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Sand Mountain Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

The restored Sand Mountain Lookout is staffed during summer months (cfm)
You can look down into the crater from the lookout tower (cfm)
The hike to the lookout on Sand Mountain (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/USFS
  • Start point: Sand Mountain TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Sand Mountain Lookout
  • Hike type: Out and back
  • Distance: 3.7 miles round trip
  • Elevation gain: 770 feet
  • High point: 5,459 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: Mid-summer - fall
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No


Hike Description

This short hike takes you up to a lookout tower restored by the Sand Mountain Society. The lookout sits atop a cinder cone, one of over 20 small volcanoes in a 4,000 year-old volcanic field that lies along a fault line. Superlative views from here extend up and down the Cascades. Bear in mind that the access road is quite rough (high clearance recommended) and that the road is part of an active ATV area.

The hike takes you into the Sand Mountain Special Interest Area. You'll pass a gate and head into a forest of lodgepole pine, passing an open, dark-colored "ash pit" on the right and slowly ascending the slopes of one cinder cone on its west and south slopes. You'll begin to get views of surrounding peaks as you rise and reach the old parking area, now used by the members of the Sand Mountain Society and Forest Service rangers who sometimes staff the lookout.

From here, the trail leads through a split-rail fence past lava boulders and up a second cinder cone. A short trail departs from the road bed to reach the rebuilt lookout, where a staff person may be present to inform you about the geology and fauna of the area. You're permitted to hike the crater rim from here. Penstemon, phacelia, lupine, and buckwheat bloom in the open cinder expanses. Also check around for the little short-horned lizards that come out when it's sunny. You can get views down into the partially forested crater bowl. Nearby mountains to the west include Crescent Mountain, Browder Ridge, Iron Mountain. Looking east, you can see Big Lake, Mount Washington and Black Butte. To the south, you get views to the Belknap Crater and the Three Sisters. From a high spot, Three Fingered Jack and Mount Jefferson become visible in the north.


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: McKenzie River Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Willamette National Forest
  • Pacific Northwest Recreation Map Series: Willamette Cascades
  • Pacific Northwest Recreation Map Series: Central Oregon Cascades
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington
  • Adventure Maps: McKenzie River, Oregon, Trail Map

Regulations or Restrictions, etc.

  • Stay on the trail: fragile ecosystem
  • Clearance recommended to reach trailhead; share road with ATVs

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Hiking Oregon's Geology by Ellen Morris Bishop
  • Best Hikes with Children: Western & Central Oregon by Bonnie Henderson
  • Fire Lookouts of Oregon by Cheryl Hill

More Links


  • CFM (creator)
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.