Sunday, January 8, 2023

Inside the Crater's Rim: Hiking Around Paulina Lake

Paulina Lake, viewed from Paulina Peak 

Date: June 30, 2020
Place: Newberry National Volcanic Monument, Bend, Oregon
Coordinates:  43.712392, -121.276370
Length: 8 miles
Level: strenuous
Going back to catching up on my COVID time trips I return to the summer of 2020 when our planned trip to Europe was cancelled because of the pandemic and most of California was shut down as well and we found ourselves stuck at home with high stress levels, lots of time on our hands, and nowhere to go. We did go on short local hikes and even on a short camping trip in the area north of Lake Tahoe, one of the few places where camping was reopened briefly. This wasn't enough for us though, and we needed a serious getaway. With a short planning time, a limited driving radius and even more limited list of relatively open destinations we eventually settled on South Central Oregon. We stopped for a break and short hike at Castle Crags State Park in California, and then we continued to spend two more days in Klamath Falls where we focused mainly on birding hotspots but also had some lovely hikes like the one at Collier Memorial State Park. Then we drove to Bend for the next part pf our trip. We've driven through Bend in he past but never stayed and explored that area, and there is much to explore. Desiring a more serious hike after the little birding tails we did so far, I planned our next hike to be the 8-miler round Lake Paulina trail. 
Our hike as captured by my GPS

Lake Paulina is a crater lake in the caldera of the Newberry Volcano, southeast of Bend. It isn't big and famous as the one in Crater Lake National Park but it is very pretty and much more accessible. We arrived at the trailhead near the Pauline Lake Campground around mid-morning and looked around. The parking lot was almost full. We slipped into one of the few spots remaining and checked our surroundings. The sky was widely overcast with only a few blue holes on the eastern horizon. The air was warm enough though. The parking lot was near a small, reed-belted lagoon. The main lake body was behind it.

Pappa Quail and the elder chika approached the water but only a few mallards were floating there. They settled for a robin on a tree branch nearby. 
American Robin

We gathered our things for the day's hike including bathing suits and towels, and started on the round-lake trail, going clockwise. Almost immediately we crossed (on a bridge) Paulina Creek. Two days later we'll be hiking down that creek to see Paulina Falls. 
Paulina Creek

After crossing the creek the trail entered a conifer forest. The trail also separated from the lakeshore and was going on an incline at a reasonably mild slope. At the time, the clouds were breaking up, allowing the sun to come down and sift through the canopies to the forest floor. 

Pappa Quail and the elder chika stopped and trained their cameras at a small, naturally truncated stump. There, near the tip of the stump was a woodpecker of a species they've rarely seen before, and first time a male. Needless to say we paused our hike for a good while and I don't recall who got tired first, the bird or my birders. 
Black-backed Woodpecker, male

Some distance further the trail descended and neared the lakeshore. and we got our first view of Lake Paulina from (nearly) the water level. Out of the trees it was easy to see that the clouds were moving away, for the time being, at least. 
Lake Paulina

The bushes near the lakeshore were in full bloom. The familiar Manzanita was the most common genus there. 
Manzanita, Arctostaphylos sp.

Lupine shrubs dotted the forest by the trail side. I love seeing lupine anywhere I go, they always attract my attention. 
Lupine, Lupinus sp. 

An opening in the trees gave us a nice view of Paulina Peak. Thin streaks of snow glistened in the sun. The winter of 2019-2020 was very dry and these snow patches were farewell to the winter that wasn't. Later that day we drove up the peak to look at the wider view. 
Paulina Peak

Little forest strawberry flowers bloomed along the trail, a promise of yummy trail nomming later on that summer. We only enjoy the sight of the flowers. 
Strawberry, Fragaria sp.

Little yellow violets were also blooming along the trail. Not in any mats or carpets, but in small clamps here and there. 
Violet, Viola sp.

The trail descended again to the lake level. In the sunny areas out of the tree shade there ere also little shrubs in bloom, some of them I knew I must have seen before but I couldn't recall when. 

We descended down the trail all the way to the lake's surface level and for a while we were walking right by the lakeshore. 
Lake Paulina

I noticed a patch pf yellow flowers near the lake and stepped off trail to take a closer look. They were cinquefoil flowers, familiar to me from California. 
Cinquefoil, Potentilla sp. 

The trail was ascending again ad we followed it up the side of the Paulina crater. The clouds were moving swiftly across the sky, not blocking the sun but not going away altogether either. 
Lake Paulina 

The crater side was all scree of tuff and pumice, and it was bone dry. Most of the scree was bare of vegetation but here and there little shrubs grew out of the try gravel. Some were blooming as well. 
Penstemon, Penstemon sp. 

