The year of rearranging continued to present challenges as we prepared for our final week of vacation. Originally planned for mid-August we had rescheduled a planned trip to Steens Mountain due to work considerations. An unusually cold and wet weather system due to arrive from the Gulf of Alaska the first Sunday night of our vacation derailed those plans. In fact it ended any thoughts of attempting to backpack as the entire week called for rain or snow showers, depending on elevation, everywhere we looked. At the last minute we decided to dial up a group of hikes in the southern Blue Mountains near Sumpter, OR.
The disappointment of having to change our plans once again this year was tempered by the prospect of the wet weather helping to put out the numerous wildfires burning in the Pacific Northwest.
We had planned to stay in Bend on our way to Steens Mountain and visit Heather’s parents and it made sense to do the same on the way to Sumpter so the only hike planned for the week to survive the rearranging was a visit to Paulina Lake in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. This hike would allow us to fill in some blanks along both Paulina Creek and Paulina Lake left from two previous hikes. (Paulina Creek and Paulina Peak)
On our hike up Paulina Creek from the Peter Skene Ogden Trailhead we had turned around after approximately 5.5 miles at footbridge over Paulina Creek. After looking at some maps it appeared that this footbridge was near the Ten Mile Sno-Park. Our plan this time was to start at the sno-park and hike over to the bridge and take the Peter Skene Ogden Trail up past Paulina Falls to Paulina Lake, loop around the lake, then return down the creek for a total of about 14.5 miles.
The drive from Salem to Bend was extremely smokey but fortunately for us the conditions inside the Newberry Caldera were much better, just a general haze instead of the heavy smoke we’d passed through. After parking at the sno-park we decided to follow the Ponderosa Trail hoping it would take us to the footbridge.
In hindsight we should have printed out a copy of a nordic trails map of the area especially given that they do not show up on the GPS map nor were they included in our guidebook’s map. The trail was easy enough to follow, there was a visible path as well as blue diamond markers on the trees to mark the way.
We quickly realized we were heading up the creek away from the footbridge but we decided to just keep going since we knew from the trail sign that the Ponderosa Trail went to Paulina Lake. We could take this up to the lake then come down on the trail we’d intended to come up on after finishing the lake loop.
When we came to a snowmobile track (Road 500) we followed it right for about four tenths of a mile before veering left back onto the nordic trail towards the sound of Paulina Creek.
Being a nordic trail the Ponderosa Trail had a good deal of blowdown but it was mostly lodgepole pine trees which we easily stepped over.
The trail never approached the creek and offered almost no views of the water. A little over 2.5 miles from the sno-park we arrived at a signed trail to a viewpoint below Paulina Creek Falls.
After visiting the lower viewpoint we continued on to the upper viewpoint which had been our turnaround point during our Paulina Peak hike.
We headed upstream a little over a quarter mile to the start of the Paulina Lake Loop just after crossing the road to the Paulina Lake Lodge.
We started around the lake in a counter-clockwise direction which was the same direction we’d gone during our Paulina Peak hike. We passed some familiar scenery including a small rocky peninsula and a marshy area filled with birds and a view of Paulina Peak.
After 2.4 miles on the loop we arrived at the boat ramp near Little Crater Campground.
On our previous visit we had taken the Silica Trail from the parking area here. This time we could either follow the paved road to the campground on the loop trial or we could climb up and over Little Crater, a cinder cone. Even though I had planned on taking the Little Crater Trail my 14.5 mile estimate had not taken into consideration that this route would add a little over a mile to the hike.
The Little Crater Trail climbed up past an interesting rock outcrop to a junction.
At the junction we went right passing around the crater and gaining increasingly impressive views of the Newberry Caldera.
The first views were of the Big Obsidian Flow and Paulina Peak.
Paulina Lake was soon visible to the west and East Lake came partially into view to the east behind the Central Pumice Cone.
After passing over the summit the trail descended to another junction where we turned right following a pointer for Little Crater Campground.
We picked up the loop trail just to the north of the campground.
The next section of the loop trail had some nice, albeit hazy, views of Paulina Peak and the marina at the lodge way across the lake.
The trail hugged the lake shore as it passed by the inter lake obsidian flow.
Beyond the lava flow, and 1.2 miles from Little Crater Campground, we came to a side trail down to some hot springs along the lake shore.
Our timing was good as two groups of hikers were just leaving as we arrived. We decided to take off our shoes and socks and soak our feet in one of the pools.
The water was amazing. It was almost exactly the temperature of a nice hot bath even with a little water from the lake lapping in. We sat for a while enjoying the view (and a large dragonfly) before continuing on.
We finally tore ourselves away from the hot springs and continued on. From the springs the trail climbed above the lake as it traversed a cinder hillside
The trail then descended back near the lake shore to North Cove before entering a little thicker forest.
We had seen been seeing hikers off and on all day and as we passed through the trees along this stretch I thought I spotted a little black dog along the side of the trail. Then a second small black animal emerged from the brush on the other side of the trail and I realized they weren’t small dogs they were little bear cubs! Heather spotted the second cub as I was simultaneously announcing bear and trying to get the camera ready. I once again failed to get a photo though as we were too busy talking loudly and trying to locate mama bear. We never did spot her but she had to be close by given how small the cubs were. We paused long enough to give the bears plenty of time to leave the area before continuing.
Approximately 2.2 miles from the hot springs we turned uphill following a trail sign and passed above the Paulina Lake Lodge before descending after a quarter mile to a junction with the Peter Skene Ogden Trail.
We turned down this trail which passed another viewpoint of Paulina Creek Falls after a quarter mile.
Unlike the Ponderosa Trail this trail offered many glimpses of Paulina Creek. Much like the lower section of the creek we had hiked along previously there were many small cascades to admire along the way.
Three miles beyond the viewpoint we arrived at the footbridge we had been looking for that morning. A trail sign indicated that it was 1/8 mile to Road 500 and 3/4 to the sno-park.
The view from the bridge upstream was now obscured by a fallen tree.
We crossed the bridge and passed a view of the waterfall just downstream from it.
We briefly followed Road 500 but then veered right onto what appeared to be a mountain bike trail
We followed the mountain bike trail for half a mile before arriving at a dirt road which we recognized from that morning. We turned right on the road and followed it back to the sno-park which was only a tenth of a mile away.
The end result of the hike was a 15.8 mile loop on what turned out to be a very pleasant day. It was hard to imagine that the area would likely be seeing snow in the next 48-72 hours.
It was a great start to our vacation with lots of wildlife, decent views despite the haze, and a wonderful soak in the hot springs. We were anxious to see what the next 6 days of hiking would bring. Happy Trails!
Flickr: Paulina Lake