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Broken Top Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

An area of pleasant camp sites below the south cirque of Broken Top (Jerry Adams)
For the off-trail traverse, just aim yourself to the north of Ball Butte. Try not to step on the few alpine plants. (Jerry Adams)
Off trail south of Broken Top. There are occasional cliffy or vegetated areas to find your way around, but mostly it's just wide open. (Jerry Adams)
Spring below the Broken Top Trail (Jerry Adams)
View over the middle Green Lake, the largest lake in the basin (Martell)
View of South Sister from Green Lakes Pass (Jerry Adams)
Map of the loop from GPS tracks (Jerry Adams)
  • Start point: Tam McArthur Rim TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Green Lakes Pass
  • Hike type: Loop
  • Distance: 20.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2200 feet
  • High point: 7700 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Summer and early fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: In some areas

The area around Broken Top offers some excellent alpine hiking. There are amazing views of Broken Top, the Three Sisters, Mount Bachelor, and the surrounding area. There isn't a trail all the way around, but if you do an easy 2.5 mile cross-country hike, you can complete the loop. This area is east of the Cascade crest, so sometimes it can be raining on the west side but just be cloudy here.

I like this as an add-on to the Three Sisters Loop Hike - about four miles of this Broken Top loop follows the Three Sisters Loop Hike. For example, in your trip around the Three Sisters, you can hike several miles from Green Lakes to some really nice sites with Broken Top looking down on you. The six miles on the north and east sides goes through forest burned in the Pole Creek Fire in 2012 and through a campground area with RVs and horse trailers, so this is not the most attractive section.

I have defined this hike starting from the Tam McArthur Rim Trailhead next to Three Creek Lake because the loop goes through here. You could also start from Todd Lake or the Green Lakes/Soda Creek Trailhead on the south side. On the south side, you're within view of the Mount Bachelor ski area so your cell phone will probably work.

A Central Cascades Wilderness Permit is required for both day use and overnight trips between mid-June and mid-October.



Start at the Tam McArthur Rim trailhead next to Three Creek Lake (6,150 feet in elevation). Hike up the Tam McArthur Trail (see the Tam McArthur Rim Hike). The trail generally goes along the edge of a cliff (Tam McArthur Rim) with excellent views over Three Creek Lake and the Sisters/Bend area. The trail is popular and very crowded, especially on weekends. After about 2.6 miles, the trail officially ends at a sign that says "Trail Not Maintained". However, the trail is just as good above as it follows the ridge towards the prominence of Broken Hand.

About 0.2 miles beyond the sign, (7700 feet elevation) you can begin going off trail to cross the open bowl formed by the headwaters of the North Fork Tumalo Creek. (Another option is to follow the ridge past Broken Hand to the Bend Glacier Viewpoint and descend from there to No Name Lake, where a trail takes you down to the Broken Top-East Cirque Trail Junction.)

You will be off trail for about two miles, gradually losing a couple hundred feet of elevation. Aim for the saddle just north of Ball Butte. If you're going the other direction, just go up a little and aim for the edge of the rim, when you hit the trail it's obvious. This is about the easiest off-trail route I can think of. It's open with very little vegetation. There are a few small cliffs you have to find a way around. There are no streams, but if you followed the North Fork Tumalo Creek down a ways, there will eventually be water. This would be an excellent place to camp. Just try not to tramp on the few small alpine plants. There aren't a lot of people walking through here, so we're probably not "loving this place to death."

After you reach the shoulder between Ball Butte and the south ridge of Broken Hand, continue down another 0.5 miles until you hit an unnamed trail on the other side of the obvious stream at 7400 feet elevation. (We call this the East Cirque Trail, which leads north to No Name Lake - see the Broken Top East Cirque Hike.) There are no signs, but it's an obvious, well-traveled trail. Take the East Cirque Trail down 0.7 miles until it hits the Broken Top Trail at 7100 feet elevation. There's a post here but no sign. Anywhere along here would be an excellent place to camp. The stream looks reliable year round, but it's slightly silty from the glacier above.

Go west on the Broken Top Trail 1.4 miles to the junction with the Soda Creek Trail at 6,750 feet elevation. This is 7.4 miles from the Tam McArthur Rim Trailhead. It's about 2.5 miles down to the Todd Lake Trailhead. Continue on the Broken Top Trail for 2.9 miles to reach the Green Lakes Trail at 6,500 feet. Turn right for Green Lakes. You'll find some nice places to camp along here. About half way to Green Lakes, there are several springs that appear just below the trail that would make good drinking water - no glacial silt. The area is pretty flat so It's easy to find a nice spot. From here, there are excellent views of Broken Top's craggy profile.

It's about four miles down the Green Lakes Trail to the Green Lakes/Soda Creek Trailhead. The area is very popular and almost always crowded in the summer. There are many campsites at Green Lakes, but you have to camp at a site marked with a numbered post.

From the Broken Top Trail junction, follow the Green Lakes Trail around the east side of the main lake 2.2 miles up to to Green Lakes Pass at 7,000 feet. This is the pass between the South Sister and Broken Top. It's a pleasant open area to camp if the weather is nice, but the closest water is at Green Lakes and Park Meadow.

About half way between Green Lakes Pass and Park Meadow, at 6,500 feet elevation, is the unmarked trail up to Golden Lake. There is (probably) a rock cairn marking the trail, but it's obvious regardless. That is supposed to be a nice area to camp, Broken Top looking down on you, good drinking water, and nice areas to wander off trail above. Supposedly, there is a route up between Broken Top and Broken Hand, east of the Bend Glacier, but this is quite adventurous. It's 1.9 miles from Green Lakes Pass down to Park Meadow at 6,150 feet, 14 miles from the Tam McArthur Rim Trailhead.

Finally, take the Park Meadow Trail 6.3 miles back to the Tam McArthur Rim Trailhead. You'll first cross Park Creek and then go through some areas burned by the 2012 Pole Creek Fire. Two miles from Park Meadow, you'll come to a four-way junction. Turn right on the Park Meadow Tie Trail #4102. In 2.4 miles, there's another junction with the Little Three Creek Lake Trail #4076. Keep left to reach the north shore of Three Creek Lake and the Tam McArthur Rim Trailhead.


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

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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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