The snow continues to melt at high elevations, and more and more trails in Central Oregon are opening up to hikers.
As you make plans for alpine treks this season, below is a top-five list of summertime hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades range that should become relatively snow-free in the coming weeks.
Keep in mind that all of these hikes now will require a Central Cascades wilderness permit, purchased within seven days before the start of a trip if not already purchased in advance of the season. (See information box). While the permit system means hikers must now plan ahead more, it should help alleviate overcrowding and overuse in these spectacular wilderness areas.
1. Green Lakes
Features: The 9.1-mile out-and-back trail to Green Lakes is one of the most popular hiking paths in Oregon. The trail in the Three Sisters Wilderness follows babbling Fall Creek through a dense forest and leads hikers to the clear alpine lakes between South Sister and Broken Top. The trail only gains about 1,200 feet in elevation along the way, but it connects with the summit hikes to both South Sister and Broken Top. For alpine vistas, Green Lakes is about as good as it gets. And there is nothing quite like taking a dip in one of the lakes on a hot day as South Sister towers above you.
Directions: The Green Lake/Soda Creek Trailhead is about 25 miles southwest of Bend off Cascade Lakes Highway.
2. Canyon Creek Meadows
Features: Diverse wildlife (mountain goats!), incredible mountain views and abundant, colorful wildflowers make the Canyon Creek Meadows loop one of the most popular hikes in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness. The hike to the lower meadow is just 4.5 miles with only 400 feet of elevation gain, making it ideal for families and kids. The option to hike to the upper meadow and the viewpoint saddle make the trek much harder: a 7 .5-mile hike with 1,400 feet of elevation gain, including the steep, rock-strewn path up a glacial washout plain to the shoulder of Three Fingered Jack at 6,500 feet.
For those capable, the 3 additional miles are well worth the effort for a chance to get close to the eroded core of the extinct shield volcano.
Directions: From Sisters, take U.S. Highway 20 about 12 miles northwest to a Mount Jefferson Wilderness Trailheads sign. Turn north on paved Road 12 for 4.4 miles. Turn left on one-lane Forest Road 1230 for 1.6 miles to the end of pavement, and stay left onto Forest Road 1234, which climbs 6 miles to the Jack Lake Trailhead.
Features: The Obsidian Trailhead provides access to the Pacific Crest Trail and to loop hikes of 10.6 and 15.8 miles that feature some of the most dramatic scenery in Oregon. Black obsidian rock glistens in the sun along sections of the trails that take hikers along alpine meadows, rugged cliffs and Cascade peaks that rise into the blue sky deep in the Three Sisters Wilderness. A high point along the trail provides sprawling views of North and Middle Sister.
Directions: From Sisters, head 16.6 miles west on state Highway 242 over McKenzie Pass to the Obsidian Trailhead access road on the left/south side of the highway.
4. No Name Lake
Features: High atop a ridge above sparkling-green No Name Lake, the views are never-ending. Any direction one looks offers some form of alpine wonder. The small lake sits nestled below the craggy spires and strata of 9,177-foot Broken Top on the peak’s east side. To the northwest, the Three Sisters jut into the sky just a few miles away. To the north, Mount Jefferson, Mount Hood and faraway Mount Adams in Washington round out the Cascade collage. The 6-mile out-and-back hike from Broken Top Trailhead includes about 1,200 feet of elevation gain and incredible wildflowers depending on the time of year.
Directions: From Todd Lake (23 miles southwest of Bend off Cascade Lakes Highway), a 6-mile drive along bumpy forest roads 370 and 380 is required to reach the trailhead. A high-clearance, four-wheel- or an all-wheel-drive vehicle is necessary to make the drive.
5. South Sister Summit
Features: The third-tallest mountain in Oregon is a popular climb because hikers can essentially walk to the summit without the use of ropes, crampons or other technical gear. While the trail to the top of 10,358-foot South Sister involves no technical climbing, it is tremendously steep and challenging. From its starting point near Devil’s Lake off Cascade Lakes Highway west of Bend, the trail gains nearly 5,000 feet in elevation over the six miles to the summit. The dazzling array of blue sky, rugged, snow-covered peaks and pristine alpine lakes makes the climb to the top well worth the effort. (Trekking poles come in handy, especially on the way back down the mountain.)
Directions: From Bend, drive about 30 miles west on Cascade Lakes Highway to the trailhead parking on the left/east side of the highway just past Devil’s Lake. The South Sister Summit trail is just across the highway.