What’s to Love: After leaving Sunriver Resort, we decided to stop at the Lava Lands Visitor Center and check-out the awesome cinder cone – Lava Butte. Driving down 97, you cannot miss this 500 foot high volcano, which erupted 7000 years ago and covered 9 square miles with lava. If you want to get your kids’ attention, just say, “We’re going to drive-up a real volcano!”
This place is just incredible! There is no other way to describe it. It’s very close to Sunriver and definitely worth your time and housed within the Newberry Volcanic National Monument. You can easily turn this adventure into a half or full-day affair. Your pass ($5) gets you into the Visitor Center, access to the road up Lava Butte, Lava River Cave, and the entire Newberry Crater, which contains two beautiful lakes. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to explore outside the Visitor Center, so we missed the self-guided tour through Lava River Cave (mile-long lava tube with lanterns available for rental) and the Newberry Volcano. We’ll definitely be back soon to do a piece on the entire Newberry Volcanic National Monument.
However, the Visitor Center has more than enough adventure to keep the family entertained. The facility itself has been through some serious renovations and has many fine exhibits for a variety of age groups. Naturalists are on hand and offer interpretive programs throughout the day. The Center is also a nice respite from the hot sun!
If you’re feeling adventurous, head-out back where you’ll soon discover two hiking trails: one into a surrounding ponderosa pine forest (Trail of the Whispering Pines) and another meanders into the heart of the lava flow (Trail of Molten Lands). The Whispering Pines trail is only .3 miles, and the Molten Lands trail is only .75. Both of these trails are easy and handicap accessible. If you only do one trail, I recommend heading right into the lava! Here is a clip from our visit.
Caveats: When we passed through the gate, we asked, “What’s the coolest thing to do here for kids.” The reply was, “Kids usually like the cave.” Well, unfortunately, you have to drive a mile off-site to get to the cave, and we weren’t in the mood to drive up Lava Butte (must do!) AND go back toward Sunriver to do the cave tour. So, it’s a bit unfortunate that you have to get back on 97 and leave the Visitor Center to visit the cave.
Also, to really enjoy the entire monument, you need a full day. There is just so much to do and explore. Make this a priority on your trip to Central Oregon.
Distance from Portland: About 175 miles. Plan on at least 3.5 hours with kids. Here is a map of the area.
Recommended Ages: Definitely one of those places that strikes a chord with various age groups. Young kids really like volcanoes, and the older kids will like the hiking and educational aspects. If you have an infant, just be aware that the temperatures in the summer here can get scorching hot! You’ll need plenty of shade and sunscreen for everyone (hats are pretty important here).
Parental Stress Factor: Easy going place! Low stress for sure. Even hiking around the rim is not a problem. Our 2-year old hiked most of the trail by himself.
Physical Difficulty: Easy. The hiking trails around the Visitor Center are easy. The trail around the Caldera has one steep section.
Family Fun Factor: High! Not amusement park fun, but definitely worth a stop and further explorations down the road! I give this place high marks for family adventure.
Pet Friendly: I wouldn’t take Fido on this adventure. I’m sure dogs are fine on a leash, but this is not a great spot for a dog. Potentially, it’s pretty hot and a dog would be uncomfortable.
Weather Considerations: Can be unbearable hot during the summer! When it’s that hot, there are all kinds of things to take into consideration. I bet this is a great destination in the fall with stable, cooler weather. You definitely want a clear day to enjoy the great views.
Insider Info: There is a third trail that goes around the rim of the Lava Butte caldera. This interpretive trail looks like it might take awhile to circumnavigate, but it’s only about 15 – 20 minutes for most people. The trail up on the rim is not handicap accessible. The drive up to the top of Lava Butte is a must! It’s only about 1 mile to the top on a nice road. There is a fire lookout station on the very top, which is closed but still cool to look at. The view from the top is breathtaking.
Note that due to overcrowding at times, most likely you’ll have to drive to the top of Lava Butte at a specific time and come down after 45 minutes. There is not enough parking available up on top. 45 minutes was just the right amount of time to take pictures and hike the rim. You’ll get your assigned time when you buy your pass at the gate.
Family Tips: Concerning family amenities, there is not much here except water and bathrooms. Make sure you’re loaded-up with plenty of snacks, diapers, jogging stroller, backpacks, etc. You might want to bring along a backpack child carrier as well. The paved terrain is just steep enough to deter some types of strollers.
If you’re planning a visit to this area, Sunriver Resort is very close and the perfect spot for a great family vacation. Read about our adventure at Sunriver Resort!
Other Posts of Interest...
Rock Climbing at Smith Rock! on August 8th, 2009
Sunriver Resort on August 12th, 2010
Learn to Climb: Chockstone Guides on October 9th, 2012