Paulina Lake is one of two beautiful lakes situated in the summit crater of the massive Newberry Volcano. Newberry Volcano is a shield volcano that covers over 1,200 square miles, making it the largest volcano in the Cascades. It’s shield shape, however, makes it appear more as a long ridge rather the steep sided stratocones common to the west. The majority of eruptions occurring on Newberry consisted of a more fluid lava, like those found in Hawaii, slowly building the volcano in layers. A more violent eruption did occur about 75,000 years ago, creating the Caldera containing both East and Paulina Lakes.
If you would like to get up and personal with Paulina Lake, and maybe visit a hot spring while you are at it, you are in luck. There just so happens to be a trail that completely circles this amazing treasure. The trail remains right along the edge of the lake for its majority, with a few ups and downs, making this not too difficult of an excursion, despite its length.
There are numerous places you can begin your hike around Paulina Lake, but I like to start from the Paulina Lake Trailhead, right near the entrance of the park. Then, if you complete the hike counter clockwise to maximize your views, you will end just as you pass the Paulina Lake Lodge, a perfect place to grab some lunch or a drink and reminisce. There will be a sign at the trailhead, directing you to the Paulina Lakeshore Trail, and pointing two directions. Head to your right, and being your journey.
The first couple miles of the remain fairly flat, with the trail hugging the lake most of the time. It is nice and cool and shady along this stretch. You will also pass the Newberry Group Camp and the Little Crater Day Use area. Once you hit the Little Crater Day Use Area, things can get a little confusing for a minute. The trail will pop you out right near the boat launch and where you think it should go, there is a paved road. From here, if you don’t mind walking along a road, you could just follow the paved road along the lakeshore as it passes the Little Crater Campground and on to the Little Crater Trailhead. But, if you would prefer to actually hike on a trail, find the Little Crater trail just across the road as it leaves the boat ramp area and start climbing.
This short little push will climb about 200 feet in a half of a mile as it marches up Little Crater. A third of a mile along this trail, you will reach a junction. This is part of the Little Crater Loop. If you would like to travel to the summit of Little Crater, and you don’t mind adding an additional half mile and 200 feet of climbing to your hike, head right. Otherwise vere left and you will find yourself standing on a nice little cliff overlooking Pauline Lake. Continue marching through the trees along the edge of the crater and then down the north side for another mile before popping out at the Little Crater Trailhead.
From the trailhead, the trail once again hugs the shoreline and it travels north up the east side of Paulina Lake. This is probably the coolest section of the hike, with the trail traveling over cool, rocky sections that jettison out over the lake. Trees cling to these outcrops as they slowly tip towards the water. Then, a little more than half a mile from the Little Crater Trailhead, you will come to the edge of an obsidian flow as it plunges into Paulina Lake. Don’t take any of this volcanic glass, but the trail, boulders along the side, and whole hillside to your right are covered in it. It’s pretty awesome.
After the obsidian flow, the trail will pass through some pretty grassy areas as it rounds the northeast corner of the lake. About ¾ of a mile from the obsidian, the trail will split again, with a side trail heading to the left down to the hot springs. These springs are an amazing place the soak your feet, or your whole body, right on the beach of the lake. The springs are found just beneath the gravely surface of the beach, so holes have been dug into the ground that fill with the hot water. The more detached from the lake, the hotter the water is. It is only a 0.1 mile detour to head down to the hot springs, so you should definitely check it out.
Once you are satiated with nature’s warm bath, head on back to the main trail and continue around the lake. The trail climbs again here, pushing up more than 100 feet above Paulina Lake. The views out across its shimmering surface and to Paulina Peak and the Big Obsidian Flow are awesome. The trail remains up above the lake for about ¾ of a mile before dropping back down to the lakeshore.
Once back down to lake level, the trail is an easy 1.5 mile stroll along the western shore until you reach the Paulina Lake Lodge Area. Here, it veers up the hillside and around the lodge and cabins before dropping you back down to a bridge over Paulina Creek. If you are looking for some food and relaxation, don’t cross the bridge and stroll on up to the lodge and enjoy yourself. If not, cross on over and mosey (be sure to mosey here. It’s important to look cool after a long hike) the final 0.2 miles back to the trailhead.
To reach Paulina Lake within the Newberry National Volcanic Monument head 23 miles south of Bend or 6 miles north of La Pine on Highway 97. Then, head west on Paulina Lake Road at the big signs directing you to Newberry Caldera and Paulina – East Lakes. Follow the road for 13 miles as it winds up the mountain. Pass by the Welcome Center and the trailhead for Paulina Falls. Right after passing the road that takes you to the Paulina Lake Lodge, take the next left into a boating site. The trail begins here.
Passes:A Northwest Forest Pass is required at this trailhead.
Dogs: Allowed and must be on a leash.
Open Season: The road up to Paulina Lake closes in the winter at 10-mile Snopark, 10 miles from the highway. It usually opens for the season in late May and closes in Mid Novemeber.
Bugs: Mosquitos will likey be present and persistent from late May into August or so.