brokentop1If you are looking for a very challenging hike with beautiful views of South, Middle and North Sister and beyond, maybe you should hike the Broken Top Trail. Broken Top, with an elevation of 9,175 ft is Oregon’s 23rd highest mountain, and on a hike up to a to the “Hidden” or “Unnamed” moraine lake on the east side of Broken Top you will have an elevation gain of about 1,755 feet, taking you to 8,272 feet, with a roundtrip hike of about 5.7 miles. Interested, well grab your CamelBak, other Hydration Pack or Hydro Flask, check out these hiking tips, and get ready for a very challenging beautiful hike!

Broken Top is an extinct, glacially eroded stratovolcano comprised mostly of basaltic andesite that most likely hasn’t erupted in the last 100,000 years. Besides the base of basaltic andesite lava, Broken Top is also comprised of oxidized agglomerate, and flows of silicic lava, dacite, rhyodacite, and pyroclastic flows. Looking at the volcanic crater one might think it had an explosive eruption like Mount St. Helens, but it was most likely created through subsidence. No matter how it was formed, Broken Top is a majestic mountain to look at, and to hike around.

To get to the trail leading to the moraine lake on the east side of Broken Top you can go one of two ways. One requires a longer hike than I mentioned above, the other requires a high clearance vehicle capable of handling a five mile very rough dirt road. We were lucky enough to have friends with vehicles that could handle the dirt roads, so I am going to talk about the shorter hike here.

Broken Top Trail Photo Gallery

View photo gallery of the Broken Top Trail hike to the “Hidden” or “Unnamed” moraine lake on the east side of Broken Top gallery.

To get to the shorter route via the rough dirt road, drive out the Cascade Lakes Highway west of Bend for about 23.7 miles, about 1.8 miles past the Mt. Bachelor Ski Area, turn right at a sign for Todd Lake on forest Road 370 for half a mile. Drive through the gate at the end of the parking area and continue on the very rough dirt road. Keep in mind the gate will be closed until the snow is gone and it is passable. You will travel about 3.5 miles on forest road 370 and turn left on forest road 380 for about 1.3 miles to reach the parking area for the Broken Top trailhead.

brokentop2Once you get to the parking area the kiosk for filling out your wilderness permit is located at the end of the parking area, and there is an outhouse if you need that as well. Keep in mind that it is kind of a remote area, so the outhouse is not one of the best maintained that you will find. After filling out your wilderness permit, you will hike about 1/2 mile to a fork that can take you on the official Broken Top Trail, or the one we took, that while isn’t an official trail it is well traveled and easy to find.

If you take the official trail to the left you will come to another junction further on that will take you north up toward Broken Top’s caldera, and from what I have been told a fantastic hike as well. However, our guides for the day who took us up to the area prefer the unofficial trail described here. We will have to leave the other trail for another time, perhaps after we get our own truck or jeep.

brokentop3At the first fork mentioned above, head right. After a short time you will cross a stream and pass some small waterfalls as the trail begins its climb up Broken Top. You will hike through some small trees until it passes into alpine terrain consisting of boulders, glacier-smoothed bedrock and even at the end of July in a low snow year, some snow fields.

While the trail we took is not an official trail, we were accompanied by a forest ranger for almost our whole hike. This young man was very helpful with answering questions on the trail, and the surrounding area.

After about 1.5 miles of steady climbing up the trail you will see a jagged hillside notch to the left that marks the outlet of the hidden lake’s creek near a sandy moraine hill. This part of the trail is a little rough, and the trail is almost nonexistent in some places, you will have to be very careful and hold on to boulders in some places during the climb through this area so you don’t slide into the gully below. While not a long slide, you don’t want to slip here as you would probably get scraped up a bit at least, or break a bone or two if you are unlucky. Since I was just 12 weeks out from having both hips replaced the day we did this hike, it probably seemed a little more treacherous than it really was, because our hosts got past this section very easily.

As you top this area of the hike you will find a beautiful lake below Bend Glacier, which is located on the east side of Broken Top. My wife and I were captivated by this little lake, and the surrounding area. However our guide told us that we were not quite finished climbing for the day. He pointed up the trail about another 0.7 mile from the lake, up to a pass known as Broken Saddle which is at about 8,300 feet in altitude, and said we would regret it if we didn’t hike up that final section. We both agreed and continued up the trail.

The day we did this hike was an overcast day, and clouds were hanging on all the mountains in the area, so while beautiful, our view was not as good as one would find on a clear day. The view from Broken Saddle on a clear day is awe-inspiring according to our guides, and you can see a lot of Central Oregon, including the Three Sisters, Mount Adams to the north, and the peaks that circle Waldo Lake to the south.

brokentop4The distance to Broken Saddle from the Broken Top trailhead is about 2.6 miles, and if you want you can continue up the trail even more, but we decided we had gone far enough, so we stopped for a well deserved rest, and some lunch.

After eating our lunch, and resting up we went back down the way we came. I found the narrow section of the trail just before the lake that I described above a little easier going down, but I was glad to get past it.

The hike down the mountain back to the trailhead was beautiful, as even though I try to look behind me when I hike, I saw things I didn’t see on the way up, and stopped to take a lot of photos.

We look forward to making the trip back up the rough dirt road to explore some of the other trails in the Broken Top area.

Fees: You can use a Northwest Forest Pass to park, or pay the $5 day use fee.

The trail is in the Three Sisters Wilderness, so wilderness permits are required for both day-use and overnight travel in the Three Sisters Wilderness area from Memorial Day Weekend until Oct. 31. Free permits are available at the trailhead, so no worries just follow the directions.

Dogs need to be on-leash in Three Sisters Wilderness on the Green Lakes, Moraine Lakes, South Sister, Soda Creek, Todd Lake and Crater Ditch Trails, from July 15 to September 15.

Keep in mind that while the road is very rough, this is a heavily used trail, and parking may be limited, especially on weekends.

Permits: Day and overnight visitors entering the Three Sisters Wilderness are required to obtain a permit between Memorial Day and October 31. They are free of charge and must be self-issued at trailheads. One Exception: All visitors entering the Obsidian Limited Entry Area must obtain a limited entry permit from McKenzie River Ranger District (Willamette NF) or Sisters Ranger District (Deschutes NF).

You will find useful information on the Deschutes National Forest and Three Sisters Wilderness at the U.S. Forest Service website.

Please note: The Northwest Forest Pass is required at some trailheads on National Forests in Oregon and Washington. These passes are distinct from the wilderness permits. Go to the Recreation Passes & Permits page for more information on the Northwest Forest Pass, including cost and how to get a pass.

Broken Top Trail hike – parking and trailhead

Hydration Packs, Hydro Flasks & Hiking Tips

Hydration Packs help Outdoor enthusiasts stay hydrated without having to carry a water bottle. and give the hiker hours of hydration. You can find a wide variety of hydration packs at Amazon.com that will suit the need of almost every hiker and outdoor enthusiast.

If you prefer not to carry a hydration pack, but instead prefer to carry a couple water bottles, I recommend purchasing a Hydro Flask from Amazon.com. Hydro Flasks will keep cold drinks cold for up to 24 hours, and hot drinks hot for up to 12 hours. Perfect for hiking.

What do I carry? Well both, because I like having lots of water on a hiking outing. And don’t forget to check out this list of hiking tips for some of the other essential items you should always have when out hiking.