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Belknap Crater Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Mount Washington from Belknap Crater (bobcat)
View to Belknap and Little Belknap Craters from the Pacific Crest Trail (bobcat)
Weathered skeleton of a whitebark pine, Pacific Crest Trail (bobcat)
View to Little Belknap Crater from the Pacific Crest Trail (bobcat)
The user trail to Belknap Crater (bobcat)
The route to Little Belknap and Belknap Craters in the Mount Washington Wilderness (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: McKenzie Pass TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Belknap Crater
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 6.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1880 feet
  • High Point: 6,872 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Summer to mid-fall
  • Family Friendly: Yes, for older kids
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Description

The impressive rugged black lava flows at McKenzie Pass were produced by two shield volcanoes, Belknap Crater and Little Belknap Crater, between about 3,000 and 1,500 years ago. The last eruption in the area is estimated to have been around 480 A.D. The Pacific Crest Trail enters the Mount Washington Wilderness in these lava fields, and a short hike takes you on trail to the small prominence of Little Belknap Crater. On the hike and at Little Belknap’s summit, you will get views of Cascade prominences such as North and Middle Sister, The Husband, Black Butte, Mount Washington, Three Fingered Jack, and Mount Jefferson. A little farther on, you can take a well-defined user trail to the summit of Belknap Crater, which offers the same views from much higher up and invites exploration of its craters.

Because of the sharp, abrasive lava rock on most of the tread, do not bring your dog on this hike. The Belknap Craters are named after J.H. Belknap, promoter of the first toll road over the McKenzie Pass in the 1870s.

Fill out your wilderness permit at the trailhead kiosk, and go left on the Pacific Crest Trail as you enter the Mt. Washington Wilderness. The sandy trail leads through a woodland of lodgepole pine, mountain hemlock, and subalpine fir before ascending an incline. You’re actually on a kipuka, a tree “island” surrounded by the lavas from the Belknap Craters. Huckleberry, pinemat manzanita, bracken, and penstemon vegetate the slope. To the southwest, Black Crater looms. Cross a flow of black lava, and get a good view south to North and Middle Sister. Then hike along the edge of another kipuka where stunted ponderosa pines shade a carpet of pinemat manzanita. The trail veers to the right to cross the northern edge of the kipuka, and you’ll get your first views of Belknap Crater and Little Belknap Crater. Hike past a mature mountain hemlock/subalpine fir forest before you begin your traverse of the lava.

The trail rises gradually with the Belknap Craters ahead, and Black Crater, two of the Three Sisters, and The Husband being the major prominences to the south. The lava around you forms dark and jagged hummocks, ropy twists, and mysterious fissures. The odd mountain hemlock and whitebark pine clings to existence out here, but the living are outnumbered by the skeletons of the dead. Reach the Pacific Crest-Little Belknap Crater Trail Junction, and get a commanding view north to Mount Washington. Go right for the 0.2 mile jaunt to the top of Little Belknap Crater. As you approach, you’ll see a couple of collapsed lava tubes close to the trail. You can explore the remaining cave sections, but take care on the unforgiving volcanic rock. There’s a final short scramble up to the red cinder summit of Little Belknap Crater. In addition to the view south to the Three Sisters and Broken Top, you can see past Mount Washington to Black Butte, the top of Three Fingered Jack and Mount Jefferson.

For a higher viewpoint, return to the Pacific Crest-Little Belknap Crater Trail Junction, and go right. You’ll soon be off the lava field. There’s a rather obvious user trail peeling off to the left at the Pacific Crest-Belknap Crater Trail Junction. Hike gradually up through islands of mountain hemlock and open pumice meadows dotted with buckwheat and Newberry’s fleeceflower, which turns red in late summer. Reach the base of Belknap Crater, and make three switchbacks up in a sandy slog. Reach a shoulder, and wind up to another shoulder on a firmer tread, all the while getting splendid views of Mount Washington, which is only three miles away. The final leg of this 800-foot ascent heads up on a steep slope of black cinders past a small crater off to your right. Arrive at the first summit, which has a couple of windbreaks, and walk on above a krummholz stand of whitebark pines to the summit of Belknap Crater. You can see down into the circular main crater, with another more eroded crater to its right. Views of the Cascades are similar to those from Little Belknap Crater, but you can also look down into the McKenzie River valley and west across the Old Cascades on a clear day.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass (or America the Beautiful Pass) required
  • Central Cascades Wilderness Permit required: $6 overnight permit; $1 per person day use (Friday prior to Memorial Day through last Friday in September)
  • Self-issued wilderness permit
  • Information kiosk
  • Leave your dog at home: Lava is very unforgiving on paw pads!

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Three Fingered Jack #589
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mount Washington Wilderness
  • Adventure Maps: Three Sisters Wilderness Trail Map
  • Halfmile’s PCT Maps
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail –Northern Oregon Map#8
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway
  • Pacific Northwest Recreation Map Series: Willamette Cascades
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Jefferson - Mount Washington
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: McKenzie River Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Willamette National Forest
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Sisters Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Deschutes National Forest

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • Day Hikes in the Pacific Northwest by Don J. Scarmuzzi
  • Day Hiking: Bend and Central Oregon by Brittany Manwill
  • 75 Scrambles in Oregon by Barbara I. Bond
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Craig Hill & Matt Wastradowski
  • Hiking Oregon’s Geology by Ellen Morris Bishop
  • Best Hikes With Kids: Oregon by Bonnie Henderson & Zach Urness
  • 100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades by William L. Sullivan
  • Oregon Favorites: Trails and Tales by William L. Sullivan
  • Best Short Hikes in Northwest Oregon by Rhonda & George Ostertag
  • Best Easy Day Hikes: Bend & Central Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • Best Hikes Near Bend by Lizann Dunegan
  • Hiking Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • Hike America: Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • 100 Classic Hikes in Oregon by Douglas Lorain
  • Oregon’s Southern Cascades: Camping & Hiking by Tom Stienstra & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Central Oregon Wilderness Areas by Donna Ikenberry Aitkenhead
  • 60 Hiking Trails: Central Oregon Cascades by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • 100 Oregon Hiking Trails by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • Hiking Oregon’s Central Cascades by Bruce Grubbs
  • Hiking Oregon’s Three Sisters Country by Bruce Grubbs
  • Central Oregon: Walks, Hikes & Strolls for Mature Folks by Marsha Johnson
  • Hiking Central Oregon & Beyond by Virginia Meissner
  • Oregon Campgrounds Hiking Guide by Rhonda & George Ostertag
  • Oregon’s Wilderness Areas by George Wuerthner
  • Day and Section Hikes Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon by Paul Gerald
  • Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon by Eli Boschetto
  • Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon & Washington by Jeffrey P. Schaffer & Andy Selters
  • Day Hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon & Washington by George & Patricia Semb
  • Hiking the Oregon Skyline by Charles M. Feris
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Sean Patrick Hill

More Links


Page Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

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