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Hiking Black Butte from the Lower Trailhead

Hiking Black Butte from the Lower Trailhead

Hiking Black Butte from the Lower Trailhead

Black Butte is an iconic mountain that stands alone, prominent and proud. The 6,436′ extinct start volcano lies 10 miles northwest of Sisters, Oregon along Highway 20. There are two ways to hike Black Butte. The shorter route from the Upper Trailhead is only four miles round trip, but requires a long drive up a washboard gravel forest service road. Starting from the Lower Trailhead is an easy drive, but a much longer hike. You begin at the base of the mountain and climb over three miles before joining the Upper Trailhead to continue your hike to the summit. The total roundtrip distance from the lower trailhead is 10.5 miles, with 3,400 feet of vertical gain.

Trail Details
Summit: 6,436′
Distance: 10.5 miles
Time: 5-6 hours
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation gain: 3,400 ft
Dogs: Yes
When to go: Spring-Fall
The combination of easy access, vertical gain and distance make this route a popular option for training, and the spring wildflowers and Cascade views from the summit keep hikers coming back for more.

The popular trail is well-maintained and can usually be hiked earlier in the season when the roads to other trailheads are still closed.

Getting to the Black Butte Lower Trailhead

From Sisters, Oregon head west on US Highway 20 for ten miles. Turn right to head north on Camp Sherman Road. Follow Camp Sherman for 2.6 miles, then turn right onto SW Metolius River Road. Turn right at 0.2 miles (the first possible turn) onto the dirt and gravel Forest Service Road 1430 (there is no sign). A few hundred yards on your right is the parking area, with room for about 10 vehicles. There are no posted requirements for parking fees or passes, and there are no toilets or water at this trailhead. Get turn-by-turn directions via Google Maps.

Black Butte - Lower Trailhead

Hiking Black Butte from the Lower Trailhead

From the dirt parking area, look for the Black Butte Trail sign. You will see the mixed use trail heading due west, mostly flat for the first mile. This trail winds around the mountain at the base, so you’ll want to watch for the wood posts to turn on the hikers-only connector trails that head uphill. There are two options, and when you look at the map at the bottom of this trail guide, you’ll see we took the first option on the way up the mountain (~.75 miles from the trailhead), and the other on the way down (~1 mile from the trailhead). The second option is the more popular route.

Black Butte trail marker

From here, the trail begins a relentless but mostly gradual climb up and around the mountain. You will cross two forest service roads as you climb; watch for the hiker trail on the other side of the road and do a map check to make sure you’re on the correct route. At 3.2 miles you reach the Upper Trailhead. There is a picnic table and this is a great spot to take a break.  50 yards down the parking area here are pit toilets.

Black Butte Upper Trailhead parking

Note that the sign for the trail back down to the Lower Trailhead (from which you just hiked) is more prominent than any sign for the summit. On my most recent hike here, I helped two separate hikers parked at the upper trailhead who started hiking down the mountain until I asked them if they meant to hike to the summit.

For a detailed guide from the Upper Trailhead to the summit, read Hiking Black Butte from the Upper Trailhead. The trail for the upper section is the same for both routes. From here, it’s a bit over two miles to the summit. The trail up has one switchback, then spirals upward toward the summit.

Forested trail on Black Butte

As you climb above the tree line, you are rewarded with sweeping views of the Cascade Mountains.

Cascades from Black Butte

You’ll see the tall fire lookout tower that is actively manned during the summer months. As you round the east side of the mountain, you’ll hike through the scars of two modern wildfires before finally reaching the broad summit.

Black Butte Cupola

Once on the top of the butte, follow the trail to the northwest to visit the historic cupola (look for the rock carved by the “Bachelor of Black Butte” a century ago). Continue past the cupola to the new viewpoint deck. On a clear day, you can see Mount Hood and even Mount Adams.

Yoda atop Black Butte

Heading down Black Butte

When you’ve finished soaking in the views, retrace your route back down the mountain.

Black Butte Trail Map & Elevation Profile

Download file: black-butte-from-the-lower-trailhead.gpx


Black Butte Hiking Tips

  • At the top, please stay on the marked trails to avoid damaging the fragile ecosystem.
  • Bring plenty of water, sun protection, and the other ten essentials.
  • Check out William Sullivan’s 100 Hikes / Travel Guide Central Oregon Cascades (affiliate link) for more on the history and flora on Black Butte.
  • For a shorter version of this hike that still goes to the summit, read our guide for Hiking Black Butte from the Upper Trailhead.
  • This mountain gets snow in the winter and becomes a more technical climb. Check the conditions before you go. I’ve used snowshoes on this trail during the month of January and microspikes and trekking poles can be helpful even into June depending on the snowfall.

Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge SeriesThe Central Oregon Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge

Black Butte is part of the Central Oregon Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge, a self-paced hiking challenge that takes you up six, iconic peaks–each one a bit higher and tougher.

It’s a challenge in itself, or great training for still bigger adventures. Learn more and sign-up here.

Originally hiked on February 17, 2022 with David and Ethan.
Latest hike on May 21, 2022 with Scott.

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