If you are looking for a challenging hike in the Central Oregon area that will give you great views of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, why not give the hike up to the top of Paulina Peak a try? From the top of this trail you will have beautiful views of the Big Obsidian Flow, Paulina Lake, East Lake, and the rim of the Newberry Crater. If this sounds like a trail you would like to try, grab your CamelBak, other Hydration Pack or Hydro flask, check out these hiking tips, and get ready for some beautiful volcanic scenery!
To get to this trail from Bend, Oregon, travel south on Highway 97 for about 23 miles towards La Pine, Oregon. Take a left at the intersection for Paulina Lake, Newberry Crater and East Lakes. You will drive up Paulina Lake Road for about 13 miles until you get to the reach the Paulina Lake Visitor Center. Very shortly after you pass the visitor center you will see the sign on the right for turn right for Paulina Peak Road, turn right and proceed about a quarter mile to a small parking area on the right side of the road. From here the round trip up to the peak would be about 5.2 miles.
You should keep in mind that this area receives a lot of snow most years, so the trail probably isn’t open for hiking to the peak until probably late June, or even July is some years.
View photo gallery of the hike to the top of Paulina Peak.
If you want to make the hike a little further, you can park at the Visitors Center and begin your hike there to add about a mile to the hike to the peak, or two miles roundtrip. There is a big wooden map just out front of the Visitors Center showing a general overview of the whole Newberry National Volcanic Monument that shows where you are and where the trail is. From the sign walk to your right about 100 yards and you will see the trailhead marking the Paulina Peak Trail. About a mile up you will come to the parking area where we parked for the hike.
If you start where we did, he trailhead is across the road from the parking area and has a nice big sign saying “Crater Rim Trail No. 57, Paulina Peak 2 miles. I want to point out that while the sign said two miles to the peak, our Garmin tracked it more like 2.6 miles. From the trailhead to the peak we gained 1,360 feet, so it is a pretty good climb, so that extra .6 of a mile was pretty challenging for us older folks.
The trail starts climbing from the very start, although not real steep at first, as it winds through lodgepole pine and hemlock forests. However, while you won’t see much of the area around you, we saw several different species of birds, some squirrels and chipmunks, and other wildlife, so that made this part of the trail more interesting. While we didn’t see any, I have read that you can come across bears in this area, so keep your eyes open. Of course if you do come across a bear keep your distance and leave it alone.
Not too long after you begin the hike you will start to climb up the mountain, and it gets pretty steep from here to the peak. Except for a few spots the first part of this hike doesn’t give you much of a view of the area, but at about the 1.2 mile mark you round a turn and are given your first view of Paulina Peak, and the valley below, including Paulina Lake. From this point of the hike you will have some really fantastic views as you make your way up the mountain except for a few places where a switchback takes you back into the forest.
I will say that for us the climb was a little difficult, but once we got to the point where we could see the peak and the area below we kind of forgot about the elevation gain and just enjoyed the beautiful scenery below us. That said, when we finally got to the peak we were very glad the climb was over. We were a little tired from the climb, so we sat on a stone wall at the top and ate our lunch and rested for a while looking at Paulina Lake, East Lake and the Big Obsidian Flow below
When it was time to begin the trek back we decided to take the road back down the mountain because my wife’s knee was bothering her and we felt it would be easier on her since the way down wouldn’t be as steep. While the road wasn’t as steep it did add about two miles on to the total distance of our hike, but it was easier on her sore knee. Many people who take the Paulina Peak trail actually take the road down because it provides you with some great views of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument that you wouldn’t see otherwise.
All in all, we really enjoyed this hike and the views of the area it provided, and we felt a small sense of accomplishment when we got to the peak even though our climb up the Broken Top Trail along the Cascade Lakes Highway was actually a little harder. I think it was because unlike the Broken Top Trail where we expected a challenge, we were not expecting this trail to be as steep and difficult as it was. I checked out a couple websites for information on the Paulina Peak Trail, and they made it sound pretty easy. I’m thinking those descriptions of this trail were made by younger folks who don’t have some of the physical ailments we have at our age.
For more information on this and other hiking trails in Central Oregon, check out the Hike Central Oregon website.
If you go
Getting there: From Bend, head south on U.S. Highway 97 to Paulina Lake Road. Past the Visitor Center, turn right on Paulina Peak Road and proceed about a quarter mile to the trailhead, on right.
Difficulty: Moderate, but steep
Cost: Northwest Forest Pass or $5 day pass required through Sept. 30, which is available at the Visitor Center. The Northwest Forest Pass is required at many trailheads on National Forests in Oregon and Washington. These passes are distinct from the wilderness permits. Go to the Recreation Passes & Permits page for more information on the Northwest Forest Pass, including cost and how to get a pass.