Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Sept. 22, 2021

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Hiking Oregon’s Peter Skene Ogden National Scenic Trail

2 Photos
Bend???s Mark Johnson takes in the scenery near a double waterfall along Paulina Creek.
Bend???s Mark Johnson takes in the scenery near a double waterfall along Paulina Creek. (Mark Morical/The Bulletin/TNS) Photo Gallery

BEND, Ore. — Three years had passed since I last hiked the Peter Skene Ogden National Scenic Trail along Paulina Creek with my friend Mark Johnson.

Time goes by awfully fast these days. Still, it had been long enough to forget the details of the numerous water wonders that line the 9.4-mile trail just outside the Newberry National Volcanic Monument east of La Pine.

Paulina Creek 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.

Johnson and I set out Friday, June 4, for a half-day hike along the trail, which runs from Ogden Group Site at its west end to Paulina Lake at its east end. Several starting points exist for hikers, but we opted for McKay Crossing, located about a third of the way up the trail at a picturesque campground. It was about a half-hour drive from Bend.

The Peter Skene Ogden Trail was named after a trapper with the Hudson’s Bay Company who made the first recorded trip by a person of European descent 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 trail that took us through an area that included smaller, second-growth pine trees. This makes for a potentially hot section of trail, and we were getting a bit of a late start.

But we reached the shade of taller trees soon enough.

It was not long before we encountered the first small waterfall feature. After that, we came across waterfalls about every half-mile or so.

Highlights included a small but beautiful waterfall that hikers can walk nearly all the way behind, taking in the mist and the thick moss that lines the rocks behind the falls. There is also a wider double falls a bit farther up the trail. Hikers can walk out onto smooth, flat rocks for an up-close view of these falls.

Towering Paulina Creek Falls near Paulina Lake marks the east end of the trail, but we had no interest in hiking that far. Walking all the way to those falls and Paulina Lake would be about a 14-mile round trip, and that was way more than we wanted to attempt. Besides, Paulina Creek Falls can be viewed after a short walk from a parking area farther up the road.

Later in the summer, Paulina Creek transitions from a hiking destination to a swimming-and-sliding destination. 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.

Three years ago, Johnson and I hiked the trail in August, and we came across dozens of folks enjoying the cold water slides on a hot day. In late spring though, nobody appeared bold enough to take the plunge on a day when temperatures reached about 80 degrees. We also saw far fewer other hikers in general this time around, coming across just three or four other trekkers. (The Peter Skene Ogden Trail is open to biking as well, but uphill only.)

After hiking about 3 miles, we decided to turn around and head back to McKay Crossing, making for about a 6-mile trek that required about 2 hours, 40 minutes. We gained nearly 700 feet on the hike, topping out at an elevation of 5,420 feet. (Paulina Lake sits at 6,331 feet, nearly 1,000 feet higher up the trail.)

Paulina Creek certainly makes for an enjoyable and scenic hike, especially during the late spring before the crowds of swimmers and sliders arrive.

Aside from hiking, Newberry Crater offers a bounty of recreational activities. The fishing in Paulina and East lakes can be phenomenal, and this time of year the kokanee are usually biting. As the snow melts at higher elevations this summer the hiking trail up Paulina Peak (7,984 feet) and the Newberry Crater rim loop, popular with mountain bikers, become accessible.

Bur for now, a relatively easy and peaceful walk along Paulina Creek is enough to enjoy the natural water wonders of Newberry.