Oregon’s lava cast forest is located in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument and features an important remnant of the Earth’s early volcanic history. Hikers of all abilities can enjoy the paved trail through the lava casts at this stunning Oregon location, but first you have to find it!
Visiting a Geological Marvel
The more we explore Oregon, the more we understand just how geologically diverse this state is. Oregon is full of geological marvels, from Crater Lake to Smith Rock, to the Lava Cast Forest.
But what is a lava cast forest? And how did the lava cast forest come to be?
The lava cast forest is full of ghosts of former trees, encased in lava. When the Newberry Volcano erupted 6,000 years ago, a slow-moving lava flow engulfed the area.
As the lava flowed around the trees in what is now the lava cast forest, the steam from the burning trees cooled the lava. The trees then burned and rotted away, leaving a perfect “cast” of lava around the trunks. The roots from the trees still remain beneath the lava flow to this day.
What It’s Like to Visit Oregon’s Lava Cast Forest
Unlike the majority of the Newberry Volcanic Monument hikes and locations, the Lava Cast Forest is quiet and out of the way. During our visit in June of 2023, we encountered hordes of people at the visitors center, the lava tube, and at the other hikes, but the lava cast forest provided solitude and peace.
In fact, we were the only ones there during our late afternoon visit. This gave us the opportunity to explore the trail at our own pace.
The trail is roughly one mile long and paved almost the entire way. The first third of the trail is even wheelchair accessible, before it narrows and the terrain roughens a bit.
The trail features signs throughout to explain the history of the area and the lava casts. At one point, the trail opens up to the lava flow below.
Views are spectacular here. The sky is expansive above the trees that have dared to grow from the harsh landscape. The stark contrast of blue sky, black lava flows, and green trees will take your breath away.
The hike itself is easy, and perfect for all levels of hikers. The trail is mostly flat, with one section of slight decline, and one section of slight incline. The lava cast forest hike is a loop trail.
Finding the Lava Cast Forest
We were excited to learn about the Lava Cast Forest at the Newberry National Volcanic Monument Visitor Center and expected it to be as easy to locate as the visitor center and Lava Tube cave were. Finding the Lava Cast Forest, however, requires some well-marked directions and some perseverance.
A 4-wheel drive vehicle is also advised when visiting in winter or when the roads are muddy, but during the dry summer months, we were able to make the drive in a mini van, although it took us a while.
In the drier months, the road becomes wash boarded and bumpy. We had to travel at a relatively slow pace throughout most of the journey to avoid being vibrated to death from the road’s surface.
The beginning of the journey is a well-maintained dirt forest road, but the road worsens the further you go. Soon the road is bumpy and rough riding, and then immediately before the trail head, you will need to travel through roughly a half mile of narrow, winding, and very rough, somewhat rocky terrain.
Once you arrive at the trailhead, you will see it is very well maintained with easy parking access, and ample spaces to park.
Directions to the Trailhead
When you are inside of the visitor’s center, the large 3D map makes the lava cast forest look like it is in close proximity to the main area of the park. That is not necessarily the case. To get to the Lava Cast Forest trailhead, you can follow these directions. It’s advisable that you put them into your GPS and map the route before you set out.
From the Newberry Volcanic Monument Visitor’s Center, get on highway 97 heading South, and exit on exit 153. Take a left onto Lava Cast Forest Rd. Once you enter the forest, this road is called NF9720.
You will follow this road for about 9 miles, until it ends at the trailhead. Be aware of the road you are on, as many roads veer off from this National Forest road, and it can be very confusing. This is where having the route set in your GPS can let you know if you’ve veered off of NF9720.
After about 4 miles on this road, you will need to stay right, to remain on Lava Cast Forest Road.
This happens again about 4 miles down the road, about a ½ mile from the trailhead. Here, you will see a sign that states the trailhead is to the right. Turn right and travel up the rough road to the trailhead.
We did have cell service almost the entire way, and ample service at the trailhead.
Additionally, this area is being actively maintained, so expect to see logging efforts and maybe even a controlled burn during certain seasons.
What to Expect at Oregon’s Lava Cast Forest Trailhead
For being in the middle of the forest, the lava cast forest trailhead is surprisingly large and well maintained.
There are a lot of parking spaces, even some for RVs, which is a bit comical because I am not sure RVS could make the journey without some major road improvements.
Also at the trailhead, you will find a clean vault toilet, and a trail map.