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A Central Oregon Geologic Gem: Lava Lands

In the late 1960s NASA looked for a place to send astronauts who were training for a mission that would change the world. But before the mission could happen, NASA needed a place to mimic what they believed those astronauts would find on the surface of the moon. Because, after all, nobody had been there before so nobody really knew what the surface of the moon was like.

Enter the barren landscape that is Lava Lands in Central Oregon.

Located on the north flank of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, what is now Lava Lands was created about 7,000 years ago after a volcanic explosion of Lava Butte. A miles-wide sea of jagged lava rock was left behind creating a unique geological landscape that served as that training ground for moon-bound astronauts.

Today, the Lava Lands Visitor Center is the interpretive hub for the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, which covers over 54,000 acres of lakes, lava flows, and spectacular geologic features near Bend and Sunriver.

A group of friends at Lava Lands

The Visitor Center is a great place to learn more about the violent history of the area with the help of U.S. Forest Service Rangers. Inside there’s a book store, 3D topographical map to help orient you to the area as well as daily films and exhibits on the geological history of the area. (It’s closed during the winter, but you can still explore Lava Lands. Just hang a left at the gate and park in the adjacent parking lot.)

To get an up close and personal look at the lava, walk the Trail of Molten Land and the Trail of Whispering Pines. It’s a short little 1 mile walk through the lava field and includes a few viewpoint areas with interpretive plaques. To get a bird’s eye look, you can walk or take one of the shuttles up to the top of Lava Butte where you can see just how far the lava field stretches – and where it abruptly turns back into a lush forest of Ponderosa pines.

Want a view of the lava field from above? Big Mountain Heli Tours offers a specific Lava Lands tour for you to see the area like never before.

There’s also a paved 5.5 mile bike path that connects Lava Lands with the resort community of Sunriver.

In 2015, Newberry celebrated 25 years as a national monument with events planned all summer long. Here’s some more info on hikes and activities at the monument and a video of Paulina Falls, located within the park.

Other stories

More inspiring stories, adventures, and tips & tricks for planning and experiencing the best Central Oregon has to offer.

  • Newberry National Volcanic Monument
    Newberry National Volcanic Monument

    The Newberry National Volcanic Monument protects, preserves, and showcases its namesake volcano—which runs 75 miles north to south, spans 27 miles at its widest point, and covers nearly 1,200 square miles of Central Oregon terrain.

  • Newberry Crater: Ancient Attraction is an Activity Hub
    Newberry Crater: Ancient Attraction is an Activity Hub

    It’s hard to believe, but 25 years ago, the volcanic features that make up Newberry National Volcanic Monument weren’t protected. If it wasn’t for a group of concerned Central Oregonians, the monument wouldn’t exist. “In the late 80s, at the time, the collaborative process we see today for land-use planning just wasn’t as common.

  • Lava Caves Offer (dark) Glimpse into Central Oregon’s Volcanic Past
    Lava Caves Offer (dark) Glimpse into Central Oregon’s Volcanic Past

    CENTRAL OREGON has been formed and shaped by the fire and molten lava of volcanic activity. This powerful force of nature has made the region a showcase for a variety of volcanic features. The lava tubes in Central Oregon are young according to geologic time. They appear almost as they did thousands of years ago when they were first formed.

  • Central Oregon’s Moonscape
    Central Oregon’s Moonscape

    Many who come to Central Oregon say it looks like nowhere else they’ve visited. Sure, there are the mountain vistas and the Ponderosa pines, the picturesque rivers and the deep blue lakes. But to many, the most astonishing aspect is the lunarscape — the lava rocks, cinder cones and lava tubes that dot the region, betraying its geologic history.