Coffeepot Crater

  • Easy
  • 1.1-mile loop
  • 140 feet elevation gain
  • Open except in wet weather
  • Use: hikers

At the Jordan Craters lava beds, a row of spatter cones rises from one of Oregon’s most remote sagebrush landscapes. The easy hiking trail that circles Coffeepot Crater here is open all year, but you won’t want to attempt this trip in just any weather. January temperatures may cower below freezing all day. The blazing August sun can bake the desert at 120F. During rare rainstorms, the final miles of the dirt access road can become a quagmire of mud ruts and giant puddles. Perhaps the friendliest month is June, when the desert here greets visitors with giant pink bitterroot blooms.

The Jordan Craters lava beds are one result of North America’s shearing collision with the North Pacific seafloor plate. That collision has stretched Oregon diagonally, allowing lava to leak up along a 200-mile swarm of fractures that extend west to the Newberry National Volcanic Monument near Bend. Eruptions at Jordan Craters began less than 9000 years ago when lava spattered to the surface in a 300-yard-long row of cones. An explosion blasted Coffeepot Crater at the lower end of the string. Then vents unleashed a flow of soupy pahoehoe basalt lava that inundated 27 square miles of desert.

Locals have been known to boast that the Jordan Craters lava beds are so fresh you can find cowboy bootprints in them. That puffery won unexpected credence when geologists discovered an 18-acre portion of the lava field that may in fact be only 100 years old.

Start your visit by …

… But as you leave, pause where the road passes above the spatter cones. In May and June the barren desert gravel here erupts with the seemingly leafless, 2-inch-wide, creamy white blooms of Lewisia rediviva, the bitterroot flower.

This chapter taken from the book 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Eastern Oregon.