As it happens, one of the best sites for viewing and accessing the monument is also a terrific place to stop and stretch your legs during road trips–especially if you have energetic children in the car. TheLava Lands Visitor Center is just off Highway 97 roughly 13 miles south of Bend. Be sure to make a note of it if you’ll be traveling through Central Oregon.
While the Lava Lands parking area is situated in a forest of ponderosa pines, you will find an almost Mars-like field of jagged a’a lava (pronounced “ah-ah”) beginning just on the other side of the visitor center, rising up to the Lava Butte cinder cone, which looms 500 feet above the visitor center. Lava Butte is just one of hundreds of cinder cones found throughout the Newberry Crater area, but it’s one of the few you can drive to the top of for a great view of the area.
Newberry Volcano remained active for more than a 500,000 years, right up to its most recent eruption in approximately 600 A.D. Today, you can see the resulting cinder cones, pumice cones, lava flows, a lava cast forest, underground lava tubes, lakes, streams, and waterfalls throughout the 55,000 acres set aside for this national monument.
Inside the Lava Lands Visitor Center, you can learn more about the area’s geological and cultural histories before setting out on the “Trail of Molten Lands,” an interpretive walk through the a’a and giant “lava balls” to the base of Lava Butte. This trail is .75 miles long and is paved the entire way (as shown above), so it provides an easy opportunity for little ones to stretch their own legs as you explore the loop together–though you’ll want your child carrier or your shoulders ready in case their legs tire out along the way. Note to the stroller set: while you could technically push a buggy along this trail, it gets a little steep in places and you might prefer to have your baby in a carrier or sling.
Good to know:
If it’s too hot to spend much time out among the lava rocks, just do your viewing from the visitor center’s patio, then take a stroll down the shady .03 mile “Trail of the Whispering Pines” and watch for chipmunks instead. Back at the air-conditioned visitor center, you’ll find clean restrooms with flush toilets, drinking fountains, and a small gift shop with books, T-shirts, and hats. As there is no food or drink available for purchase here, be sure to bring your own lunch or snacks with you. There are a few picnic tables tucked between pine trees beside the parking area, and it may work out well to take advantage of them while you’re here.
When you go:
The Lava Lands Visitor Center is open from from late April (and sometimes not until early May) through early October. In spring and fall, the center is only open Wednesdays through Saturdays, so visit the website or call if you have any questions about dates of operation: 541-593-2421. You will need either a $5 Day Use pass (purchase at entrance), a $30 annual pass, or other valid recreation pass to visit Lava Lands.
Explore some more:
There is more easy hiking/walking nearby if you have the time and inclination. Here are some highlights that are easy to explore with children, and/or using a baby backpack or child carrier for babies and young toddlers. You’ll need your $5 Day Use pass at each of these sites.
And if you’ve got an extra 3 or 4 hours to spare, take your kids to visit the bobcat and other wild animals (and of course other numerous cultural and historical exhibits) at theHigh Desert Museum just up the road toward Bend.
Stay and play:
Many other campgrounds and resorts can be found throughout this part of Oregon that are not part of the monument. Visitwww.recreation.gov to search for additional campgrounds (and cabins, and resorts…) near Bend. The Central Oregon Visitors Association site will also help you locate hotels, vacation rentals, B&B’s, houseboat rentals, cabins, and resorts throughout the area.
Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning guideTravels with Baby
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