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Camp in Crater Country

Inside Newberry National Volcanic Monument lie two sparkling lakes, a spacious horse camp, and miles of trails. Here’s an exclusive, from-the-saddle report.

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Click above for a slideshow of the Krones’ adventure in Oregon’s Newberry National Volcanic Monument.

Inside the dormant volcanic crater at Oregon’s Newberry National Volcanic Monument lie two sparkling lakes, a spacious horse camp, and miles of trails. This monument is located 45 minutes south of Bend, Oregon, on Highway #97.

The area was created when a tremendous prehistoric explosion blew the entire top off of Newberry Volcano, leaving a 500-square-mile caldera. In 1990, the area was designated a national monument to preserve the volcano’s unique nature.

Within the caldera are two large, beautiful lakes: Paulina Lake, one of the deepest lakes in Oregon, and East Lake. Both are clear and nutrient-rich, and contain large populations of trout, kokanee, and Atlantic salmon.

Mountains ring the crater. Paulina Peak is the highest at 7,985 feet in elevation. At different points along the trail, you may drink in views of the Three Sisters, Mount Jefferson, Mount Bachelor, and Fort Rock.

Crater Rim Loop
The Newberry caldera has a good-sized horse camp with access to riding trails. We spent several days at the Chief Paulina Horse Camp, located two miles past the park entrance above Paulina Lake.

There are 14 sites with your choice of two or four horse corrals, plus ample parking for two rigs at most campsites. There’s no potable water for you, but stock water is available. From our campsite, we enjoyed morning coffee while gazing at Paulina Peak.

Of the several rides from this horse camp, the longest and most ambitious is the Crater Rim Loop. From the horse camp and back, it’s 24 miles if you ride all around the crater’s rim. This trail is popular with endurance riders who enjoy the challenge and tremendous views.

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To find the Crater Rim Loop, ride west of the horse camp on Trail 5, then turn left and pick up Trail 3. When completing the loop, the trail returns to this point, but on the north side of the road.

A word of caution: This trail is long with some difficult portions, and there’s no water.

More Rim Riding
You can also access a couple of shorter trails from the horse camp. Some of these involve portions of the rim trail.

One very steep, but beautiful trip is to Paulina Peak. Travel as before, west on Trail 3 and south on Trail 5. After this junction, the trail gains 1,300 feet of elevation in 1.5 miles. Your horse will need to be in excellent condition to handle this difficult climb.

Our equine partners, Buddy and Scout, got plenty of breaks, but both were wondering if we should consider going on diets!

Breathtaking views and an opportunity to look down on screeching hawks below signal your arrival. Soak in scenery that includes the Cascade Range, high-desert basin, the ranges of Eastern Oregon, two caldera lakes, and volcanic and forested landscape.

To complete this 11-mile loop, continue riding east on Trail 3 until you cross Rd. 500. Then follow the crater rim to the junction of Trail 7. Turn left on Trail 7 and left on Trail 6 to ride along the side of the Big Obsidian Flow. At the bottom, take Trail 5 back to camp.

We found the Big Obsidian Flow fascinating. On a sunny day, the flow appears as glittering shards of black glass. About 1,300 years ago, 170 million cubic yards of molten lava erupted from a vent and cooled rapidly, thus forming smooth, shiny obsidian.

Native Americans used obsidian glass for trade, which is why it can be found many miles from its original source. The glass was highly valued by Native Americans; they used it to make tools and arrowheads. At Newberry National Monument, obsidian collecting is prohibited.

Just before you enter the monument, you’ll find the varied and beautiful Peter Skene Odgen Trail. After you leave Highway 97, travel two miles, and turn left into Ogden Campground. Pull over to the large gravel parking lot near the campground entrance.

The Peter Skene Odgen Trail travels to Paulina Falls and then to Paulina Lake. As we rode Buddy and Scout up the trail, we enjoyed the freshness of pine-laced air and the sounds of Paulina Creek. Our horses enjoyed the gentle trail, which at times runs over overgrown logging roads. Our grateful mounts even started to rethink their riders’ diet plan.

A special treat near the end of the journey is Paulina Falls. Water hurls over a volcanic ledge and plummets 80 feet into the canyon below.

Shortly after the falls, we arrived at our destination and found a safe place to tie the horses away from the lake. It’s roughly 8.5 miles and a 2,000-foot elevation gain to this point.

Nearby are restroom facilities, a café, and a small store where we bought cold drinks and sandwiches.

Swamp Wells
We then trailered north of Newberry Caldera to try out another horse camp known as Swamp Wells. Located outside the monument boundary, this camp is accessed by turning off Highway 97 and onto China Hat Rd.

Follow China Hat Rd. about five miles, then turn right on Rd. 1810, and follow it 5.7 miles. Turn left on Rd. 816, and go 2.7 miles to camp.

Swamp Wells Horse Camp has five sites with metal, four-horse corrals. There’s no water. As the camp is low in elevation and there’s very little shade, it would be hot in the summer. Therefore, we’d recommend this camp for spring and fall use.

The roads and trails around Swamp Wells are relatively level with lots of opportunities to engage in faster gaits. We’d read about Boyd Cave, eight miles north of Swamp Wells. That became our destination. Armed with flashlights, we rode out.

Boyd Cave is technically a long lava tube. We climbed down a set of stairs leading into the cave’s cool depths. Dim lights of our little flashlights preceded us into the cave until we were enveloped by claustrophobic darkness — a subterranean world. We quickly turned around and climbed back up into the welcoming sunshine.

Cattle Ranch
Be part of history: End your experience in crater country with time at an authentic working cattle ranch. Long Hollow Ranch is located in Sisters, about 27 miles north of Bend.

This ranch has the distinction of being the last remaining dude ranch in Oregon. Pamper yourself with quiet relaxation and delicious meals, or immerse yourself in trail riding and cattle work.

Of great interest to many folks is the ranch’s cattle operation. In the spring, guests are invited to ride along on branding and roundups. Cattle are sorted for vaccinations and then moved through unspoiled country to summer pastures. In the fall, guests help drive cattle back to the ranch.

All guests interested in working with cattle are encouraged to participate in a cattle-orientation class. Here, you will learn cattle handling skills: how to “read their attitude,” how to move them, and how to turn them in the direction you want them to go.

We visited with Lizzie Schteiden, a vivacious wrangler with twinkling blue eyes, about the many riding opportunities at the ranch. Short rides, long rides, easy rides, challenging rides, and of course, sunset rides!

The dinner and breakfast cookouts are two favorite rides that guests come back to enjoy again and again. In both cases, guests mount their horses and ride to a scenic location for either a sizzling barbecue or a bacon-and-egg breakfast.

An outstanding feature of Long Hollow Ranch is its horsemanship program. First level is the ground-work lesson. This helps the rider gain the horse’s respect and control from the ground.

Next level is basic horsemanship, which covers safe procedures in leading, grooming, and saddling your horse. Arena time is given to work on beginning riding skills. Intermediate and advanced riders are given lessons that continue building communication between horse and rider.

Come on out to central Oregon to ride the crater, or visit a historic dude ranch. Explore unique and unspoiled country. It’s all here, just waiting around the “Bend”!


For more information on Newberry National Volcanic Monument, contact Deschutes National Forest, (541) 383-5300; www.fs.fed.us/r6/centraloregon/newberrynvm/index.shtml. For more on Long Hollow Ranch, call (877) 923-1901, or visit www.lhranch.com.


Kent and Charlene Krone combine their interest in photojournalism with a passion for horses. They enjoy sharing their horseback adventures in the United States and Western Canada. During riding season, you can usually find them on the trail, checking out new places to ride.

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