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Hiking Black Crater

Hike Black Crater in the Three Sisters Wilderness

Hike Black Crater in the Three Sisters Wilderness

Black Crater is a “broken” cinder cone with a glacier-carved valley and quite possible the best views of the Three Sisters.  The 7,251′ summit was once home to a fire lookout, and when you hike to the summit, you’ll understand why. You can see for miles up and down the Cascade Range.

Trail Details
Summit: 7,251′
Distance: 7.3 miles
Time: 3-4 hours
Difficulty: Moderate/Strenuous
Elevation gain: 2,260 ft
Dogs: Yes, on leash
When to go: Mid-July to late October
Download GPX
This trail is forested for most of the first three miles, then sparsely for the final approach. The out-and-back route gives lots to see – from wildflowers and butterflies to lava flows – and in mid-July still had patches of snow on the trail.

Getting to the Trailhead

The trailhead for Black Crater is about 12 miles west of Sisters on the McKenzie Highway 242 (three miles east of the pass). The trailhead parking is well-marked, and there is only one trail heading from the lot.

You can get driving directions to the Black Crater Trailhead via Google Maps here.

Hiking to the Summit of Black Crater

The trail begins at the southwest corner of the gravel parking lot. Take a moment to review the trailhead information board for the latest on rules for this area.

The first half of this route is well-forested, with hemlock, fir and pine. You will see signs of the origin of Black Crater as you pass volcanic debris. To the north, watch for glimpses through the trees of Mts. Washington and Jefferson.

At 2.3 miles you crest a small ridge and enter the glacier-carved valley for about another 0.5 miles. You’ll see open meadows and plentiful lupine.

One of several lupine fields on Black Crater

At 2.8 miles, the trail begins climbing reaching the eastern flank and switchbacking through sparse forest. We encountered several patches of snow in mid-July, but nothing that required technical gear. Depending on snow conditions and the time of year, this may require traction or even snowshoes.

One of two patches of snow on Black Crater in mid-July

Wildflowers and butterflies line the eastern flank of Black Butte in July. It was quite beautiful.

The views north and east are stunning, and on a clear day, you can see across much of Central Oregon.

On the eastern flank of Black Crater

The final push to the top is a gentle, winding trail across a barren cinder plateau. On one side, the twisted limbs of scraggly whitebark pines provide a wind break; on the other, the crater cliffs fall away steeply.

Black cinders on the final approach to the summit of Black Crater

The very top requires minor scrambling to reach.

One odd note: the very highest point buzzing with a thick swarm of big flies. A fellow hiker said these are always here, and neither of us could figure out why. If you know the answer, let us know in the comments below!

The summit provides great views of the Three Sisters, Mounts Washington, Jefferson and (if it’s really clear) even Mt. Hood. There used to be a fire lookout on the flat area near the summit, but only a few foundation remnants remain.

Panorama from the summit of Black Crater

[vr url=”” view=360]

To finish the hike, retrace your steps back down the same trail.

Black Crater Trail Map & Elevation Profile

Download file: black-crater-72417-71936am.gpx

Black Crater Tips & Resources

  • A $5 Northwest Forest Pass or National Parks annual pass is required for trailhead parking.
  • Bring water (I’d recommend a minimum of one liter), sun protection, and the other ten essentials. There are no creeks or springs along this trail.

Sisters Weather Forecast

Sisters is the nearest town and provides a rule of thumb for the weather. Note that the summit of Black Crater is over 4,000′ higher than Sisters, so the weather can be 40 degrees colder.

[forecast width=”100%” location=”97730″]

Originally hiked with Joan on July 15, 2017.

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