- Trip Name: Black Butte
- Trip Length: 4.0 miles out and back
- Trip Time: 2-3 hours
- Best time to visit: Late spring to early fall
- Difficulty rating: 6 (relatively short but steep)
- Views: 10
- Wilderness experience: 2
- Recommended activities: Day hike
- Best for: Hikers, runners, families, dogs
- Restroom: Yes, at trailhead
- Permit: Northwest Forest Pass ($30 annual pass, $5 day use fee payable on-site)
- Recommended map: Central Oregon hiking Trail Map by AdventureMaps.net
- Click here to download our FREE topo trail map
- Click here to download this Trail Guide as a PDF
- Click here to purchase the GPS file for this hike ($3)
- Click here to check out our photos from this hike
Trip Technical Data
- Trailhead: Black Butte
- Trailhead Elevation: 4,881 feet
- Elevation Gain: 1,555 feet
- High Point: 6,436 feet on the summit of Black Butte
Travel Time: 45 minutes
Head west on Highway 20 through Sisters, Oregon. Once through downtown Sisters continue to follow Highway 20 West for 5.5 miles to Green Ridge Road marked by a sign to Indian Ford campground. Take a right onto Green Ridge Road and follow for 3.8 miles to Forest Service Road 1110. There is a small brown sign on your right indicating the Black Butte Trailhead where you will turn left onto Forest Road 1110. Follow this gravel, winding road for 5 miles to the parking area at the Black Butte Trailhead.
This trail starts about half way up on the south side of Black Butte, therefore making your elevation gain only about half of the full height that Black Butte rises over the surrounding lands. From the parking area you will begin your hike in a forest dominated by beautiful old growth ponderosa pine and an undergrowth blanketed with white snowbrush shrubs. A little higher up the ponderosa give way to lodgepole pine and sweeping views abound in all directions as the trail circles up to the summit of Black Butte. Being easily accessible and an easy climb, this trail can be very busy on nice summer days so be prepared to share the trail with many others. Also, be sure to bring plenty of water with you as this can be a very hot hike and there are no water sources in the parking area or anywhere along the trail.
Once you begin your hike from the parking area you immediately become aware that this is a steep climb right from the start. The grade of the hike is mostly consistent for the duration of the hike. For the first mile you will make your way through the ponderosa pine forest as seen in the photo above before the trees thin out a bit and views of Mount Washington and the Three Sisters start to appear to your right. As you come to the 1.25 mile mark you will be almost completely out of the forest and on the sun baked south flank of Black Butte with unobstructed views for miles south to Broken Top. While you make your way in a generally easterly direction be sure to notice all the small bunches of beautiful orange, yellow, purple and occasional red wild flowers at your feet.
As you round the final switchback and head towards the summit you enter into a part of the forest on the northeast side of Black Butte that was burnt in a 2009 wildfire. Once you reach the summit at 2.0 miles you will have views of the Central Oregon Cascade Range, and on clear days, be able to see all the way to Washington State and Mount Adams.
There are three structures at the top of Black Butte. The first you will come to is the currently active fire lookout tower. This tower was constructed in 1995 after the previous tower was decommissioned in the 1990s. The first tower, which was built in 1934, remained on the summit until 2001 when it collapsed under heavy snowfall. You can still see some of the concrete blocks which supported this tower. On the western edge of the summit you also see the original lookout cupola, known as a D-6 Cupola, which was built in 1923. Just behind the D-6 cupola there is a small cabin that serves as the residence for the Forest Service worker who mans the fire lookout tower (this is a private residence so please keep your distance).
Take your time and enjoy the views all around from the many rocks scattered around the summit which make great spots to enjoy lunch with a view.
When you're ready to head back to your car make your way along the same trail back down. As you descend you will enjoy spectacular views to the west that you may not have had a chance to see as you climbed up. Once you reach the parking area you will have completed this 4 mile hike.
Please let us know how your hike went and share some of your photos on our Facebook page!