Newberry National Volcanic Monument

Photo by Steve Heinrichs

BY MATT WASTRADOWSKI 

Pop quiz: What’s the largest volcano, by volume, in the Cascade Range? 

It’s not Mount Rainier, the tallest peak in the range. Nor is it Mount Hood, the highest point in Oregon. And it’s not Mount Shasta, rising more than 14,000 feet above northern California. 

Rather, the largest volcano (by volume) in the Cascades sits in the heart of Central Oregon, extending 75 miles north to south and 27 miles east to west. Newberry is a shield volcano covering 1,200 square miles—roughly the size of Rhode Island—and thousands of people ride bikes and go for hikes above its lava flows every day, often without knowing the lava flows are beneath them. More than 400 cinder cone volcanoes and vents cover its surface, looking less like a solitary volcano than a nesting doll of volcanic ranges within volcanic ranges. 

Perhaps the best way to understand Newberry Volcano is to know that, over the past 400,000 years, it never had a pointy peak like your favorite mountain. As a shield volcano, Newberry was shaped by eruptions over many thousands of years—giving it the shape of a broad, well… shield. One such eruption occurred roughly 350,000 years ago, sending lava flows as far north as Smith Rock, 50 miles away, and shifting the Deschutes River channel, according to Scott McBride, monument manager and recreation team leader for the Deschutes National Forest’s Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District. Another major eruption, 75,000 years ago, sent basalt lava flows all over Central Oregon and caused the walls of the volcano to collapse, creating a 4-by-5-mile-wide caldera near its summit.  

The present-day caldera is home to Paulina Lake and East Lake, and its highest point—the 7,984-foot Paulina Peak—is approximately 1,000 feet below the volcano’s original summit. 

Just 1,300 years ago, an eruption sent ash as far away as Idaho and generated an expansive, silica-rich lava flow. Scott Burns, professor emeritus of engineering geology at Portland State University, says it created what we know today as the Big Obsidian Flow—and is the youngest lava flow in Oregon. 

The Volcanic Monument has several access points to learn about the volcano: Lava Lands Visitor Center, roughly 10 miles south of Bend and next to the 500-foot Lava Butte cinder cone; the popular Lava River Cave (tip: visit midweek for fewer people); Lava Cast Forest Trail; and the caldera at Paulina Lake, with the 7,984-foot Paulina Peak, a visitor center, lodge, campgrounds and more.  

That rare chance to see lava flows, numerous peaks, a massive caldera, and other volcanic features—all while actually on an active volcano—gets at the heart of what makes Newberry so special. John Ceballos, lead ranger for the Butte Zone at the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, says, “A lot of volcanoes are, for a lot of people, an abstract idea or something they view from a distance—where you can look at it and appreciate it, but not interact with it. But when you come to Newberry, you can really engage directly with these incredible forces, and that leaves a really lasting impact.” 

Find more information at fs.usda.gov. Go to visitcentraloregon.com to plan your stay in Central Oregon.