For those who love lakes, creeks and mountain peaks, the Newberry National Volcanic Monument east of La Pine offers a bounty of recreational activities.
The fishing in Paulina and East lakes can be phenomenal. Hiking Paulina Peak is a memorable outing. And for mountain bikers, the Newberry Crater rim loop is a signature Central Oregon ride.
Perhaps lesser known are the hiking opportunities along Paulina Creek, which flows with abandon out of Paulina Lake, starting with Paulina Creek Falls and then surging west downhill to form numerous smaller waterfalls and water features.
The 9.4-mile Peter Skene Ogden National Scenic Trail follows Paulina Creek through this water wonderland, from Ogden Group Site to the west and Paulina Lake to the east. Several starting points exist for hikers, but McKay Crossing, about a third of the way up the trail, seems to me to be one of the best options.
Hiking partner Mark Johnson and I made the half-hour drive from Bend to McKay Crossing on a Saturday morning earlier this month, a little unsure of what to expect.
The Peter Skene Ogden Trail was named after a trapper with the Hudson’s Bay Company who made the first recorded trip into Central Oregon in 1825, according to the Oregon Historical Society. Ogden crossed the Crooked River country to the northeast. The city of Ogden, Utah, is also named after him.
Starting out from McKay Crossing Campground, we followed a wide, dusty trail that took us through an area that included smaller, second-growth pine trees. This makes for a potentially hot section of trail, but it was early enough in the morning that the temperature still felt quite pleasant.
Hikers need not walk long before they come across the first little waterfall feature. After that, waterfalls seem to appear every half mile or so, making this relatively easy hike rewarding for all the creek scenery.
Our plan was to hike 4 miles out and 4 miles back for an 8-mile round-trip trek. Walking all the way to Paulina Creek Falls and Paulina Lake would be about a 14-mile round trip, and that was more than we wanted to attempt.
After a couple of miles we had encountered only two other hikers, and we were remarking about the solitude before we arrived at one perfectly picturesque waterfall. A crowd of 20 or so folks were swimming, jumping into the creek from near the falls, and snapping photos.
This time of year Paulina Creek transitions from a hiking destination to a swimming-and-sliding destination. The group we encountered was part of the Paulina Plunge, billed by paulinaplunge.com as a “downhill waterfall mountain bike tour” along the creek. (The biking is on forest roads near the creek, as Peter Skene Ogden Trail is open to biking, but uphill only.)
A few of the waterfalls along the creek form naturally smooth rock slides, and many adventurers enjoy sliding down these formations on hot summer days.
I resisted the urge to jump in or to try the slides myself, as the air temperature remained in the 70s on the rather mild day, not quite hot enough to lure me into the creek’s cold water.
We continued our uphill jaunt, passing by several more waterfalls, including a dramatic double falls, cascading side by side.
At the 4-mile mark we turned around and started back downhill. As I suspected, we encountered far more folks on our way back. Some of them were hikers, but most seemed intent on more of a swimming outing. A couple of shirtless guys dragged a cooler along the dusty trail. One fellow was even wheeling a suitcase along the path, as if he was searching for his gate at the airport rather than a natural waterslide. It was surreal.
Despite the crowds of swimmers and sliders during late summer, Paulina Creek makes for an enjoyable and scenic hike near the incredible Newberry National Volcanic Monument.
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