The trees opened up and I saw ahead of us that the slope of scree drops sheerly into the lake. Where was the trail? I realized that we were about to go up and I braced myself for the expected complaints from Pappa Quail and the chikas. 

Nobody complained though. The ascent wasn't very steep and the views more than compensated for the extra workout. Also, there were more wildflowers along the trail. 

Some of the flowers looked very lovely against the dark backdrop of the volcanic rock. 
Indian Paintbrush

In paces the trail became really thin and flimsy and we needed to tread carefully so not to slip down the slope. It seemed to me that land slides were pretty common in that area and I wished to avoid casing one myself. 
View down to the lake

I found wildflowers even in areas of the tuff that looked bare from a distance. Tiny little monkeyflowers were thriving in the most freshly disturbed part of the slope where a landslide seemed to have recently occurred.  
Monkeyflower, Diplacus sp. 

From the highest point of the trail we had a nice view of the beach below. There were quite a few people there, and we too had plans to stop there. This particular beach has hot springs and we had all intention of enjoying a nice, soothing dip in the warm water.  
Paulina Hot Springs

The main lake circumference trail doesn't go down to the beach in this area, and the trail that splits off to the beach isn't very obvious when coming from above. We did find it eventually and took it all the way down to the water. 
Lake Paulina Trail

The beach was pebbly gravel and had a line of sitting pools dug and maintained by the many previous hot springs visitors. The pool at the north edge of the beach was unoccupied so we colonized that one. 

Within less than a minute the chikas were in their bathing suits and in the water. A minute after I was sitting in the water with them. Pappa Quail however, chose to remain dry. He preferred to pass the time birding. 
Common Merganser

He didn't wander off very far though. Most of the time me and the chikas were in the water he sat next to us and simply photographed the birds that flew over. 
Caspian Tern

From my hot pool front seat I had a great view of the lake. The wind picked up a bit and I just sank mire into the hot water. We stayed for a while on the Paulina Hot Springs beach and it was a time well spent and definitely a highlight of the hike. 
Lake Paulina 

We couldn't stay there forever though, and eventually Pappa Quail became impatient and prompted us to get out of the water. That alone took as a half an hour more, including drying and clothes changing time, and als looking around for local wildflowers in the vicinity of the pools. 
Monkeyflowers, Erythranthe sp. 

It was challenging to gather our energies after the long break and the nice soak. Luckily, after ascending back to the main circumference trail there was no more significant uphill walk for the rest of the hike. 
Lake Paulina

For the rest of the hike the circumference trail remained low, at the lake level, and most of the time close to the water. About half a mile past the hot springs we came upon a strange sight - a patch of thin, bright yellow mud lapping at the shore. Everything on the shore or poking through the lake's surface was covered in the yellow mud. I found it interesting that the yellow mud didn't really mix with the rest of the lake's water. The smell of the mud didn't leave any doubt regarding the identity of the main ingredient - This was sulfur. 
Sulfur Shore, hind view

The sulfur mud patch was relatively small but its aroma followed us for some distance. As we made our way along the eastern shore the terrain became much more exposed and dry, and the rocks near the trail sparkled from broken obsidian.

As usual my family was moving fast forward while I lingered behind looking for and then at the wildflowers. It was nice to see some familiar ones from California
Blue-eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium bellum 

Many of the wildflowers looked similar enough to species I was familiar with, but I wasn't sure that those in Oregon were the same, so I settled for genus identification for now. 
Penstemon, Penstemn sp. 

The more exposed inner slopes of the Paulina Crater were covered with colorful bloom of shrubs as much as soil pockets between the rocks allowed. The buckwheat was probably the most common bloom on the west-facing slope.
Buckwheat, Eriogonum sp. 

On the rocks themselves, satisfied with much less actual soil, bloomed the delicate alumroot with its feathery inflorescences. This is one of my favorite 'rock garden' plants. 
Alumroot, Saxifraga sp. 

Wherever the soil allowed, the slopes were forested. Mostly with short, stunted conifers that provided very minimal shade. There were more trees as we started curving around the southeastern shore of the lake. 
Lake Paulina

Just as we curved around to the south shore of Lake Paulina we reached the campground. It was a good spot to sit for a break, and to munch what was left of our lunch and snacks. I felt a small twinge about not having camped there ourselves. The campground seemed to be packed however, probably had been booked since BC. 

