Backpack the Obsidian Area

6 miles 1800 ft gain  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Chris Anderson

Backpacking to this limited entry area offers the ability to experience a rare geologic highlight; rolling hills and rocks of black obsidian glass up close and personal. This difficult hike is ideal for the overnight backpacker, allowing more solitude as the day hiking visitors leave in the afternoon hours. The views of the Three Sisters are unparalleled. This along with Sisters Spring which bursts forth from the base of the North Sister with crystal clear mountain water and Obsidian falls makes this trip second to none for Oregon back country adventures.

The Obsidian area is at least six miles from the closest trail head and 1800 feet of elevation gain. The best way to see the area is to plan a multi-day backpacking adventure. It is limited entry which is strictly enforced by the Forest Service. Only 30 day hikers and 40 overnight hikers are allowed in the on a first come first served basis. Follow the resource link at the bottom of the post for details on permits.

The area is accessible from both the Scott and the Frog Camp trailheads on Hwy 242 in central Oregon. The trail is generally well graded and heads deep into the Three Sisters wilderness, starting in a lodgepole forest and transitioning between Lava areas and meadows as you climb. Upon approaching the glimmering cliffs of The Obsidian Area you'll come to the PCT and Obsidian Falls. Here you can take a left to get to the plateau where the main attractions lie.

Camp spots abound well away from Sisters Spring and Obsidian falls, many are located to the left of the waterfall tucked away in the trees and several others are available if you search the hills around the area. Almost every camp site has a great view of the surrounding cascades with close up views of the Three Sisters dramatically rising in front of you. If you find your over the plateau past the primary camping spots you can get to the edge of the Obsidian Cliff area which drops off steeply below you and offers an amazing vista and several distance peaks.

Sisters Spring bursts forth from the base of the North Sister near your entrance to the plateau about the waterfall. The crystal clear, cool water is very refreshing. Taking a day to explore the area is highly recommended. Wilderness Disc Golf (Wildernessdiscgolf.com) is a great activity with a bunch of variability and great scenery to enhance play. Visitors can actually climb on, sit around and pick up pieces of Obsidian glass large and small to get an up close, hands on experience.

Those that are adventurous can also head up towards the North and Middle sister from this location. With the close proximity to the Middle Sister climbers can get high up on the mountain side and with map or GPS possibly find summit trails to the top. On previous visits we have had much better success with Middle Sister summit trips from the opposite side, however.

When leaving backpackers can continue the loop trail which continues through the area and meets a trail junction at Sunshine. A popular and idyllic alpine wonderland of the Oregon Cascades there is a beautiful meadow and stream at this historic cabin site. From here a left takes you back down towards your car.

Bonus Trips:
Access to the area is also available from the Scott trailhead. This is a longer trip and can be part of a bigger loop trail as well. This trail passes directly by Four-in-one cone, near Yapoah Crater and directly next to Collier Cone. Each of these can be great to climb and explore if you have time. With enough time, this route also offers an oasis at Minnie Scott Spring should adventurers like to split the trip into several days and different campsites.

Directions: Hwy 242 to between mileposts 70 and 71, looking for Obsidian (Frog Camp) Trail head or Scott Trail.

Forest Service Link: fs.usda.gov

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Tags

Chillin
Camping
Photography
Backpacking
Hiking
Forest
River
Scenic
Waterfall

Reviews

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🥇Top Contributor

4 months ago

Saving this one for later

My friend has been dying to backpack this. I’ve only partially hiked but we are hoping to backpack late July. The obsidian is insane to see in person

Explorer

🥇Top Contributor

over 3 years ago

Great start for Middle Sister

I've never had a problem getting a last-minute permit for this area (though I've only tried for day hiking - not camping). As the author notes, this is an awesome jumping off point for a summit North Sister or Middle Sister. There's truthfully no "good way" to get up the mountain, just follow a few unmarked use trails up either the Collier Glacier or the Renfrew Glacier and aim for the top!

Explorer

🥇Top Contributor

almost 4 years ago

Unique area

This is a really unique area to explore because of the large obsidian flows. It's very cool to walk through the flows - even the trail winding through the piles of volcanic rock looks neat! - and even more fun that you can explore the flows off-trail just by scrambling. All of this is paired with some great views of the Three Sisters, although I will admit there are better vantages in other (non-limited-entry) areas of the Three Sisters Wilderness. If you're worried about getting a permit, try going in October - the McKenzie Pass Highway remains open until November 1 most years, and there are far fewer people looking to hike or backpack in this area late in the season.

Magical!

Went with a dear friend and my dog in late July and it was a prime time for wild flowers blooming everywhere along with springs and creeks (and Obsidian falls of course) in full force. Taking a side trip up the Middle Sister was also a big highlight and the meadow right before Scott Trail and PCT junction is astonishing! This trip is a MUST

🥈 Contributor

almost 5 years ago

Great 3 day loop

Awesome hike, only problem was a lack of water sources in the late summer.

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