PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Two hours east of Portland on the outskirts of the Mount Hood National Forest, a 7,700-year-old mound of lava rocks rises 164 feet above the Hood River wine country.
Stretching more than 4 miles long and 4,000 feet wide, the picturesque pile of blocky andesite known as the Parkdale Lava Flow offers panoramic, backcountry views of snow-capped mountains and sprawling farmland set behind a frozen river of extrusive igneous rock.
While a huge majority of this striking geologic formation lies on public land, the natural wonder remains mostly unused by the general public. USFS spokesperson for the Mount Hood National Forest Raven Reese told KOIN 6 News that’s partly because the USFS hasn’t developed any significant trail systems in the area.
“We aren’t very engaged with work in this area in particular because it doesn’t have any recreation trails or other sites that we maintain,” Reese said.
While the area remains undeveloped, the lava flow is accessible to the general public from the Mt. Hood National Forest by Laurance Lake Road. However, a local geologist with the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries Jason McClaughry advised that the public should avoid walking on top of the formation without a designated trail.
“The upper surface of the lava flow is very blocky with numerous open spaces,” McClaughry told KOIN 6. “It is dangerous to walk on as you can fall into open spaces between boulders or get feet or legs caught in those spaces if you are not careful. Boulders can always have the potential to move when you least expect it.”
In its Comprehensive River Management Plan for Nine Wild and Scenic Rivers, the USFS called the Parkdale Lava Flow area “highly memorable” and “outstandingly remarkable.” It also stated that the area has the potential to be a significant tourist attraction. While there are no current plans to develop the property, Reese said that the Mount Hood National Forest Wilderness Planner intends to evaluate the area in the next year to determine if interpretation or recreational features can be added to the Parkdale Lava Flow.
“The area has a high potential for interpreting volcanic processes that could attract users from around the region to view the Parkdale Lava Beds,” the river management plan states. “However, this would require a large financial investment and there are no plans to enhance the conservation education in the area.”
The geologic history of the area is also interesting. The lava flow, which vented from fissures in the ground near the base of Mount Hood, is believed to have occurred at roughly the same time as the eruption of Mount Mazama, which created the Crater Lake caldera. While the Parkdale Lava Flow likely came from the same magmatic system as Mount Hood summit lavas, McClaughry said that the vent is technically considered a separate, dormant volcano. The dramatic formation is considered one of the largest and youngest eruptions in the Cascades between Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson. The lava flow was so immense, its contents could fill more than 120,000 Olympic swimming pools.
Those interested in visiting the formation should be aware that there are no restrooms in the immediate area. However, vault toilets are located roughly two miles away at the Kinnikinnick Campground at Laurance Lake. Those brave enough to venture onto the rocky badland are also asked to be mindful of the private property located to the north and northeast of the formation.
“We are neither encouraging nor discouraging visitors from hiking out there at this time,” Reese said. “Since we aren’t in that area much, we don’t know if there are safety hazards. It’s worth noting that visitors may not know the property boundaries and, thus, may accidentally trespass on private lands.”