The Central Oregon Cascades are one of the most densely populated areas of volcanic centers in the world. This geologic wonderland is full of alpine meadows, waterfalls, lava fields, glaciers and glacial lakes. Seven major peaks, stretching from Three Fingered Jack to Mt Bachelor dot the skyline and with a little work, you can be standing right in the middle of them, or even on top!
There are almost endless trails diving into the Central Oregon Cascades, but we want to deliver you some of the ones that will take you to some of the most beautiful areas that can be reached by day hiking. Some are on the long side, and some are extremely strenuous (looking at you, South Sister), but be sure to bring your camera, because these will be memories you will want to relive. Enjoy!
The trail to Obsidian Falls will take you to some of the most dramatic scenery within the Central Oregon Cascades. The trail travels up through dense forest, over lava flows, and up into some high alpine meadows. And what makes the trip so memorable is the black volcanic glass from which the trail gets its namesake that glistens everywhere in the sun.
Obsidian Falls is a beautiful little fall that cascades 30-40 feet over a cliff of volcanic glass. Just past the falls, the Sunshine Meadows area near the base of Middle and North Sister offer some breathtaking views of the mountains.
Golden Lake is a beautiful little lake located in a meadow right at the foot of Broken Top. The views of the mountains from this little oasis are spectacular as they virtually surround you. The majority of the hike to the lake passes through the 2012 Pole Creek fire scar, but this has only helped to open up the views along the way. While long, this is definitely a doable day hike, because there is not a lot of elevation gain.
The lake itself is one of the coolest spots in the Central Oregon Cascades. And its distance from any trailhead helps keep the crowds away. The only thing you have to worry about is the mosquitos, especially if you are here in the early summer. But the views are worth it!
Canyon Creek Meadows, located right at the bottom of Three Fingered Jack, is one of those magical places that really epitomize what hiking is all about. The scenery is breathtaking, the mountains are rugged, the meadows are flower filled. There are lakes, streams, waterfalls, a glacier, huckleberries to snack on……. What more could you ask for. Maybe less early summer mosquitoes, but damn, you are one picky bastard.
On Broken Top’s eastern flank (not in the actual crater, contrary to popular opinion) sits a jewel of a lake. Its turquoise blue water stands out in sharp contrast to the white glaciers and rock behind it. Yet despite this, the lake remains unnamed and there is no official trail to it. But don’t worry, it’s not hard to find. It has been dubbed No Name Lake and the thousands of other people that want to gaze upon its beauty have created a highway of a user’s trail that travels right to its shores. And be sure to hike up the ridge behind the lake for some jaw-dropping views while you are there!
The cliffs of Tam McArthur Rim tower over Three Creek Lake at the base of Broken Top and provide you with some amazing views of the surrounding Cascades. The hike will take you up to some pumice plains and put you right in the center of one of the most densely populated areas of volcanic centers in the world. Then hike out to the old lookout site at an outcrop of rock which extends out away from the rim. 600 foot vertical cliffs will drop away from you on three sides as you take in the panorama views.
Green Lakes is one of the most spectacular areas within the Three Sisters Wilderness. Nestled in a basin right between South Sister and Broken Top, the views from this magical spot can seem surreal. The trail to Green Lakes follows Fall Creek for a little more than 4 miles, and the numerous waterfalls along the creek help keep the trek exciting. But you don’t have to go back that same way. If you have more juice in you, you can return via Soda Creek and get the opportunity to hike around the west face of Broken Top as well. Everything you could ever want in a hike!
Camp Lake sits in the valley between South and Middle Sisters and is the easternmost lake within the Chambers Lake Basin. The little, blue lake makes for a majestic setting as it is bordered by two 10,000 foot volcanoes, covered in glaciers. The depth of the lake into the wilderness will definitely make you earn your views, especially because the first four miles travel through the dusty, burned out scar of the Pole Creek Fire. While the trail is difficult just because of its length, the climb is slow and steady making it seem easier than many other mountain hikes.
Be sure you check the weather first before heading to this beautiful destination. Camp Lake’s position in the gauntlet between the two volcanoes can make for some serious wind and its elevation at 7,000 feet means you could encounter a snow or hail storm at pretty much any time of the year.
Climbing South Sister is a rite of passage for many Central Oregon outdoor enthusiasts and the granddaddy of hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades. At 10,363 feet, South Sister (also known as Charity) is the third highest mountain in Oregon and the tallest of the Three Sisters. While South Sister is a nontechnical ascent and one of the easier major summits in Oregon to climb, it still sucks. So girdle those loins and prepare yourself for the trip of a lifetime.