Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Newberry Caldera (OR)

It had been many years since I had ridden Newberry Caldera, and to be honest I didn't remember it being that great of a ride. Sure, the views and the fact that you were riding around the rim of a volcanic crater is pretty damn cool, but the actual trail itself didn't leave much of an impression. Even so, I'd recently had a growing desire to get back on it, in hopes that my feelings toward the ride were misguided. As it so happened, my wife Emily had also been wanting to ride it, and with an upcoming trip to Bend it seemed like the perfect time.

Along with Emily and me, our Bend trip also included Staci & Jason and Erin & Evan, with our Saturday adventure being the fantastic Bachelor to Bend ride. Since Erin and Evan had only come for the day, there would only be four of us heading to Newberry Caldera, on Sunday. When Sunday rolled around, we headed to Chow for some breakfast and Bloody Marys. Once we had fueled up, we headed south toward the town of La Pine and the turnoff for Newberry Caldera. From Highway 97, the road climbed ~2000 vertical feet to the southwest edge of Paulina Lake, where we'd be starting our ride.

Parking at the Paulina Lake Campground, which was closed for the season, we quickly geared up and started our climb up NF-500 toward Paulina Peak, the highest landmark in the area. The first part of the climb was paved but it soon turned to gravel, which was heavily washboarded. There was also a trailhead for the Crater Rim Trail, but unfortunately this segment, which led to the peak, was hiker only (no bikes). With no choice but to continue up the gravel road, we each settled into our own pace, regrouping from time to time as we made our way to the summit. Along with the washboarded surface, there was lots of vehicle traffic as well. Of course, we had no one else to blame but ourselves for doing our ride on such a beautiful weekend. The one silver lining to the climb was the amazing views that it provided, giving great panoramics toward the west and south.

Starting the climb

Jason reaches the gravel 

Lots of views (and washboarding) on the climb

Getting close

I knew we were getting close when the road steepened a bit and the switchbacks came in quick succession. As I rounded one of the last corners, the parking area came into view, which was a welcome sight indeed! From the top parking lot we took a bit of time to take in more spectacular views, this time to the north and east. It was so clear that you could see many of the Cascade's volcanic peaks, as they stretched north all the way into Washington State. We also had a nice view of the rim that we would soon be riding around, which looked pretty intimidating from our vantage point. At one point Staci (who had not done the ride before) asked, "Are we really going to ride all the way around that?!".


Great view of the Cascade Range, from Paulina Peak.

Looking onto Big Obsidian Flow

Another view of the flow and the ridge that we'd be riding along

Once we had gotten our fill of the views, we headed back down the road about a mile to where the trail peeled off on the south side of the road. The first section of the trail traversed eastward and was quite chunky in spots, with both loose dirt and rocks. Eventually the trail started to climb, passing by a few more view opportunities along the way. Luckily the climb was relatively short as it made its way up and over a small knoll. Once on the other side, the trail traversed the ridgeline through fields of pumice that was surprisingly grippy; although you did need to watch your speed around some of the tighter turns. Although the sightlines were very generous and allowed for some nice speed, the view of the Caldera was mostly obscured, at least from the confines of the trail.

The start of the trail, which can be easily missed.

Near the start of the singletrack

Settling in for another climb

More great views from the trail

Emily, enjoying one of the high-speed pumice sections.

The trail eventually tilted downward as it rounded a few switchbacks and led down to a crossing at Newberry Crater Rd. It should be noted that you’ll pass by a trail intersection on the descent, which you’ll want to turn right (east) on, asuming you want to continue on the rim trail – going left will send you into the Caldera along the Lost Lake Trail. On the other side of the road we followed the sign to continue on the Crater Rim Trail. The trail climbed upward for a short distance before hitting a wide double-track, which we assumed was also used by snowmobiles and XC skiers during the winter months. This part of the ride was fairly uneventful since there weren’t any views or trail challenges to break up the monotony. Eventually the trail ascended in earnest, as it worked its way up toward an amazing vista and a much deserved lunch break.

Jason starts the first sustained descent

Staci, giving chase.

Starting off the double-track

Somewhere along the double-track

This viewpoint rests on the northeast edge of the crater’s rim and is basically a clearing, absent of both trees and shrubs. The sun felt good and took some of the bite out of the cool temps, making it hard to get back on our bikes for the remainder of the ride. Although we had completed a majority of the trail and the climbing, we still had ~300’ of elevation gain to reach the highpoint and 8 miles to reach our car.

Amazing view from our lunch spot!

Not a bad way to relax

From the viewpoint the trail made a couple quick up and downs before settling into a longish singletrack climb. Even though it was an ascent it was much nicer than the previous doubletrack section – it actually reminded me a lot of the trails found in the Waldo Lake zone. It was also at this point in the ride where our group started to spread out a bit as each of us settled into a comfortable pace. Along with our own group, we had been leapfrogging with a couple of riders from the Portland area, who were on a similar general pace as us.

Emily, back at it.

The trail eventually reached the high point, at ~7600’, however there were no markers or landmarks to celebrate the accomplishment! Just after the high point the trail passed through another cider field, opening up to some beautiful views to the south and west. We did stop here for a bit to allow our crew to regather, as well as to chat with the other group we’d been trading the lead with. Of course the majority of the conversation covered biking related topics (gear, trails, etc.,).

Emily, just below the high point.

More great views and trail!

The remaining 4 miles of trail was all downhill and would have been fantastic if not for the overabundance of obnoxious waterbars. Some of them formed fun little jumps but there were many more that seemed to be better at trying to buck you off your bike. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a fun descent...it just could have done with a few less speedbumps along the way. All too soon, the trail flattened out and eventually transitioned back into doubletrack. Not long after this we reached the road bridge over Paulina Creek, which we crossed over and soon reconnected with our awaiting vehicles, finishing up our day's adventure.

Jason gets a lift on one of the many waterbars 

Plenty of fast sections as well

Staci, enjoying the descent.

The dirt road

Crossing over Paulina Creek

Finishing up the ride

I’m glad I decided to give Newberry Caldara a second chance, as I really enjoyed it this time around! Although the trail itself does not offer amazing terrain it’s still pretty fun, especially the high speed pumice sections found on the first quarter of the trail. The views, although sparse from the trail, are pretty sweet and worth the effort alone. On that note, I highly recommend taking the short detour up to Paulina Peak, which provides one of the best views in the area, if not the state.

Regarding the road, it climbs at a fairly consistent and manageable grade and also provides some amazing views. However, and as previously mentioned, it is heavily washboarded and had quite a bit of vehicle traffic. Of course we were there on a weekend and this is obviously a very popular spot. Therefore, if you can pull it off, it’s probably a much better road to climb during the week. However, once we were on the trail, the only people we saw were the two other mountain bikers, which is pretty amazing for how long the trail is!

The tracks from our ride:

A view of our track, in Google Earth:

Other rides in the area:
Trail 99
Smith Rock / Gray Butte
Cline Butte
Horse Ridge
Bachelor to Bend


  1. I'm so glad you wrote up this ride! I've been curious about it for a long time and was sad to miss the opportunity to join you and the crew. I'll put it on my list for next year fo sho.

    1. Yeah, I wish you would have joined us -- next time, for sure!