A cross-country ski trek to Newberry caldera and Paulina Creek Falls is a winter adventure for your next visit to Bend.
TEN MILE SNO-PARK, Ore. — During summer and fall, Newberry caldera is teeming with recreation opportunities — hiking, fishing, mountain biking and more.
But in winter, the only way to reach the caldera is by snowmobiling, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.
The good news is you can drive along Forest Service Road 21 all the way to Ten Mile Sno-Park, which is only 3 miles from Paulina Lake, one of two lakes inside Newberry National Volcanic Monument, south of Bend. That is not so far on a snowmobile, but it’s a bit more challenging on skis.
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I accepted that challenge and drove 32 miles to the Sno-Park from Bend on a sunny day last winter. Most rigs in the lot belonged to snowmobilers, but no matter.
A multiple-use Sno-Park, Ten Mile caters to both snowmobilers and Nordic skiers/snowshoers, and at 5,560 feet elevation, it usually holds sufficient snow. While some corridors within the trail system are shared, skiers have several miles of blue-diamond trails that delve deep into forest.
Newberry caldera has long been one of my favorite places to explore in the splendor of a Central Oregon summer. But I’d never been there in winter, assuming it was all frozen, snow-covered and inaccessible.
The thought of reaching that geologic wonderland — with its lava flows, creeks, waterfalls and lakes — on skis was enticing.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Newberry was built into the shape of a broad shield by repeated eruptions over 400,000 years. About 75,000 years ago, a major explosion and collapse event created a large volcanic depression (caldera) at its summit. Newberry last erupted about 1,300 years ago, and geologically recent lava flows indicate that it could reawaken at any time. The USGS is closely monitoring the volcano for signs of unrest.
While not all that concerned about getting blown away in yet another Newberry eruption, I was concerned with finding a skiable trail up the edge of the caldera.
Two main cross-country ski trails emanate out of Ten Mile: Paulina View Trail and Ponderosa Rim Trail. Both wind up the mountain through a mixed conifer forest. Ten Mile to Paulina Lake is about 3.5 miles.
Many wide, groomed snowmobile trails run from the Sno-Park to the caldera as well. A snowmobile club takes care of grooming the snowmobile trails in the area, and also built a warming shelter.
I started along the Paulina View Trail but soon found the ungroomed trail too unstable and uneven for my old classic skis. So I took the easy way out and skied along the snowmobile trail, Trail No. 11 to be exact.
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After 45 minutes or so of skiing, I could hear the sound of rushing water to my left. Paulina Creek Falls was not far.
A junction to the left led me to a viewpoint overlooking the falls, where a protective railing barely protruded through the top of the snowpack.
The right side of the falls was partially frozen, creating an icy ribbon behind a curtain of falling water. Paulina Creek Falls is indeed more spectacular in the winter.
Plenty of ski routes
Back on my skis, I returned to the groomed snow and turned onto Trail No. 1, which is actually Road 21. I could have skied on the road all the way to East Lake, which sits about half a mile due east of Paulina Lake in the Newberry caldera, but I knew I lacked the energy for that.
Ambitious skiers can also continue on the Paulina Nordic Loop, a 2-mile trail on the south shore of Paulina Lake.
The lake was mostly frozen, but I did see some open water near the shoreline. Paulina and East lakes are now open to fishing year-round, so if you can get to them you can fish them — but you might need to have your ice-fishing gear.
I stayed along the road until 7,985-foot Paulina Peak popped into view, its snow-dotted slopes jutting into the blue sky. A group of snowmobilers with snowboards on the back of their sleds had just returned from the peak. The hauntingly steep slopes of Paulina Peak have become popular with extreme skiers and snowboarders looking for some of the most challenging terrain in the region and using snowmobiles to reach the top of the peak.
The return trip back to Ten Mile Sno-Park was steep enough for me, as I struggled to stay upright while skiing back down Road 21.
A sprawling view of the snow-covered Cascades dominated the horizon to the west as I neared the Sno-Park to complete the three-hour, 7-mile loop.
Newberry in the winter is just as mesmerizing as Newberry in the summer.