This should be your number-one place to see when you’re visiting the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. A spiral road takes you up to the top of an ancient volcano, where you can hike around the rim of the crater and enjoy the views.
Lava Butte will catch your attention as you drive down US 97 south of Bend. This old volcanic cone formed 7,000 years ago, during a two-phase eruption that blasted lava into the air, then sent a flow of hot basalt across the nearby landscape.
Nowadays, things are much quieter. There’s a road carved into the side of the mountain, allowing you to circle the hill…
… ending up at a small parking area at the top. From here, you can hike up to the fire tower (which is still in use), at the highest point of the mountain.
You can also hike the short (1/4 mile) trail that loops around the rim…
… of the small crater at the top.
The summit of Lava Butte is about 100 feet higher than the lowest point on the rim, and about 160 feet above the deepest point in the crater.
The trail may be short, but it’s steep enough to quickly sap your energy — especially since the surface of the trail is loose, deep gravel-like volcanic rock.
At the top, you can peek into the fire tower. While it is still used, no one was home during my visit.
The current fire tower looks new, and there’s a good reason. It was constructed in 1998 — however, several other fire towers have stood in this same spot, dating back at least to 1933. This location is one of three original fire lookouts in the area.
You’ll enjoy a great view from the top of Lava Butte. Here, you can see US 97 headed northbound, with Bend in the distance.
Also worth mentioning: not far from Lava Butte, you can hike through a lava tube at Lava River Caves. You’ll need to bring (or rent) a lantern, since the lava tubes are not lit. I had planned to visit the cave on my second day in the Bend area…
… but it just happened to be a Tuesday, which means I drove all the way down from Bend, in the rain, to discover this barricade in my way. Not cool, NPS.
The Bottom Line
Lava Butte is a great place to get acquainted with the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Not only do you get to view the lay of the land, you also get an up-close view at one of the area’s prominent volcanic formations. Make a quick stop at the Lava Lands visitor center, then drive up the hill.
Lava Butte is located directly behind the Lava Lands Visitor Center. From Bend, drive south on US 97, and take exit 151.
To get permission to drive up to the top of Lava Butte, you’ll need to check in at the visitor center. Due to limited parking at the top, access is restricted to a few cars every half-hour. A pass is free, but you may have to wait a while during busy times.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive to the top of Lava Butte and out to Benham Falls: