Outside of Bend, Oregon, in the heart of the Three Sisters Wilderness in the Deschutes National Forest, lies one of our favorite elevation hikes. Broken Top is a 100,000-year-old caldera volcano eroded by glaciers and it’s a stunning monument to the Central Oregon Cascades.
Summiting the 1850-ft peak reveals an alien landscape with sweeping vistas, glaciers, and the jagged edges of Broken Top Crater. You may bring your dogs on this adventure but heed the warnings about the streams that run alongside the trail: elk carcasses have infected the stream and it could be toxic to your furry family members.
The journey to Broken Top Trailhead begins with a three-mile pothole-infested service road, which can be an adventure in and of itself. We recommend properly preparing if possible by bringing a four-wheel drive vehicle capable of traversing steep dirt roads and deep ruts.
If your car is not off-road worthy, you can park at the base of the service road and hike up, but it will add about eight miles round-trip to your journey. The road is known as the most treacherous road in Oregon, so it could be worth planning for a longer hike.
Once you’ve bested the rugged service road, the crags of Broken Top loom ahead and the views only improve from here. You should attempt the trail in late summer and early fall for prime hiking conditions. It’s not uncommon for the trail to traverse mild snowfall, but hiking earlier than August may be more than you bargained for.
The trail begins amidst a dense hemlock forest which opens up after a half-mile, where the trail forks into two; take the left path.As the trail continues on, it forks again. Take the right path. From here, the trees become more sparse as you gain elevation. The creek crossing ahead signals the last fork in the road: take the right path to reach the summit.
At this point you’re on a direct route to No Name Lake, and the trail is mercifully punctuated by flat stretches where you can catch your breath. The views even from this point are spectacular, and Ball Butte, Cayuse Crater, and Mount Bachelor are all visible in the distance.
The most difficult section of the trail is up ahead, where you’ll have to climb a steep creek bed to reach the lake. The creek is another reason to attempt the trail in late August or early September, to avoid having to navigate a torrent of glacial melt-off.
Once you’ve mastered the creek bed, you’ll arrive at an iridescent pool, radiant with turquoise hues and tucked beneath an enormous glacier. You’ve reached No Name Lake and Bend Glacier. Camping may be prohibited within a quarter mile of its magical shores, but picnicking is not, and we recommend taking your time here.
Although No Name Lake is a popular spot to end the Broken Top hike before turning around, don’t give up yet. There’s only one more stretch of uphill climbing before the peak where the magic really lies.
If you choose to continue on and crest the peak, you’ll get to see a view of Eastern Oregon like no other. Broken Top boasts some of the most marvelous views around, encompassing the Three Sisters, Three Fingered Jack, and other mountains in its expanses. Take all the time you need to soak it in. Broken Top Trail is the number one hike around Bend, Oregon, and when you’re here, you’ll know why.
Round trip: If you take the service road: 6 miles; if you park below the service road: about 14 miles
Elevation gain: 2,880 feet
Driving distance from Bend: 28.6 miles, or about 48 minutes