Central Oregon’s limitless trail systems can take seasoned hiking mavens and first-time trail goers through miles and miles of beautiful, pristine wilderness. Choosing a hike or trail run is no easy task, if only for the sheer number of possibilities. Fortunately, my friend Dane and I found what I proudly call the #1 best sunset view of the Three Sisters and beyond.
Between taller and more strenuous summits, and lengthier hikes in low elevation that wouldn’t grant us views of the mountains – we were stumped. We wanted to see as much of the mountains as possible, but we definitely didn’t want to be stuck up in the cold and dark once the sun retreated. Finally, we landed on Broken Top Crater.
This slow, gradual hike covers a little over 4 miles one way for a total 8.4 mile trip. Elevation gain is 1,300 ft. – but be warned, the trail tops out at 8,200 ft., so you’ll definitely feel the altitude on your way up.
To get there, follow Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway past the Mt. Bachelor ski areas and turn off towards the Todd Lake trailhead. The dirt and rugged Road 370 continues past Todd Lake for a few miles that will take between 15-25 minutes of slow, bumpy moving. Use a high-clearance 4WD vehicle on this road. Eventually you’ll come to a flat, round parking space at the Crater Ditch Trailhead where you’ll start your hike. You need a NW Forest Pass to park here.
Starting off, you’ll join a trail that comes up from Todd Lake trailhead and follow it to your left (if your vehicle isn’t rugged enough for Road 370, you can start this hike from Todd Lake, though it’ll up your mileage to 14 and nearly double your elevation gain). The first third of your hike follows a high bank alongside a stream where you’ll walk straight towards Broken Top Mountain in clear view.
Two paths fork in the road and you’ll veer right towards Broken Top, its opposite direction leading to Green Lakes – another superb hike in Central Oregon. From here, you gain most of your elevation, and slowly climb up around the east side of Broken Top to end up on the north ledge of the crater. After following a rocky moraine up a stream, you’ll top out at one of the most jaw-dropping, crystal clear glacier lakes in the Three Sisters Wilderness.
Continue on up the same path to a lookout point where you’ll be rewarded with the best sunset view in Central Oregon. From south to north, you’ll see South Sister, Middle Sister, North Sister, Mt. Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Jefferson, and Black Butte.
It’s important to remember that this lookout is perched above 8,000 ft. – so as soon as the sun goes down, the wind will pick up and the temperature will drop. Pack appropriately and be prepared for anything. The entire trail is smooth and somewhat wide, and Dane and I found it pretty easy to navigate our way down in the dark. Just don’t forget your headlamp!
Believe it or not, there is intermittent cell phone reception around the area, so rest assured you’ll be able to have the real wilderness experience without feeling completely cut off from your navigation system or emergency contacts.