Panoramic View of Ponderosa in Kipuka

Kipukas - Forest Islands in a Sea of Lava

One of the more interesting geologic features of Central Oregon are kipukas (meaning “a variation or change in form” in the Hawaiian language). These are islands where lava flows have surrounded patches of older terrain, isolating them from the surrounding landscape.

Aerial Photo of Kipukas

Central Oregon Kipukas
It’s hard to imagine a more dramatic contrast between the dry, rocky, barren fields of lava surrounding the relatively moist, shady, flourishing islands of forest. Unlike Hawaiian kipukas, where new species often evolve in these isolated habitats, the kipuka forests of Central Oregon vary only slightly from the norm, with just minor differences in species composition, fire histories, etc. But since many have never been logged, they can offer an interesting look at old-growth forest conditions before European settlement.

The Three Kipuka Islands Hike
Where to visit Central Oregon kipukas? One of the most accessible is found on Forest Service land east of Highway 97, just south of Newberry Volcanic National Monument (see PDF map download below). Here are three kipuka islands, from 2 to 27 acres and connected by a trail, all within the South Sugarpine Lava Flow.
Road into Sugarpine Lava Flow
This basaltic flow erupted some 7,000 years ago from fissure vents in the Northwest Rift Zone, below the rim of the Newberry Caldera. It’s an a’a lava flow, about 25’ thick, with loose, rough chunks of lava on its surface. Though the short route across the lava follows an old road, hikers should be sure to wear sturdy shoes!

The hike starts at the junction of Forest Roads 9725 and 600, where one can park on the shoulder of the road. For the first 0.7 miles, the route follows Road 600 north to the lava flow, through small, second-growth ponderosa and lodgepole pines. One can drive this section of road to the lava, but by walking it, one gains a better appreciation of the uncut forests within the kipukas.

At the edge of the lava, the road narrows and climbs abruptly up onto the flow, and it’s just a 150-yard hike across the rough rocks to the first kipuka island. Look for fascinating pillars of lava on the top of the flow. Descending off the flow, one meets the first of the huge, red ponderosas that escaped railroad logging in this part of the forest in the early 1900s.

For the next 0.4 miles, the route follows a prominent trail through this 27-acre kipuka island, past stands of big, old-growth ponderosas lining the edge of the lava field. To see such large and healthy trees in this dry rocky environment, one suspects they are getting subsurface water flow off the lava field uphill to the east.

Old-Growth Ponderosas on Kipuka

Beyond the first kipuka island, the old road turns into a faint track, which winds through a narrow slot between the lava fields. At 1.2 miles, the path crosses the second kipuka island, just over an acre in size, then climbs again up onto the lava. From this vantage point on top of the flow, one has long views southeast to the Newberry Caldera rim. At 1.5 miles, one descends into the third kipuka island, about 14 acres in size, with more big pines amidst the lava. Enjoy a good rest and perhaps a lunch, then return as you came.

Download (PDF, 852 KB): Photos of Three Kipuka Islands Hike
Download (PDF, 786 KB): Travel Map to Three Kipuka Islands Hike

DISCLAIMER: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this information, but the authors do not guarantee that it is either current or correct. The reader assumes full responsibility for any use of this information, and is encouraged to exercise all due caution while recreating.

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