Like Pilot Butte in Bend, Lava Butte is one of the hundreds of cinder cones, fissures and vents populating the slopes of the massive Newberry Volcano, and it is a part of one of the most volcanically active geological areas in the country.* Standing roughly 500 feet above its surroundings, Lava Butte was created when gas-charged basalt spewed from a fissure,** and as the debris cooled in the form of cinders, it gradually piled up. Geologists have dated the event to roughly 7,000 years ago (6,150 carbon-14 years).
Since the early 1930s there has been vehicular access to the top of the butte, originally completed for the construction of its first lookout tower built in 1931. The original lookout tower was replaced in 1957 and then outfitted with a visitor center in 1962. In 1998 the tower was replaced with a new building modeled after the original Forest Service L-4 style, and this structure is still in active use for its original purpose.
Once at the summit, you will enjoy panoramic views of the central Oregon Cascades, Newberry Volcano and the approximately 9 square-mile field of basalt that encompasses the base of the cone. If you're looking to stretch your legs a little, there is a roughly half-mile loop that will take you around the butte's 160-foot deep crater where you'll get an up-close view of the magnetic red, almost orange hue of the cinder cone. Volcanic cinders can actually be found in various shades of red and black, or even iridescent colors; however, like at Lava Butte, many are red in tone due to the heavy iron content.
*Active is relative in this use of the word. In terms of the modern human era, the volcano is technically dormant.
** Fissures are linear volcanic vents, like a crack in the ground through which lava erupts, typically without much explosive activity.
Note: Visit Lava Lands Visitor Center website for specific days/hours when it is open to public.