels along the trail.
  • Exploring Lava River Cave, a mile long lava tube formed from one of Newberry Volcano’s massive eruptions about 80,000 years ago.
  • Viewing Newberry Caldera, containing the crystal clear East Lake (185 feet deep) and Paulina Lake (249 feet deep), and several lava flows.
  • Hiking to Big Obsidian Flow, which formed only 1,300 years ago making it Oregon’s youngest lava flow. Interpretive panels along the 1.0 mile Big Obsidian Flow loop trail explain the significance of the black volcanic glass.
  • Climbing Paulina Peak that crowns Newberry Caldera at its highest point of 7,984 feet. The Paulina Peak Trail is a 2.0 mile, out and back hike totaling 4 miles that climbs 1,400 feet in elevation.
  • Hiking to Paulina Falls which spills over the lowest point of Newberry Caldera, plummeting 80 feet in a twin waterfall. The Paulina Falls Trail travels 0.25 miles to an upper overlook or 2.0 miles to the base of the 80 foot waterfall.

Touring Lava River Cave

With a long drive ahead of us, we didn’t have a lot of time for side trips and stops, but we did make time to explore the incredible Lava River Cave at Newberry National Volcanic National Monument.

We had already visited the 500 foot Thurston Lava Tube in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and the Kaumana Caves in Hilo, Hawaii that only let you go in about 300-400 feet without permission from the private land owner… and while both were awesome, when we found out that the Lava River Cave is a mile long and you can walk the entire thing, we know that we had to do it!

Lava River Cave is Oregon’s longest lava tube. It offers visitors a moderate, 2.0 mile total, out and back hike through the pitch black lava tube with absolutely no lighting, 150 metal stairs, and a sandy, rocky, and uneven floor.

I read that the Lava River Cave is so popular that the entire parking area fills up early in the day and you then have to park far away and ride a park shuttle to the cave. ICK! Not only do I not like park shuttles, I don’t like crowds. Yes, I know that public parks and monuments aren’t the most secluded ways to enjoy nature. But if you time it just right and plan in advance, you can avoid crowds and feel like you have the place all to yourself, which is exactly why we arrived right when they opened.

Because we arrived early, we didn’t have to wait in line!

The ranger walked us through their safety warnings and rules, we rented some powerful flashlights, and were able to head right to the entrance of the lava tube.

After walking down a short path, down some stairs, across a steel bridge, and up and down even more stairs, we left the light behind and walked into total darkness. Unlike other caves and caverns we have visited, like Moaning Cavern, Black Chasm Cavern, California Caverns, and Shasta Caverns, this cave has no lights. None. The flashlight you bring in with you is the only source of light.

Exploring Lava River Cave in the dark by flashlight was such a cool experience!

Our family had a blast and it felt like we were discovering things in the cave for the very first time. Plus, because it is self-guided, we could go as slow or fast as we wanted and it didn’t matter one bit.

The whole experience, traversing the uneven cave floor one mile in and one mile out while stopping to look around, took us about two hours. After that we ate a tailgate picnic lunch in the parking area, stopped by the visitor center, and got back on the road.

It was the perfect break in our drive and one we’ll never forget… I just wish my photos inside the cave were more clear! I didn’t use the flash out of respect for other visitors (and our eyes), so things are a bit blurry!

Know Before You Go

  • Newberry National Volcanic Monument is located in Bend, Oregon 97702 in the Deschutes National Forest in Deschutes County.
  • The parking lot is usually full by 10:30 am, so consider arriving early.
  • Located in the Lava Lands Visitor Center, the Chitwood Exhibit Hall interpretive displays feature geology, ecology, and cultural history, as well as information on the history of Newberry Volcano. A large 3D topographic map provides an overview of the monument.
  • The 54,822 acre Newberry National Volcanic Monument was established within the Deschutes National Forest in 1990. It is one of only 12 national monuments managed by the US Forest Service.
  • There is a $5.00/vehicle fee for day use.
  • Day use areas are open from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm.
  • Lava Lands Visitor Center is open May 3 to May 21, Thursday through Monday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm; May 24 to September 3, daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm; September 4 to October 7, daily from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
  • Lava River Cave is open May 3 to May 21, Thursday through Monday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm; May 24 to September 3, daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm; September 4 to October 7, daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. No admission after 3:45 pm or outside of these hours is allowed. The rest of the year the Cave is closed to protect bat populations.
  • Paulina Visitor Center is open May 26 to June 4, weekends from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm; June 9 to September 3, daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm; September 4 to September 30, daily from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm; and October 6-7 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. It is closed the remained of the year.
  • Clean, flush restrooms are located at each visitor center and vault toilets can be found at most day use areas.
  • There are over 110 miles of summer hiking trails and 130 miles of winter trails within or extending from the monument.
  • The Lava Butte Shuttle runs from mid-June through Labor Day and departs from the Lava Lands Visitor Center every 20 minutes on a trip to the top of Lava Butte for $2.00/person. When the shuttle is running, no other vehicles are allowed on Lava Butte Road.
  • If visiting Lava River Cave, wear sturdy, closed toe shoes and bring a jacket because it is only 42 degrees in the Cave — Brrrrr! You’ll need at least two light sources (in case one dies in the cave) and flash lights are available onsite to rent. Be sure to arrive early because the parking lot is small and the cave reaches capacity quickly. Also use the restroom before entering the cave as it’s at least a 90 minute adventure.

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