Trekking the Shimmering Path: A Guide to Oregon’s Big Obsidian Flow Trail

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The Bog Obsidian Flow Trail winds through the youngest lava flow in Oregon. The roughly one square mile area is made up of glossy black obsidian and pumice stone. This hike is one of the most unique experiences in all of the diverse state of Oregon.

What is the Big Obsidian Flow?

The Big Obsidian Flow trail is located inside of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Obsidian is a glossy, shiny black rock formed during the right conditions of a volcanic eruption.

The flow near Newberry is about one square mile, and was formed during the final stage of an eruption, when magma with little gas inside of it cooled quickly, before it could crystallize. The result was obsidian.

Obsidian seen up close
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The Big Obsidian Flow is not the only source of obsidian in Oregon, but it is the most accessible, the largest in the state, and the most breathtaking. Located near Paulina Lake, the glossy black obsidian stands out in stark contrast to the blues and greens of the landscape.

Hiking the Big Obsidian Flow Trail

The Big Obsidian Flow trail quickly brings you from the parking lot located off of Paulina Lake Road directly to the bottom of the flow. The trail begins with a large set of stairs, and then gradually becomes a part of the flow.

The trail is an approximate one-mile long loop. Hikers will follow the same spur in the beginning and the end, before encountering the split off. (imagine it as almost lollipop shaped.)

Hiking the Big Obsidian Flow is mainly walking on rocks.
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The Big Obsidian Flow trail features different viewpoints that allow you to see the lake and the entire flow. The trail winds through the obsidian, so you’ll get an up close and personal look at the rocks of various shapes, sizes, and levels of gloss. Some of the stone is rougher pumice stone, but most is shiny obsidian.

The trail features elevation changes, and rough terrain. For those who are not able to hike, the obsidian flow can be seen from the bottom from a paved trail.

Warnings for Hiking the Bog Obsidian Flow Trail

The Big Obsidian Flow trail starts out with a steep, long staircase. The stairs have a rough tread on them, but do have a sturdy handrail. After traversing the stairs, you’ll find yourself on a landing. Many people stop here for a viewpoint of the flow, and do not continue on.

If you choose to continue, expect some rough terrain. Since the trail leads over and through the flow, closed toed shoes and even long pants are recommended, as the rock can be very sharp. To avoid injuries, be sure to stay on the trail, where a lot of the sharp points have been worn down.

Staircase and trail view of the Big Obsidian Flow Trail
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The trail does have some inclines, some of which are steep. This paired with the uneven footing can be a challenge for some hikers, especially those whose balance isn’t as steady.

As you can probably guess based on the rough footing, the Big Obsidian Flow trail is not recommended for dogs. The rock can cut their feet, and the staircase is rough and uncomfortable for them as well.

Lastly, it is important to note that it is illegal to remove ANY obsidian from the Big Obsidian Flow Trail.

Things to Know Before You Go: Big Obsidian Flow Trail

Hikers on the Trail of the Big Obsidian Flow Trail
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  • Cell service is hit or miss in the area of the Big Obsidian Flow
  • A Northwest forest pass is required for parking at the trailhead. These can be purchased here.
  • The trailhead has a vault toilet.
  • The trail covers approximately one mile, gains about 200’ in elevation and averages a 10% grade.
  • You can expect to spend about an hour navigating the trail and taking photos. Could be longer depending on the sure footedness of your group.
  • During summer, and peak times, expect the trailhead and first viewpoint (after the stairs) to be heavily trafficked. Traffic drops off the further into the hike you go.
  • Rangers can often be found here during popular visiting times, to answer questions and help with directions.

Things to do Nearby

Paulina and East Lake

The Big Obsidian Flow Trail is located across the street from Paulina Lake. Paulina and East Lake offer swimming, hiking, cabins, dining and boating and fishing.

Paulina Lake is the larger lake, and is typically the first one you will encounter. East Lake is smaller, generally less populated, and at a higher elevation

Lava Cast Forest

Another unique area to see inside of the Newberry Volcanic Monument, not too far from the Big Obsidian Flow trail, is the Lava Cast Forest.

This short hike takes you through a unique phenomenon. Trees that long ago burned up, remain perfectly encased in lava. It’s a bit of a challenge to get there, but worth it!

Lava River Cave

The Lava River Cave is also located not too far from the Big Obsidian Flow Trail. The cave is not exactly that, but instead a large underground tube created by an ancient lava flow.

The cave is open to visitors, with some precautions and scheduling. The lava tube stretches a mile beneath the surface and allows for the opportunity to see some unique geological structures.

Newberry Volcanic Monument Visitors Center

The Visitors center of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument is the perfect place to start your journey before heading out to the volcanic wonders like the Big Obsidian Flow Trail.

The visitors center has a couple hikes, including one through a more traditional lava flow, as well as the opportunity to walk around the top of a caldera.

Here, you can get souvenirs, talk to the rangers, use a real toilet, or look at the maps of all this area has to offer.

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Ali Patton

Ali is a travel blogger for Seconds to Go, where she shares her experiences traveling the U.S. with her co-blogger Mom, Kathleen. She is also an avid Disney travel enthusiast, and with multiple Disney World trips under her belt, is a knoweldgeable resource for all things related to Disney vacations. Ali can be found managing the Seconds to Go social media accounts as well as the famed Double Z Farm pages on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok.

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Kathleen Hesketh and Ali Patton, mother daughter travel bloggers

We're Kat and Ali, a pair of mother-daughter travel bloggers exploring the U.S. We're sharing our experiences, tips and insights to help you more easily get out and explore the beautiful landscapes and places of this nation.

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Ali Patton

Ali is a travel blogger for Seconds to Go, where she shares her experiences traveling the U.S. with her co-blogger Mom, Kathleen. She is also an avid Disney travel enthusiast, and with multiple Disney World trips under her belt, is a knoweldgeable resource for all things related to Disney vacations. Ali can be found managing the Seconds to Go social media accounts as well as the famed Double Z Farm pages on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok.

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