Black Butte Trail is an intermediate 3.9 mile out and back trail that ascends deep into the evergreens, then opens up to vast valley views below and peaks in the distance. From an old fire lookout at the top, take in the full panoramic beauty of the Central Oregon landscape.
Get Ready: Black Butte is just west of Sisters, Oregon. Sisters is accessible from Highway 20. It’s 30 miles northwest of Bend, Oregon. Alternatively Sisters is about a 2 hour and 45 minute drive from Portland. The drive to the trailhead, halfway up the Butte, can be done in a car without 4WD, but it will be a more comfortable drive up with it. The road can be snowy or icy in the winter. There’s no fee to park.
Get Set: From Sisters drive about 6 miles northwest on Highway 20. Turn right onto Forest Service Road 11. Drive for about 5.5 miles. You’ll then take a left on Forest Service Road 1110 to the Black Butte Trailhead. The road dead ends at the parking lot. The trailhead will take you directly up the Butte.
Go: This trail immediately winds its way upwards through Ponderosa Pines.
The forest is padded with pine needles. Each breath in is filled with the sweet scent of dirt and sage.
During the first mile, you will gain around 800 ft. in elevation, beginning to see glimpses of snowy peaks through evergreens – a small taste of what’s to come. Eventually the trees give way to brush and depending on the time of year, wildflowers, as you trek up the southern side of Black Butte. The views of the cascades are endless. Closest to you, will be the Three Sisters, Hope, Faith and Charity. In total you will climb 1,548 feet. Finally, one more turn up the trail and you’re met with the wide open space that is the top of Black Butte. There is a fire lookout and a small wooden cabin. The 360 degree views make you feel like you’re on top of the tallest mountain with half the effort. Expert tip: bring lunch up, kick up your feet and stay a while.
Effort: This trail will take the experienced and fit 45 minutes. However, there’s no shame in taking your time – there’s certainly no lack of resting views for less experienced hikers. There are very few, if any, extended flat sections of this hike. You’ll feel the burn in your quads and glutes. The fresh, sweet air and the epic views make the sore legs worth it.
Takeaway: This trail can get crowded depending on the time of year and time of day you choose to hike. I’m always a fan of getting an early start. There’s something about being on top of Black Butte, alone with the view. Sisters is the last place to get gas so if you’re running low make sure you fill up before leaving town. Traffic through Sisters and along Highway 20 can be a little congested – if you’re only passing through, grab a baked good at Sisters Bakery.