Paulina Lake – The “Other” Crater Lake
With its great winter and spring skiing, summer biking and paddleboarding and fall, well, everything, Bend and Central Oregon are true four-season destinations. And perhaps no single destination embodies Central Oregon’s year round appeal than Paulina Lake. The high alpine lake is one of two water bodies inside the Newberry Caldera, southeast of Bend. It’s a dramatic setting on its own, but when combined with backcountry skiing options, trophy fishing (The lake yielded Oregon’s state record brown trout in 2002) world class mountain biking and boating and rustic, yet refined, accommodations at Paulina Creek Lodge, as well as, dozens of shore side camping options this is Central Oregon destination recreation at its finest, spring, summer, winter or fall.
No surprise, one of Paulina Lake’s biggest draws is pleasure boating. And with good reason. Not many other lakes are situated in the belly of a shield volcano and anointed with National Monument status. If you’re looking to water ski or buzz around on a jet-powered water scooter, you’ll need to seek other environs. Boaters here are subject to 10-mph-hour speed limit. The emphasis here is on cruising at a speed that maintains the serenity of the lake experience, allowing boaters to soak in the views of the caldera rim and looming and snow encrusted Paulina Peak. If you don’t have room to pack a boat, no worries. The Paulina Lodge has both fishing and cruising boats available by the hour or day.
Both Paulina and neighboring East Lake offer great fishing opportunities. Whether you’re throwing a fly line to rising trout in the evening or trolling deep for the landlocked kokanee salmon, the angling memory of a lifetime is just a cast away. Fly anglers who are traveling light, will find that a float tube is adequate to cover enough of the water for a productive session. If you’re staying in Sunriver consider dropping by the Stillwater Fly Shop and guide service for tips on flies and tactics. Rental fishing boats also open the possibility of jigging for the prolific kokanee. Make sure to keep at least a sample of your catch for roasting or frying over an open flame later in the evening.
Thanks to its volcanic origins, Newberry Crater is a geothermal hotbed. The area’s still untapped energy potential is presently being explored, but you can get a taste of it at the several of the backcountry hot springs that have been unearthed in the area. The most popular and easily accessible are the springs on the shore of Paulina Lake. The steaming water wells up on a natural beach on north side of the lake, roughly a mile hike from the resort or a short boat ride anywhere on the lake if you can find a skipper. Look for the makeshift rock pools on the beach and pack a shovel; you may need to excavate your soaking pool from the soft beach sand which tends to erode quickly.
The Newberry Crater ride is on every Oregon must-ride list and with good reason. The 21-mile epic circumnavigates the entire caldera rim offering multiple birds’ eye viewpoints. With big, lung busting climbs, technical sections and loose rock in places, this is not the place to break into the sport. However there are other options for less experienced riders including the short out and back to Paulina Falls along the Paulina Creek trail near the lodge. If you’re not into the whole singletrack scene, the Paulina Creek trail makes for an excellent day hike. There are also plenty of trails along the lakeshore that afford families a leisurely stroll.
If you’re visiting during the peak summer season, make to check with the visitor center for information on some of the free interpretive hikes offered. It’s also a great place to learn about the area’s unique and violent volcanic history, including cataclysmic events that have literally shaped the landscape around the Bend region.
For those seeking a truly one-of-a-kind experience, check out the Paulina Plunge. A natural backcountry waterslide, the plunge is accessed from the bottom of the Paulina Creek trail at the 10 mile snow park. The guided tours take visitors on a gentle mountain bike ride with frequent stops to enjoy some splash and giggle fun on the numerous falls along the way.