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Ray Atkeson Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

View over Sparks Lake to Devils Hill and South Sister, Ray Atkeson Trail (bobcat)
Broken Top view from the Ray Atkeson Trail (bobcat)
West slopes of Mt. Bachelor from the second loop (bobcat)
Lava fissure on the second loop (bobcat)
The two walking loops at Sparks Lake (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Ray Atkeson TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Davis Canyon
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Two loops
  • Distance: 2.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 165 feet
  • High Point: 5,525 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: Summer to mid-fall
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: On summer weekends



Ray Atkeson (1907 – 1990) was one of Oregon’s most recognizable landscape photographers and, before his death, had been Oregon’s Photographer Laureate. He published several photos from a favorite perch on a lava flow next to Sparks Lake looking towards a small hemlock island with South Sister in the background. A universal access trail now leads to that spot and, from there, there are two loops that take you through a lava wonderland as well as to additional views of Sparks Lake, South Sister, Broken Top, and Mount Bachelor.

At the trailhead, there’s an interpretive display telling of the hydrology and geology of Sparks Lake as well as memorializing Ray Atkeson. Hike into a lodgepole pine forest, and come to a junction. Head right on a paved barrier free trail, and wind through a jumbled and fissured lava flow that issued from Mount Bachelor, dammed Soda Creek, and created Sparks Lake. You’ll begin getting views towards South Sister and Broken Top, with Devils Hill and its lava flow between the lake and South Sister. The shallow lake itself varies considerably in volume and has no visible outflow. It is high with meltwater in early summer, and levels gradually diminish as the water percolates through underground passages in the lava. Green meadows appear around the mountain hemlock islands as the water recedes, turning to a golden yellow in the fall. Golden-mantled ground squirrels, perhaps used to handouts from misguided visitors, will hove into view. Hike above a lava fissure to the end of the barrier free trail, half a mile from the trailhead. This point was Ray Atkeson’s favorite view, and it was immortalized in shots taken at sunrise, sunset, and in muted light.

Continue to reach a bay of Sparks Lake among mountain hemlocks and subalpine firs. A dark pillar of lava stands sentinel over this inlet. At an unmarked junction, keep right to reach a lava-rimmed bay, and then go left at a sign for Davis Canyon. This little detour takes you down into a fissure in the lava that narrows and then widens with a maximum depth of 15 feet. Red elderberry bushes have colonized the “canyon” floor. Reach a junction on a short connector trail, go right for 10 yards, and then make a left on the ‘Hiking Loop’ to begin the second part of the hike (For a shorter hike, go left and then left again after emerging from Davis Canyon.).

Enter a broader crack in the ground, and then hike above it to wind through lodgepole pines and get a view of Mount Bachelor looming ahead. Pass above a deep lava valley, descend a little, and then hike back up into the lodgepole forest. The trail ascends a lava ridge to the high point of the hike, where you’ll get good views of Mount Bachelor and Broken Top. Continue down the ridge and then through scrappy woods. Ascend another ridge to pass a deep fissure on the right. Reach the junction with the shortcut trail between the two loops, and keep right for the final leg of the hike.

The trail follows another big crack in the lava, and then drops to the bottom of a second fissure. Follow the path through a lodgepole pine flat, and cross a narrow but deep crack in the ground. Reach a rampart of thick lava columns to reach pavement and then a junction. Make a right to return to your car.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass (or America the Beautiful Pass) required
  • Restrooms, information kiosk
  • Half-mile universal access trail
  • Dogs on leash


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Three Sisters #621
  • Green Trails Maps: Bend – Three Sisters #622SX
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Deschutes National Forest
  • Adventure Maps: Three Sisters Wilderness Trail Map
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Bend – Three Sisters

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • Best Hikes With Kids: Oregon by Bonnie Henderson & Zach Urness
  • Day Hiking: Bend and Central Oregon by Brittany Manwill
  • Best Easy Day Hikes: Bend & Central Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • Best Hikes Near Bend by Lizann Dunegan
  • 100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades by William L. Sullivan
  • Bend, Overall by Scott Cook
  • Central Oregon: Walks, Hikes & Strolls for Mature Folks by Marsha Johnson
  • Day Hikes in Central Oregon by Jan Siegrist
  • Best Dog Hikes: Oregon edited by Falcon Guides

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.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.