If you’ve been following us for any length of time, you know we’re big fans of Newberry National Volcanic Monument. One of the most impressive spots in the monument is the Big Obsidian Flow. This amazing landscape is actually the youngest lava flow in the entire state of Oregon.
Obsidian isn’t rare-this black glass is found in many places around the globe. Formed by the rapid cooling of lava, it’s been used for years by native tribes for tools such as arrowheads and even sharp knives and surgical tools.
Even though Obsidian isn’t that rare, it’s likely you have never been to this type of a landscape. While this short trail requires a bit of stairclimbing, it’s totally worth making time to visit this attraction when visiting Newberry National Volcanic Monument.
BIG OBSIDIAN FLOW TRAIL DETAILS
- Difficulty: Easy
- Distance: 0.6 miles (round-trip)
- Trail: Out-and-back (with a short loop for part of the trail)
- Elevation gain: 197 feet
- Peak elevation reached: 6,600 feet
- Best time of year to hike: Fall through spring
- To beat the crowds: Arrive before 10:00 am or after 3:30 pm
- Footwear: Sneakers
- Watch out for: Mosquitoes, sun exposure
- Restrooms: Located at the trailhead, but not on the trail
- Pets: Not allowed
- Time needed: 30 minutes
PARKING AND TRAILHEAD FOR THE BIG OBSIDIAN FLOW TRAIL
Big Obsidian Flow Trail parking area, courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service
The Big Obsidian Flow Trail is on the south side of Paulina Lake Road, which is the main road that heads through the monument. After you enter the monument, you’ll pass the Paulina Visitor Center on the right and Lake Paulina on the left. Head east 2.2 miles and you’ll see the Big Obsidian Flow trailhead on the right side of the road.
You may run into traffic near Paulina Lake, but it will be light during most times of the day. Still, be sure to keep an eye out for pedestrian traffic between the lake and the visitor center.
- Directions from the Paulina Visitor Center to the Big Obsidian Flow Trailhead (this is 2.2 miles and will take about four minutes total)
- Directions from Bend, OR to the Big Obsidian Flow Trailhead (this is 47 miles and will take about 75 minutes total, depending on how much traffic there is when leaving Bend, OR)
The parking lot can hold about 35 vehicles. Since the trail is only about a mile long, if the parking lot is full you should plan on a spot opening up about once every 2 minutes or less. Just be patient, and you should be able to find a spot quickly.
Restrooms are available in the parking lot. There aren’t any restrooms on the trail.
BIG OBSIDIAN FLOW TRAIL: TRAIL SURFACE AND ACCESSIBILITY
- Trail surface. Even though this is a short trail, it has a wide variety of surfaces. The trail starts as packed dirt before transitioning to metal stairs. The bulk of the trail is on the obsidian flow. Much of the surface on the flow is slick, especially when wet.
- Accessibility. The trail is short, but unfortunately it is not accessible for wheelchairs. Those that can climb stairs will still have to be sure on their feet, as it is easy to lose balance on the obsidian!
The Big Obsidian Flow Trailhead is not accessible in the winter, as the road is closed.
PREPARATION FOR HIKING THE BIG OBSIDIAN FLOW TRAIL
The hike is short, and will be over in about 30 or 45 minutes. There really isn’t much you need to bring with you, but there are a few things that we recommend to ensure you and your family have a good time and stay safe:
- Trekking Poles. It may sound funny that such a short trail deserves some sturdy trekking poles, but because of the uneven and slippery landscape up on the flow, they really came in handy for us. Even our kids appreciated the extra help with their balance.
- First-Aid Kit. The obsidian rock can be made into very sharp instruments at the hand of a skilled artisan. It can also be made into a very sharp object by nature. If you fall, you’ll probably just get a bruise or a scratch, but it’s possible you could get cut. Bringing a hiking first-aid kit with you can really help, especially with kids if they get a cut.
