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Broken Top Hike: Everything You Need to Know About Hiking this Otherworldly Volcano in Central Oregon

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The Broken Top hike is one of the best trails in the state of Oregon, offering breathtaking views of ponderosa pine tree forests, fields of wildflowers, and a turquoise lake, sitting in the shadow of a shockingly purple volcanic crater.

While it’s an absolutely incredible trek, Broken Top is not without its quirks- with its significant distance for a day-hike, dual trailheads, and permit requirements, you’ve certainly got to do your research before hitting the trail here. So if you’re looking for one of the most unique experiences in Central Oregon, look no further- here’s everything you need to know about the Broken Top hike.

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About the Broken Top Hike

Length: 15.2 miles if you’re starting at the Todd Lake parking lot (pssst.. or just 5.5 miles roundtrip, if you have a REALLY hardcore vehicle that can take on a gnarly, unmaintained road to the alternate trailhead- more on that below!)

Elevation gain: 2,880 feet

Difficulty: Moderate to challenging

Here’s the thing- beyond this hike being quite long for a day-hike, it’s totally doable, whether you’re a beginner or advanced hiker. Much of the elevation gain, though, is saved towards the latter half of the trail as you hike to the aforementioned turquoise lake (curiously named “No Name Lake”), which makes for a steep couple of miles (I promise the payoff is worth it!).

Woman standing on a rock near No Name Lake along the Broken Top hike

Permit? Up until fairly recently, you could just self-register for a hiking permit at the trailhead.

Now, however, due to the trail’s popularity, both day and overnight hikers must obtain a Central Cascades Wilderness Permit during the hike’s most popular (and snow-free) window, from June 15 through October 15, regardless of which trailhead you’re starting from. Check out this website for more information on how to snag one of these (competitive!) permits.

Man hiking towards the summit of the Broken Top volcano along the Broken Top hike

How to Get to the Broken Top Hike Trailhead

As previously noted, unless you have a beast monster car, you’ll start the hike from the Todd Lake trailhead, about 25 miles west of Bend, along the Cascades Lake Highway. Like seemingly all National Forest trailheads in the Pacific Northwest, the entrance to the Todd Lake parking lot has a few potholes here and there, but any passenger vehicle, driving carefully, should be able to weave around them with no problems. 

On the other hand, if you have a super metal car (I’m talking HIGH clearance, 4WD, and monster truck wheels) that can take on comically enormous potholes for three miles straight, you might consider continuing on to the Broken Top trailhead along Forest Roads 370 and 380, from the Todd Lake parking lot. 

If you have a car that’s hardcore enough to make it up the rugged road and you happen to be visiting when this road is ungated (July through October), you’ll get to shave off about 10 miles and 1,400 feet of elevation gain from the hike, meeting up with the trail departing from Todd Lake approximately 5 miles in.

While this may sound awfully appealing, a word of warning- you’ll be missing some of the most picturesque sights along the first portion of the trail, with fields of wildflowers, stunning ponderosa pine tree forests, and incredible views of the volcano you’re about to summit.

Meadow and stream along Broken Top hike

Regardless of which place you park, you’ll need to display either a $5 day pass (which you can register for at the trailhead) or a valid recreation pass (the Northwest Forest or an interagency pass, like America the Beautiful)- rangers have been known to give tickets here for parking without an appropriate permit!

When to Hike the Broken Top Hike

The best time to hike the trail is from July through mid-October, when the roads and the trail are mostly snow-free. You can access the trail for a few weeks outside of this window, but the road leading to Todd Lake is seasonally closed from late October through early May.

If you do try to squeeze in a hike in from late October through June, I’d recommend bringing along microspikes and trekking poles– there’s a pretty good chance you’ll encounter snow along the trail, especially at higher elevations!

Couple overlooking No Name Lake from the Broken Top summit along the Broken Top hike

Another consideration of when to visit? Wildfires- with its dry high desert climate, Bend and the surrounding area is unfortunately intermittently besieged by wildfires from around July through October. Beyond the trail closing for safety reasons if there’s a wildfire in the area, smoke from neighboring fires can make it challenging to breath here (not exactly what you want when you’re hiking up a mountain for 15 miles) and obscure the incredible views along the trail. 

You may notice that some of our photos look a bit hazy- when we visited in October, there was a pretty intense layer of smoke from wildfires in the area blanketing the ground. I honestly was a bit bummed about this (we frankly didn’t have as spectacular views that we would have if we had perfectly clear weather), but I’m still so happy we still made the trek. Broken Top is probably one of my top ten favorite hikes ever (wildfire smoke and all)- and that’s saying a lot!

View of Cascade Mountains along the Broken Top hike

Because of the wildfire risks, before you head to the trail, I’d recommend double checking this smoke map to see if the area is impacted by any wildfires, as well as the Forest Service site for up-to-date closures.

What to Expect Along the Broken Top Hike

Assuming you start in the Todd Lake trailhead (for those of you starting from the Broken Top trailhead, you can skip down to the fourth paragraph below, where you’ll be joining up with the trail), you’ll kick off the first 2.4 miles of your journey along Todd Trail #34. Most of this portion of the trail is fairly flat and through a thick pine tree forest, which gradually thins out and transitions to expansive high desert meadows.

