Cascades & Sierra Nevada Road Trip Part 1: Bend, Newberry National Volcanic Monument, and Crater Lake National Park

For the first part of our July 2021 Cascades and Sierra Nevada roadtrip, we visited central Oregon, stopping in Bend, Newberry Volcanic National Monument, and Crater Lake National Park. Each of these destinations merited more time than we had, but we still enjoyed the three days we had to explore.

Backpacking to Ediza and Thousand Island Lakes was the second part of our Cascades and Sierra Nevada roadtrip, which I’ve described in three posts:

Wednesday, 14 July

We left Seattle mid-morning, heading toward Bend. The drive, including rest stops, took about six and a half hours.

Bend

Once there, we checked into our hotel, the Cascade Lodge (TripAdvisor | Hotels.com | Booking.com). The room was basic, but it was clean, affordable, and conveniently located for our needs.

After we dropped off our things, we drove over to Kyle’s brother’s place, where we chatted and got to see the dogs. We considered heading out to Sparks Lake or the Sisters area, but, with heavy wildfire smoke, it did not seem worth the drive.

By this time, Kyle and I were hungry, so the three of us went to Crux Fermentation Project (TripAdvisor). The place was busy, and we had to circle a bit to find parking. Once we had our beers, though, it was easy to find somewhere to spread out in their large space. Crux has several food trucks in this space too. Choosing among them was difficult, but we decided on tacos from El Sancho (TripAdvisor). Both the tacos and the beers were excellent–if not for a later dinner reservation, I would likely have gone back for more.

For sunset, we continued downtown, where we wandered along Mirror Pond in Drake Park. It was soon time for dinner, and so we walked up to Wild Rose (TripAdvisor). The food was outstanding, though I don’t remember all that we ordered. As northern Thai food, it differed from familiar Thai restaurant offerings. Service was a little more mixed: helpful in suggesting dishes, but rushed us in eating despite our reservation being for 30 minutes before the last seating. Still, I’d recommend it – the food was that good.

After, we returned to our hotel to get a solid night’s sleep before our early morning departure.

Thursday, 15 July

In the morning, we woke up, got doughnuts from Sweetheart Donuts (TripAdvisor; fine but not standout) and then back to downtown Bend for coffee from Bellatazza (TripAdvisor). We ate our doughnuts and coffee in Drake Park, by Mirror Pond. There, wildfire smoke had cleared enough that we had better views of the Sisters than the previous night.

Newberry Volcanic National Monument

Our first stop was only 20 minutes down the road: the Newberry Volcanic National Monument Lava Lands Visitor Center.

From the visitor center, we walked the Trail of the Molten Land, which wound among basalt flows for about a mile. The trail featured excellent views, including of the lava flows up close, Lava Butte above, and the Sisters mountains in the distance. We had also hoped to visit the top of Lava Butte, but the shuttle was not running early in the morning and the road to the summit was gated. We considered walking up, but we had other priorities for the limited time in our day.

After our stop at the visitor center, we drove just a few minutes further to Lava River Cave. After a short orientation and safety talk, visitors can explore about mile of this lava tube (1.1 miles), . We arrived a few minutes before they opened for the day, and so we were in the first group through.

Because we had visited lava tubes before, we almost skipped this. It did not take us long to be glad we did not skip it. The other lava tubes we had visited had been a few hundred yards, perhaps. With a mile of open tube to explore at Newberry, we walked through several parts of the cave that each had distinctive characteristics.

Our hike through the lava tube took about an hour and a half–longer than we expected. When we got back above ground, we needed to continue south, to the Paulina Lakes area of the monument.

Our first stop here was at Big Obsidian Flow. I had fond memories of this hike from a childhood visit. We enjoyed the 0.6 mile trail among sharp, shiny obsidian and other lavas. These originated from a 1300 year old flow, the most recent Oregon.

