Soda Creek, Broken Top, Green Lakes loop

This 12.9-mile loop in the Three Sisters Wilderness starts at the Green Lakes/Soda Creek Trailhead, 27 miles west of Bend along the Cascade Lakes Highway. The loop can be hiked in either direction and features an assortment of meadows and creeks along with stunning views of Broken Top and South Sister. Average duration is five to seven hours.

Running across a strip of dirt through a green meadow high atop a ridge, and surrounded by snow-striped mountains, I startled a throng of small birds that flew up from the wildflowers.

It was like that scene from “The Sound of Music,” only I was not wearing a dress — and I did not break out into song.

But I was truly inspired. Hiking in Central Oregon’s Cascade Range can have that effect.

I was originally considering a hike of 8 miles or so in the Three Sisters Wilderness, wanting to get close to 9,175-foot Broken Top. I certainly had not planned on some 14 miles, but I do not regret it. Sure, the trailhead is only a half-hour drive from Bend, but who knows when I will have the time or energy to do it again?

The Green Lakes and Soda Creek trailhead might be one of the most crowded in Oregon during the summer, as the Green Lakes hike is one of the most popular treks in the state. But the Soda Creek Trail is used far less, and I started out there earlier this month, thinking I would do a simple out-and-back hike.

But the scenery took hold of me, and I just kept going, curious about what was waiting around each corner. The trip extended into a 14-mile loop hike/run of the Soda Creek, Broken Top and Green Lakes trails.

The trail started out relatively flat, and after a while I began to jog. After a mile or so, I arrived at a meadow, where a creek trickled serenely past. The trail became increasingly steep, and I eventually emerged out of the forest and onto a ridge-side trail through a green meadow dotted with purple, red and yellow wildflowers. Sparks Lake sparkled in the distance far below.

The trail flattened out and Broken Top came into view, up close and personal. That was where I first came across other hikers who were making their way down from Green Lakes.

About 4 miles up the Soda Creek Trail, I arrived at the junction with the Broken Top Trail. For the 12-mile loop, I needed to go left. But I turned right instead to explore Broken Top’s bowl, which added at least a mile to the trek.

After half a mile or so, I veered off the main trail to follow a ditch that led into the crater — so close to the jagged spires of Broken Top, I could see the layers of different colors of rock. I scrambled through rocks and pumice until I came to a snowfield, which I made my way across until I was stopped by a huge field of jagged boulders.

There I turned around and made my way back down to the Broken Top Trail, which cuts across a green ridge and is rather flat, perfect for running. I jogged around to the other side of Broken Top, back into the forest, then South Sister came into view, dominating the horizon in stunning fashion.

I arrived at Green Lakes much faster than I had anticipated. The area, which includes several small alpine lakes at the base of 10,358-foot South Sister, felt crowded compared with the 10 miles I had already hiked. Middle Sister was visible as well, though its peak was shrouded in clouds.

The weather was fairly mild for mid-August, with temperatures in the 60s, but I resisted the urge to take a dip in one of the lakes and continued on my way. While Soda Creek and Broken Top trails were new experiences for me, the Green Lakes Trail was not, and the path seemed familiar. As I descended toward the trailhead, I encountered dozens of other hikers slogging up the trail on weekend backpacking trips.

Fall Creek flows beautifully from Green Lakes down through rugged rocks and along green meadows. As I continued along the creek in the deep forest, I finally began to feel the effects of 14 miles. I slowed and noticed I was sore in new places.

Upon reaching the trailhead after 5½ hours of hiking the hills and running the flats, I removed my shoes and dipped my feet in ice-cold Fall Creek.

While the journey was a bit of a strain, I was glad I went longer than anticipated. The loop just might be the best hike in the Central Oregon Cascades — though I have many more to yet discover.

— Reporter: 541-383-0318,