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Backpacker Magazine – September 2011

Rip & Go: Broken Top Loop - Deschutes National Forest/Three Sisters Wilderness, OR

Cross ancient lava fields on a lake-filled weekend.

by: Eli Boschetto

South Sister (Photo by Ed Callaert)
South Sister (Photo by Ed Callaert)
Broken Top (Photo by Eli Boschetto)
Broken Top (Photo by Eli Boschetto)
Broken Top (Photo by Eli Boschetto)
Broken Top (Photo by Eli Boschetto)

Take it With You
Download a printable PDF of this entire weekend.

GPS-Enabled Trip Report
See this trip on a map, download it to your phone, GPS, or computer, and more.

Do it
See the yawning crater that formed when two elemental forces (volcanic and glacial) clashed on this three-day, 22.6-mile trek around Broken Top, an extinct Cascades stratovolcano. Start at Little Three Creek Lake trailhead (1) at 6,600 feet and hike northwest 2.8 miles to the Snow Creek Ditch crossing, an often-dry irrigation channel. At a four-way junction (2), turn west and hike three miles to a bridged crossing of East Fork Park Creek in Park Meadow (3), which is cast blue by gentians in August. Turn south at an unsigned trail fork (4), and look for a cairn marking the .5-mile side trail to Golden Lake (5), your first night’s camp.

Rise early the next day to see dawn on 10,358-foot South Sister. Back at the junction, turn south toward the 7,000-foot pass (6) between South Sister and Broken Top. Cross a cindery lava plain and descend a moraine into the Green Lakes Basin (7). At Soda Creek junction (8), turn southeast to begin a gentle climb linking pumice plains to forest. Round the south side of Cayuse Crater (9) continuing east. In another mile, cross Crater Creek to reach a four-way junction with the Ditch Trail (10). Look for campsites at treeline or along Crater Creek just north of the trail.

On your final morning, head east .3 mile to cross a seasonal creek (usually dry by mid-summer). Turn north along an intermittent social trail and hike .8 mile to the gap (11) between Broken Top and 8,091-foot Ball Butte. Notice the vibrant red, yellow, and orange layers of volcanic rock in Broken Top’s ice-pitted interior. Head northeast to a use trail and hike .7 mile north to the outlet (12) of Bend Glacier Lake. Drop packs and scramble .2 mile up the outlet to the shore of the lake for an amphitheater of rock, water, and ice.

From there, follow the outlet east cross-country, over a year-round snow bridge to where the drainage turns south. Head northeast for 1.4 miles just below 8,376-foot Broken Hand. Connect to the Tam McArthur Rim Trail (13), and circle around Three Creek Lake to your car (14).

Trip Planner

Get there
From Bend, take US 20 N 22 miles to Sisters. Turn left on Elm St./3 Creek Rd. for 16 miles. Turn right onto Driftwood Campground Rd. and park.

Gear up
Pick up last-minute duct tape, maps, and fuel at Mountain Supply of Oregon, 834 NW Colorado, Bend. (541) 388-0688

Map Geo-Graphics Three Sisters Wilderness Map ($6,

Trip data

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Reader Rating: -


Feb 16, 2012

The gps enabled trip report link is busted.

Nov 06, 2011

We followed the rip & go route with two young children in August, 2011. It was a great trip for kids: just enough climbing and off-trail adventure, without pushing them too hard. Highly recommend it.


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