Sisters Area Hiking: Black Butte

Sisters Vacation Rentals | 06.01.16

If you’ve visited Sisters Bakery a few times on your visit and indulged in one too many craft brews at Three Creeks Brewing, you might be up for a more challenging hike. Black Butte is just what the doctor ordered.

The Hike

This rewarding, moderately difficult hike begins about half way up the butte. It is a 1.9 mile hike fairly straight up, gaining 1,600 feet of elevation. The distance is 3.8 miles round trip to the headlands tip.

The first half of the hike travels through conifer forest cover, with the second portion being more difficult and exposed to the sun. It can be very hot on sunny days so be sure to bring plenty of water. Because of the difficultly of the last portion, it is generally not recommended for hikers with young children. Dogs are allowed on leashes.

Those determined hikers who make it to the top are rewarded with 360° views, from Mt. Adams in Washington to the north and Newberry Crater to the south. you’ll also find great views of Black Butte Resort & Suttle Lake.

Generally, the season is July through October, but can vary from year to year depending on snowfall. The trail can be quite busy, with an estimated 7,000 people per year hiking this popular trail. If your goal is to have a quiet hike, avoid busy weekends.

Be sure to take plenty of water and lunch and/or snacks. There is no water available at the summit and the only restroom is at the trailhead. This trail is for hiking only; there are no mountain bike or motorized vehicles allowed. Do not climb or enter the lookout structures. The log cabin is the residence of the modern lookout tower’s staff. Please respect their privacy.

Getting There

Drive west of Sisters on Highway 20/22 approximately 5.5 miles, (or east of Santiam Pass 13.5 miles) near milepost 95 at Indian Ford Campground and turn right, then staying left, Indian Ford Rd. intersects on the right, don’t go that way. [EJ1] After 3.8 miles, turn left onto gravel road 1110 for 5.1 miles to the trailhead. A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park here. A day pass is $5 or you can get an annual pass for $30. Both are available at the Sisters Ranger District, located at the corner of US-20 & S Pine St., in Sisters.

 A Little History

Black Butte is 4 to 5 times older than the rest of the Oregon Cascades. With an elevation of 6,436’, it rises 3,200’ from the forest floor.  The base diameter of the butte is 4 miles. Its symmetrical shape and dark color make it easy to identify in the skyline to the west of Redmond and north of Sisters.

The first fire lookout, a D-6 cupola, was built in 1922 and was used thru 1994.

In 1934 an 82’ wooden tower with a 7’ x 7’ cab was constructed for better visibility. The construction of this tower required over 1,000 pack loads on horses & mules, over a 30-day period, to haul all the material to the summit. The project took 1,411 man-hours to complete. The 1934 tower collapsed in the winter of 2002 due to heavy ice and snow loads during a winter storm.

In 1980 a new, one-room log cabin was built in Sisters, disassembled, and flown by helicopter to Black Butte’s summit as living quarters for the current fire lookout staff.

In 1994 work started on a new 65’ tower with a 10’ x 10’ cab and was completed in 1995.