During our break we had in interested visitor. He clearly expected to be invited to our meal and when he realized that won't happen he lost interest and moved away. 
Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

We still hd about a third of the lake's circumference to walk and seeing a paved road the chikas mused about one of us parents going to get the car. I didn't mind doing that actually but Pappa Quail wasnted to walk too and he insisted that the chikas get on their feet and keep on. We crossed the campground on the road but as soon as we were out of the campground area we found the foot trail by the lakeshore. The trail cut through the pine forest, and I enjoyed the the reddish bloom of the male pine cones. It was a bit too early for the cones to be shedding their pollen though. 
Male pine cones

Pappa Quail and the elder chika found other interesting sights in the pine boughs. While there weren't too many birds active around us, they did see some interesting ones. 
Western Tanager

For a short distance the trail was right by the shore and the chikas were looking for anything cool in or near the water. They did find and alga that had a gas pocket similar to kelp, a pocket ment to keep it afloat and close to the sunlight. Perhaps it was a fresh water relative of the oceanic kelp. 

Algae are interesting being, but they aren't as photogenic as wildflowers. I was happy seeing a gooseberry bush in bloom. It was too early in the season to enjoy eating the gooseberries though. 
Gooseberry, Ribes sp. 

The trail delved into the trees again. It also led us up a bit of a slope and the chikas gave me some pissed off looks, reminding me that I promised them no more uphill. It didn't take long for the trail to level off and descended again towards the lake. 

A gray bird atop one of the trees had Pappa Quail and the elder chika focused on that spot for a while. The bird didn't look much to me but for them it was a lifer - forst time seeing and photographing that species. 
Olive-sided Flycatcher

They also captured not only birds but the little critters on the forest floor as well, like this little chipmunk. 

When we got to the water level once again we were walking on boardwalk sections through a wetland area. The ponds were surprisingly vacant of visible wildlife, but they looked nice. 

The elder chika did spot a duck some ways away. It was a mallard, the most common duck species in the world. 
Mallard, male

A bit further we spotted another fairly common bird - an osprey. Ospreys are very impressive to look at though, especially when they hunt. This one was still looking for a meal. 

We were slowly closing the circle around Lake Paulina. Walking along the south shore, the trail about 10 ft above the water, I suddenly stopped and gasped: below me was a patch of gold. The sunlight pouring through the trees and through the water surface, illuminating the light brown rocks in the shallow water as if the lake's bottom was made of pure gold. The photo really doesn't do justice to what I saw there. 
Gold underwater

I stood there for a while gazing at the golden water. Then I had to run a little bit to catch up with the rest of my family, who apparently missed completely the at magical sight. It didn't take much to have me pause yet again - a blooming service berry bush was all it took. 
Service Berry, Amelanchier alnifolia 

One more rise of the trail but the chikas where far ahead with Pappa Quail, and I was trailing behind, not hearing any complaints, had there been any. 

I thought I've seen all the flowers blooming around the lake, but little purple violets  near the trail provided a beautiful icing on this bonbon of a hike. 
Violet, Viola sp. 

While I took my time appreciating the tiny violets on the ground, Pappa Quail and the elder chika had their eyes and cameras trained above, following a bald eagle flying across the lake.  I caught sight of the majestic bird just before it disappeared over the trees. 
Bald Eagle

The last part of the trail was hard packed gravel through a wide patch of willows near the shoreline. The bright green of the early summer willow leaves dazzled me as I made my way between them. 

When we finished the hike the chikas wanted to get back to our lodge but there was plenty of daylight still and I wasn't ready to leave this beautiful place, so we drove to the top of Paulina Peak to look around before calling it a day. 
Pauline Lake, view from Paulina Peak

From the vista point at the top of Paulina Peak we also had a great view to the west, to the Three Sisters Wilderness. In two days we would go up the Cascades Range and hike there, just below those majestic volcanoes. 
The Three Sisters (right) and Mt. Bachelor (left), view from Paulina Peak

This was a great all day hike. Wonderful views, pretty wildflowers, and a soothing natural spa to boot. This was an excellent day.  



  1. Your last statement says it all: This was a great all day hike.

    1. Oh yas! I'd be happy to go back there again for another perfect day :-)

  2. the views looks incredible, and a warm soak in the middle sounds great :-)
    I think the white-flowered shrub (with the hover-fly) is also a Penstemon - so I checked, and google lens suggests Penstemon deustus.

    1. Thanks! I think you're right, I'll check it out.