- Sun Protection. After starting to climb the stairs, you’ll be exposed the entire time. Bringing a hat, sunglasses and sunblock is highly recommended. The obsidian can reflect the sun as well, amplifying the effect.
HIKING THE BIG OBSIDIAN FLOW TRAIL
Big Obsidian Flow Trail map, courtesy of the National Park Service
Starting on the southeast end of the parking lot, the trail heads through a shaded forest. This part of the trail lasts for about 0.1 mile and is nearly flat. This part of the trail is packed dirt and very easy to walk on. Alongside the trail are wildflowers intermixed with the trees.
After leaving the protection of the forest, you start to approach the stairs that climbs to the top of the obsidian flow. On the left side of you are the Lost Lakes, which are a set of three small lakes formed on the edge of the Obsidian Flow. While there are three lakes in total, you will only be able to see one full lake and part of another. The third is only visible if you hike the Lost Lake Trail (which is a 7.8-mile round-trip hike that starts just to the east of the Big Obsidian Flow trailhead).
The stairs help you climb about 50 feet over a very short distance. The stairs are safe, but they are metal. If you fall, you’ll likely get some pretty nasty scrapes, so watch your step! There is also a small observation deck about halfway up, which has some pretty nice views as well. If you have the energy, keep going and enjoy the views on the way down.
After you get to the top of the stairs, the path continues to climb a bit before reaching a loop. The loop traverses around a small portion of the Obsidian Flow. Along the route there are interpretive signs which help to explain the history of the area. This includes how obsidian is used around the world as well as what type of flora and fauna you may see in the area during certain times of year.
While you are at the top of the flow, the trail is completely exposed.
One note in particular-while it might be tempting, do not take any obsidian from the trail.
On the way back to the parking lot, be really careful on the way down the stairs in particular. The views can be distracting (because they are really amazing) and it can be easy to become unbalanced when descending.
BIG OBSIDIAN FLOW TRAIL: TOP LIKES AND DISLIKES
- Mix of Colors. Above all, we loved the variety of colors on this hike. You can see the blue in the lake, green in the hills and forest and the black obsidian all at once. It really is amazing.
- Obsidian. We’ve never experienced obsidian in this way, and the sheer amount of obsidian is really impressive.
- Trail Width. The trail is fairly narrow, meaning that if you want to pass people you will have to step aside on the obsidian. You can minimize the need for this by taking the same route as others and also being fairly relaxed on your hike. For us, most people went to the right and we followed in-kind.
THINGS TO DO NEAR THE BIG OBSIDIAN FLOW TRAIL
Since the Big Obsidian Flow trail is along the main road into Newberry National Volcanic Monument, it is really easy to drive to a few other activities nearby. A few close options include:
- The Paulina Visitor Center is just about 2 miles west of the Big Obsidian Flow trail. We highly recommend heading here to see what is going on in this part of the monument.
- If you like the Big Obsidian Flow trail, another great short hike is the Paulina Falls Trail. This is an easy, 0.5-mile round-trip hike that is a big contrast to the dry obsidian flow! There is a waterfall at the end of the trail that is fantastic.
- Make sure you also check out East Lake and Paulina Lake. They are great places to swim or for boating in particular. Even though they are very popular, there is a speed limit on the lakes making it very peaceful for kayaking or canoeing.
FURTHER INFORMATION ON NEWBERRY NATIONAL VOLCANIC MONUMENT FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- Our definitive guide for the monument can be found at What to See and Do in Newberry National Volcanic Monument. We also have a guide on the Paulina Falls Trail which is worth reviewing as well.
- While in the Bend area, be sure to check out Smith Rock State Park and the Misery Ridge Trail.
- If you happen to like vintage-style posters, check out our Newberry National Volcanic Monument posters.
- When you return from your trip, don’t forget to look at our custom, vintage posters. After you send us a photo, we’ll work with you to customize your wording and get the styling just right as we make a memory to last forever for you!