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Paulina Lake Loop Trail + Hot Springs

Paulina Lake Loop Trail + Hot Springs, OR

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Hot SpringsSwimming Holes + Cliff JumpingBig Vistas (Viewpoints)Hiking (moderate)
Region: 
Central Oregon
Total distance: 
7.80 miles
Trailhead elev.: 
6,350 ft.
Net elev. gain: 
20 ft.
Trail type: 
Loop
Congestion: 
Moderate
Preferable Season(s):
Summer, Fall
Dogs allowed: 
Yes
Road condition: 
Paved
Day-Use/Parking Pass Required:
NW Forest Pass
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Tyson Gillard | 09.22.12
Paulina Lake Loop Trailhead at Little Crater Campground.

Trip Report

Pros: 
Swimming in opal waters. Hot springs. Nearby camping.
Cons: 
Only easily accessible in summer.

If you were just looking at the water in Paulina Lake, you might think you were somewhere closer to the equator.  The good news for hikers is that there is a 7.8-mile loop that will take you around the entire lake.  And tucked away just on the edge of a beach lined with grasses and reeds is one of the most tranquil and relaxing hot springs in the entire northwest.

Paulina Lake sits at an elevation of 6,340 feet on the western side of Newberry Volcano's 5-mile wide caldera.  Like Crater Lake, the volcano's core has collapsed, and at one time it was most-likely filled with one continuous body of water.  With subsequent eruptions, however, more recent lava flows have filled in the caldera, separating the single lake into what is now two bodies, Paulina Lake and East Lake.

Walking the trail in its entirety is certainly well worth it. If your time is limited, the most captivating section of the trail departs northward from Little Crater Campground.  By passing through the Inter Lake Obsidian Flow you can make it to the aforementioned idyllic beach hot springs in only 1.2 miles. Note that the springs may be more accurately described as 'warm,' as the water temperature surely remains somewhere south of 95 degrees.  The spring is only slightly built out with logs to support its perimeter, and unlike the springs along East Lake's southern shore, the smell of sulfur is virtually non-existent.  Continue an additional 0.4 miles and you'll reach the pebbly North Beach; if you have a shovel ready you can dig out and build your own custom hot spring right on the beach.

If you are looking to camp along the trail you will find some backcountry campsites at the North Cove Beach, roughly 1 mile west of North Beach.  The best views of the lake, Paulina Peak, Diamond Peak and Mount Thielsen are on the section of trail between the two beaches.

If you are camping at Little Crater Campground or the Newberry Group Camp, try to catch the sunset from the top of Little Crater, where you will also be able to glimpse Mount Bachelor and South Sister to the northwest.

Note: Overnight camping is not permitted at the log-supported warm springs or North Beach.

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Comments + Trip Reports

07.29.14(Trip Date)

Algae was blooming hardcore in Paulina lake. The lake was green alright, but not because of the mineral deposits. I would call ahead if you planning on visiting any time soon. If the coast is clear, I would highly recommend visiting the resorts at either Paulina or East lake (very close to one another). They sell food, beer, AND rent kayaks/canoes. The hotsprings on Paulina lake were also pretty funky. East lake had a wonderful hot spring on its south-western shore. To get there, follow the sign that says "hot springs, boat ramp". When facing the water at the floating dock, take the path to the left and follow it around the rocky outcropping. A hidden beach contains a few spots that were not dug out yet. Even further around the cliff-like out cropping was an awesome pool with a nice inflow of really hot and chilly water that you could lie in and move the water around to get it just right. If Paulina lake is still ridden with algae, I would opt for camping near East lake instead. Also, be aware that both of these lakes are swarming with RVs and there are quite a few motor boats on the lake. It's not quite as serene/remote as I had initially thought. But it was a lovely area nonetheless.

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