If you’ve ever wanted the chance to stroll through a field of lava, with the glassy, black rock stretching out across the horizon, making the journey up to Little Belknap Crater is for you. Little Belknap Crater is a distinctive vent which makes up part of the Belknap Crater shield volcano. Some of the latest eruptions date back a mere 1,500 years and the lava flows cover much of the area between North Sister and Mt. Washington.
The hike to Little Belknap begins at the Pacific Crest Trail trailhead located on the north side of McKenzie Pass. The first ¾ of a mile of the trail hug a couple of forested islands within the lava flow, with one crossing over a river of lava between them. After that, you will emerge onto the sea of rock and remain there for the remainder of the hike. Continue climbing steadily for another 1.5 miles until you hit the intersection of the PCT and the Little Belknap Crater trail. Turn right and continue the last ½ mile up to the summit. There is a wind break and bench for you to enjoy the views.
The hard and sharp rock that makes up the majority of this trail can be hard on your feet, so be sure to wear sturdy hiking shoes. Also, with that in mind, this isn’t the best hike for dogs for the same reason. You are also very exposed to the elements while out on the lava flows. The large expanse of black rock and soak up the sun, and the complete lack of shade and water and create very hot and dehydrating conditions. On the flip side, if a storm rolls in, there’s nowhere to take shelter.
To reach trailhead for Little Belknap Crater, head up McKenzie Pass (Highway 242) west of Sisters or east of McKenzie Bridge. The trail is located about ½ mile west of the Dee Wight Observatory at the top of the pass in a forested island on the north side of the road. McKenzie Pass is usually only open between June until October due to snow.
Passes: Beginning in 2021, a Central Cascades Wilderness day-use permit will be required to hike from this trailhead between the Friday before Memorial Day and the final Friday of September. The permits will be available from recreation.gov and will go on sale in early April.
Dogs: Allowed and must be on leash or under voice command at all times. The lava rock can be hard on their feet.
Open Season: McKenzie Pass is usually open by the 4th of July. Snow may linger on trails into July.
Bugs: Mosquitos usually aren't too bad through the lava flows.