Backpack around Broken Top

Oregon Tam MacArthur Rim Trailhead

Added by Michael Graw

This 3-day, 2-night loop around Broken Top provides epic views of the Three Sisters Wilderness and the central Oregon Cascades. In between panoramas, climb to the Broken Top crater and hike beneath the Three Sisters through the Green Lakes.

This loop trip around Broken Top is one of the premier backpacking loops in Oregon. The trail winds past numerous alpine lakes, including the popular Green Lakes area, and offers near-constant views of Broken Top, the Three Sisters, and Mount Bachelor. To top it all off, the clear skies typical of central Oregon in the summer allows views as far as Mount Adams in southern Washington and east to the Ochoco Mountains. While it can be done in more or less time, a 3-day, 2-night trip provides the best balance between mileage and enjoyment for most people.

To get to the trailhead, turn off of US-20 onto 3 Creeks Road (also signed as Elm Street) in the town of Sisters. Follow the road for 16 miles and park in the 3 Creeks Lake Trailhead parking lot (Northwest Forest Pass required). While the loop can be hiked in either direction, the route as described here goes counterclockwise. Cross the road to the Tam MacArthur Rim Trailhead to start.

The Tam MacArthur Rim is, as the name implies, a rim - which means that the trail immediately starts gaining elevation. Hike uphill (about 1600 feet!) for 2.5 miles to reach the top of the rim and earn your first viewpoint over the central Cascades. At this point, there is a "End of Trail" sign marking the beginning of a roughly 2-mile off-trail section. The route is extraordinarily easy to follow in the absence of a trail, as there is a use-trail in the dirt in most places. Where the trail disappears, simply follow the ridge crest towards Broken Top until you find signs of trail again. Continue for another mile or so once the trail reappears, still heading towards Broken Top, until you reach the crater below the Broken Top summit. There are numerous places to pitch a tent around "Unnamed Lake" in the crater, and this is an excellent area to explore for the evening.

To continue, follow the creek flowing out of Unnamed Lake downhill from the crater for approximately 1 mile until you reach the Broken Top Trail. There are abundant camping opportunities along this portion of the trail as well. At the junction, turn right to stay on the trail towards the Green Lakes Trail rather than heading towards the Todd Lake Trailhead. From that point, the trail curves up over the southern flank of Broken Top before intersecting the Green Lakes Trail in 2.9 miles.

Turn right on the Green Lakes Trail. The Green Lakes Trail is among the most popular in the wilderness, and camping around the Green Lakes is at designated sites only. While the views are tremendous and the lakes offer pristine swimming holes, I recommend continuing on towards Green Lakes Pass in 2.2 miles rather than setting up camp in this area. One mile after the pass, look for a cairn on the right marking a use-trail to Golden Lake (about one-quarter mile). Golden Lake makes an excellent campsite, as it receives less traffic than Green Lakes, also boasts stunning views, and offers a use-trail leading above the meadow to another alpine lake (which has possibly the single best view of Broken Top, anywhere).

The third day, continue on the main trail towards Park Meadow. Continue straight at the junction to head towards the 3 Creeks Lake Trailhead, where you began. At this point, there is still 6.3 miles to go, much of which crosses through the 2012 Pole Creek Burn Area. There is no camping or off-trail hiking in the burn area, so it is easy to cover this distance back to the car relatively quickly. I recommend having extra water for this area, as the burned forest is extra dry (although there are one or two small creeks that cross that trail).

After the hike, return to Sisters for food and drink - the Depot Cafe has an excellent lunch menu and local beer (including from Sister's own Three Creeks Brewing), and there are plenty of other food options in town as well. Best of all, there are a number of ice cream shops along the main street!

Pack List

  • NW Forest Pass (or Interagency pass)
  • 3-season backpacking gear
  • Map (Geo-Graphics Three Sisters Wilderness map)
  • Compass
  • Food
  • Water
  • Water treatment
  • Bug spray
  • Camera
Read More

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Backpacking, Camping, Hiking

Skill Level:



Spring, Summer, Autumn

Trail Type:



22.6 Miles

Elev. Gain:

2200 Feet



Dog Friendly
Easy Parking

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How to Get There

2 months ago

The most delightful taste of what Central Oregon offers.

What a time to be had. Did this trip solo, the same route as explained here. Instead of staying at "No Name Lake" I traveled on down to Soda Creek and camped at one of the designated spots for Green Lakes although I was still about 1/2 mile from the actual lakes. The next day was more lax, as I got to explore around Green Lakes and read for awhile. I then headed over to Golden and again, read and explored. I ventured with my pack up to the tarns and experienced the most magical views. This trip just makes me appreciate my home/backyard evermore <3

2 months ago

2 months ago


The best hike loved the views and streams

2 months ago

Added by Michael Graw

I'm a landscape and adventure photographer based out of Corvallis, Oregon. Backpacker, triathlete, and skiier - always with a camera in hand. Look for me in the mountains or online @WanderingSolePhotography.

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