558 N. Main St., Prineville, OR 97754 | (541) 447-6205
Winter inside a volcano
Paulina Lake Lodge offers a unique winter getaway
The summit of Paulina Peak in winter. Paulina Lake is on the left and East Lake is on the right. The lodge's sno-cat sometimes makes the trek to the summit.
January 07, 2013
Leaving the toasty warm cabin, I strap on the skis and head out into the brisk, cloudless winter morning. I bushwhack into the snow-clad forest, making my own tracks. But I’m not alone — in the snow ahead of me are fresh tracks of coyote, squirrel, and snowshoe hare.
Through openings in the lodgepole pines are frequent views of Paulina Peak, almost 8,000 feet in elevation. From a hill, I look out at the Big Obsidian Flow snaking its way down from the rim of the caldera. At less than 1,300 years old, it’s one of the youngest lava flows in the country, reminding me that I stand within an ancient, but not yet extinct volcano.
So began a three-day adventure at Paulina Lake Lodge a few years ago within Newberry National Volcanic Monument just southeast of Bend. The resort offers year-round lodging in 14 rustic cabins. Don’t expect a Hilton Hotel, but if you’re looking for a unique winter experience, a cozy cabin, great food, and excellent hospitality then it’s worth a trip.
My wife and I planned on cross-country skiing or snowshoeing into the resort but couldn’t decide on which mode of transportation. The road to Newberry is plowed up to the Ten Mile Sno-Park; from there it’s three miles of snow to the lodge. Then we found out that there was a sno-cat available to haul visitors and their gear up to the lake. We decided on the sno-cat and ended up taking our skis and our snowshoes.
On most winter outings, I often get sweaty, chilly or tired and don’t look forward to a long drive home from the mountains. The stay at the lodge offered a pleasant relief – to finish up a few hours of exploring and return to a warm cabin and a hot drink.
That first evening, I take a short walk along the shoreline of the frozen lake, with the last rays of sun hitting Paulina Peak and the Big Obsidian Flow. The peaceful stillness is broken momentarily by the eerie sounds of settling ice on the lake. I feel as if I have my own personal Crater Lake.
The next morning, the sun rises up over the frozen lake, setting each crystal of snow alive with sparkling beauty. I take a walk on the packed trail leading from the cabins. Icicles hang from the eaves of every cabin. Not even a breeze stirs in the winter air. The only sound is the crunch of the snow beneath my feet. The ice continues its secretive echoing noises out on the lake. I think of the big brown trout and the schools of kokanee lurking somewhere down below the ice.
Winter inside Newberry is a totally different world than summertime. There has been as much as three feet of snow fall in one night. In the winter of 1998-1999, 15 to 20 feet of snow lay on the ground, burying some buildings completely.
Paulina Lake Lodge is one of the few lake resorts that stays open year round. The average snowfall is about 10 feet on the level each winter. Keeping the resort open is a lot of hard work. There’s constant snow shoveling, firewood must be supplied (about 100 cords a year for the lodge and cabins), heaters need to be kept going, and pipes need to be kept from freezing. Chimneys are cleaned twice a winter. Plus, there are the occasional power outages from wind and snow knocking a tree into a powerline.
About half the guests staying at the lodge are snowmobilers while the other half opt for snowshoes and cross-country skis. There are about 150 miles of trails in Newberry used for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling. In the spring, summer and fall, these trails are designated for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.
A 22-mile snowmobile trail circles the entire caldera. Some enthusiastic skiers have even tackled the entire trail in one day. Many come and practice on the trails for upcoming skiing events.
There are a few options to getting up to the resort. You can ski or snowshoe up, take a snowmobile or the sno-cat shuttle that the resort offers. Snowmobile rentals are available at Ten Mile Sno-Park.
There are 14 cabins available, all named after birds. Prices range from $93 to $245 per night during the winter. Cabins sleep from two to 10 people. Most are rustic, built from 1930 to 1985. They all have full kitchens, bathrooms, linens and firewood for a comfortable stay, but no phones or TV so bring along a good book to read.
Although nights can get well below zero, the caldera can actually experience mild daytime winter temperatures. During our stay, we had three bright, cloudless days with the thermometer even hitting 50 degrees.
Another highlight of our stay was a ride to the top of Paulina Peak in the sno-cat. Many take the cat up and then ski back down. It’s about four miles from the resort up to the summit. Paulina Lake sits at around 6,300 feet and Paulina Peak is almost 8,000 feet. On clear days, there are views of the Cascades stretching from Mount Adams in Washington to Mount Shasta in California.
After dinner one evening, my wife and I take a hike on one of the snowmobile trails. The Milky Way lights up the night sky, and countless stars appear as bright pinholes in a dark canvas. The Big Dipper stands on its handle, tirelessly pointing to the North Star.
On the last morning of the trip, I opt for skiing the three miles down the mountain. Before I know it, the Sno-Park appears around the final bend. I say goodbye to Newberry’s volcanic caldera and its two lakes until spring, when the fishing season reopens.
Although referred to as Newberry Crater, it is actually a caldera, being wider than it is deep. The caldera is about five miles across and similar to Crater Lake in its formation. Massive eruptions from the volcano eventually caused a collapse within and later filled with a lake. In the case of Newberry, continued eruptions caused the large lake to split into two lakes, Paulina and East Lakes. At over 500 square miles in size, Newberry Volcano is one of the largest shield volcanoes in the lower 48 states. Paulina Lake is over 250 feet deep, making it one of the deepest lakes in Oregon.
For information, call the lodge at 541-536-2240.