Before leaving, we decided we wanted to get a view of the whole area. So, we drove the windy road to the top of Paulina Peak. From the summit, we had great views over the flow, of the lakes, and surrounding peaks.

Finally, on the way out the Paulina Lakes area, we stopped at Paulina Creek Falls. We intended this to be a short stop at the upper viewpoint. Once there, though, we decided the beautiful waterfall also merited the trip down to the lower viewpoint.

Crater Lake National Park

From Paulina Peak to Merriam Point in Crater Lake National Park, we had about a two hour drive. Arriving at the rim and looking at the giant, blue lake brought me more memories of my childhood vacation. Other than from an airplane, this was Kyle’s first sight of Crater Lake, despite his many years in the Pacific Northwest.

From this viewpoint, we proceeded clockwise around the lake, stopping at almost every viewpoint. Unfortunately, the smoke–already limiting visibility when we arrived–was rapidly thickening. Because of this, we decided to take the hike down the Crater Rim to the lakeside at Cleetwood Cove. For 1.1 miles, each way, this trail switchbacks down to the beautiful blue water. With a warm day, the trail was crowded, but we still had no problem finding a spot to hang out at the lake. Park rangers were checking that people had appropriate water. They were also reminding folks about what was and was not allowed in the lake, to prevent contamination.

Once back up at the crater rim, we continued our drive clockwise around the lake. While views were hazy, we stopped at almost every viewpoint so we could see the lake from every angle.

On the south side of the lake, we turned down to the Annie Creek area. There, we checked into our cabin at Mazama Village (TripAdvisor). We were happy to find that the room had recently been renovated. While there were definitely some awkward things about the bathroom fixtures, the room was comfortable and worked well for the night.

At check in, the host had warned us that the Annie Creek Restaurant (TripAdvisor) could get busy, so we headed over to get dinner as soon as we had unpacked. I had a burger and Kyle had a pulled pork sandwich. The burger was not good and Kyle’s sandwich was fine; each would have been better if the food had not sat waiting to be brought to us for 10+ minutes.

After dinner, we drove back up to the rim for dusk and sunset views. We first walked around Rim Village for a bit, before driving over to Cloudcap Overlook for sunset. While the smoke limited our views, it made for a colorful end to the day.

Friday, 16 July

In the morning, we woke up in time to get to sunrise on the crater rim. We drove up to the Watchman Peak trailhead. There, we were happy to see that the air had cleared. Sunrise and the morning light over the lake and Wizard Island were beautiful.

After sunrise, but with the light still low and the shadows long, we walked the mile-long trail to the historic watch tower and peak. Clark’s nutcrackers chattered away in the trees, and a deer grazed. Views at the peak were excellent.

On the way back to the car, we debated whether to continue clockwise around the lake–completing our loop and repeating some of the previous day’s views–or to take the more expedient counter clockwise route to some of the remaining viewpoints. Given the clear skies, we decided to repeat the previous days’s views and take the longer route.

I was glad we did. I particularly enjoyed some of the viewpoints looking away from the lake, north toward Diamond Peak and the Sisters area, in the golden morning light. The clear weather tempted us to consider the 5 mile, 1300′ hike up Mount Scott. With a long drive ahead of us, though, we decided we should not.

Instead, we spent the remainder of our time in the park on a couple of shorter trails.

First up: the Pinnacles Trail. This trail starts at the end of Pinnacles Road, near the old east entrance to the park. The trail actually follows the old road, connecting the end of the road in the National Park with a nearby National Forest road. For its entire length, it parallels the Wheeler Creek Canyon. The Pinnacles–the solidified remains of old fumaroles–rise up all along the canyon. This mile-long trail (round trip) provided a nice view of a different side of the park. We also saw some large birds of prey in the trees along the road.

From there, we drove back up the crater rim and on to Sun Notch Trail. This 0.8 mile loop gave us one last, beautiful look at Crater Lake, including excellent views down to the Phantom Ship formation, before we left the park to continue our trip to California.

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