Approximately 2.4 miles in, you’ll hit the first of several junctions with trails that meander across the Central Cascade Wilderness- take the Soda Creek #11 Trail to your right to continue through the arid grasslands. You’ll cross a handful of little babbling brooks here, but they’re usually not too intense, with stepping stones to help you cross. There will be another junction about 3.2 miles in- here, take a right onto the Broken Top Trail #10 (woohoo- we’re finally on the official trail!).

Once you hit 4.1 miles in, the views become really spectacular, with sweeping meadows of wildflowers (especially if you visit from late July through mid- August) and unencumbered views of Mount Bachelor and Broken Top. 

View of a meadow and Broken top volcano from along the Broken Top hike

The trail meets up with the entry point for the hikers starting from the Broken Top trailhead approximately 5 miles in- just in time for all of the elevation gain to really get started! The uphill climb is quite the butt-whooper- plus the trail is mostly comprised of loose rock and dusty dirt (so be careful- it would be easy to slip here!). Eventually, you’ll hit a scree field of volcanic rock, steeply heading uphill, and a narrow creek to the left of the trail- that means you’re almost at No Name Lake!

Once you reach the shores of the lake, take a moment to drink in the incredible sight of its robin’s egg blue waters and the jagged volcanic rock, striated with purple and pink hues, towering overhead. Depending on when you visit, there may even be icebergs floating tranquilly in the lake (when we visited, in early October, all of the snow and ice around the crater had melted, but the icebergs usually stay until around mid-August or so).

Man standing along the summit of Broken Top volcano along the Broken Top hike

After you’ve caught your breath from all that uphill climbing, most hikers just make their way back to their cars from here- but you’re not like other hikers, right? Because you should DEFINITELY make one final push 0.7 miles up to the summit, with absolutely gorgeous views of the surrounding Cascades, including the famed Three Sisters, Three Finger Jack, Mount Jefferson, and Mount Washington. 

To reach the summit, you’ll continue right along the shores of the lake and then make the 300-foot climb to a ridgeline overlooking seemingly all of Central Oregon’s Cascade Mountains to the northwest, Bend Glacier to the west, and No Name Lake and the otherworldly Broken Top Crater to the south. It’s probably one of the most unique and stunning views I’ve seen in my whole life- and I’ve seen a whole lotta views!

Woman hiker standing on the Broken Top summit overlooking the Three Sisters along the Broken Top hike

Tips for the Broken Top Hike

  • Download the AllTrails map of the trail before you leave. The trail is well-signed, but there’s a fair amount of junctions and tons of social trails branching off the main path, making it a bit confusing to know where to go. Having the AllTrails map handy and tracking your path using GPS will ensure you don’t get lost along the trail.
Pssst… you'll need the AllTrails Pro version of the app to download offline maps, but you can get a 7-day free trial here. If you're wondering whether the app is for you, we wrote a whole post on whether AllTrails Pro is worth it.
  • Pack sunscreen, a hat, and plenty of water. After the first couple of miles, there’s almost no shade along the trail and between the elevation gain, the trail’s high elevation (Broken Top is 9,177 feet above sea level at its summit!) and the sheer amount of exposure, the sun can feel downright brutal. So remember to slather on that SPF and throw on a hat and some sunnies before heading out on this hike.

    I’d also recommend bringing plenty of water- more than you think you’ll need, actually. My husband, Justin and I each take one of these giant Nalgene bottles on hikes with us, as well as a couple of smaller plastic bottles (that we always reuse several times!) to refill our main Nalgene in case it runs out. I LOVE my Nalgene- it’s better for the planet than single-use plastic and easier on our wallets! If you don’t want to carry around extra bottles to refill, you could bring along a water purifier (we use this one) to keep you nice and hydrated along the trail!
Woman standing under the peak of the Broken Top volcano along the Broken Top hike
  • Wear hiking boots. The path you’ll be hiking on is pretty varied, ranging from rocky creek beds to large, pointy rocks to a couple of miles climbing uphill on tiny, slippery stones. Given this diversity (and some of the steep drop-offs you may encounter, especially along the summit of the trail), I’d strongly recommend wearing waterproof hiking boots, like these for women and these for men.
Woman overlooking Broken Top summit along the Broken Top hike
  • Bring layers. Because of its high elevation, No Name Lake and the summit can feel a LOT breezier and chillier than the meadows you’ll be hiking through to reach it. So take some warm layers, similar to my beloved zip-up fleece I took along on this hike, to bundle up while you’re eating lunch or catching a breather .
  • Know where and how to camp. Camping overnight is allowed with a valid permit, but you can’t camp just anywhere along the trail. Because people weren’t following the Leave No Trace principles, the National Forest Service instituted a prohibition on camping within .25 miles of No-Name Lake. This is why we can’t have nice things!

    Relatedly, as a friendly reminder, always follow the Leave No Trace principles, like dispose of waste properly (pack it in, pack it out) and leave what you find (don’t carve your initials on anything, yoink any of the rocks or wildflowers for your personal collection, or otherwise leave the trail worse than you found it). 

And with that, enjoy the Broken Top hike, one of the coolest trails in the entire Pacific Northwest! Do you have any questions about Broken Top? Sound off in the comments below!

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