Black Butte Trail is a challenging hike that takes adventurous trail-goers to one of the most stunning viewpoints in all of Central Oregon.
Located just outside the charming town of Sisters, Black Butte Trail offers sweeping, panoramic views of the Cascade Mountain Range.
After a short, albeit grueling, uphill trek, hikers are rewarded with unobstructed, 360° views stretching as far as Mt. Hood on a clear day.
While not for the faint of heart, Black Butte Trail is a must-do hike for anyone in search of a challenging trek with killer views.
In this guide, I highlight what to expect when hiking Black Butte Trail, parking and permit information, the best times to do the hike, and more.
Table of Contents
A Complete Guide to Hiking Black Butte Trail
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Black Butte Trail Stats
Distance: 4.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 1.558 feet
Time: 2.5 – 3.5 hours
Know Before You Go
Does Black Butte Trail Require a Permit?
Yes. Parking at the Black Butte Trailhead requires a Recreation Pass.
There are a couple of different permit options. Before beginning Black Butte Trail, make sure to display one of the following passes in your vehicle:
- $5 Northwest Forest Day Pass
- $30 Northwest Forest Annual Pass
- $80 American the Beautiful Annual Pass
$5 Day Passes can be purchased on-site at the trailhead. You can read more about the different pass options here.
When Is the Best Time to Hike Black Butte Trail?
For the most beautiful views from the summit, consider hiking Black Butte Trail for sunrise.
Hiking the trail at sunrise rewards adventurers with alpine glow views of the Cascade Mountain Range. On a clear sky morning, the sun perfectly touches the tip of the peaks casting a pink layer over the mountains.
Though I’ve witnessed the scene countless times since moving to Central Oregon, it still leaves me speechless.
Sunset offers a slightly different but equally epic view. The sun sets behind the range, creating a warm, hazy silhouetted perspective of the Three Sisters Mountains.
From the top of Black Butte, hikers get to enjoy one of the best sunset spots in all of Central Oregon.
For Less Crowds
Hiking Black Butte Trail for either sunrise or sunset is a great way to avoid heavy trail traffic.
However, if neither of these times aligns with your schedule, opting for a mid-week adventure is a good next bet. Naturally, weekends are a very popular time to scale Black Butte.
The good news is, that the summit area is expansive and offers plenty of space to spread out and soak in the views. Should you find yourself on the trail at a busy time, you’ll still find solitude at the summit.
How Do You Get to the Black Butte Trailhead?
From Sisters, the trailhead is located 30 minutes outside of the town center. From Bend, the trip will take 1 hour.
To reach the Black Butte Trailhead, continue on Highway US-20 W for roughly 10 minutes after passing through Sisters. After 5 miles, look for an unmarked right-hand turn toward Indian Ford Campground.
Once you turn toward Indian Ford Campground, continue following the road as it slowly winds up the butte.
Using Google Maps is highly recommended to locate the Black Butte Parking lot as several Forest Service roads in the area can cause confusion and lead to wrong turns.
After some steep navigating of the service road, the road eventually dead-ends at the Black Butte Trailhead.
Where Do You Park for Black Butte Trail?
There are two small parking areas for Black Butte Trail.
Both parking lots offer limited parking and fill up quickly on weekends. Don’t be fooled, while it feels like you drove the entire length of the butte to reach the parking lot, you still have a hefty climb to the summit.
There are two vault toilets located between the two parking lots.
Once you’ve parked, head toward the trail sign. Black Butte Trail begins pass the trail board, to the left of the picnic table.
What to Expect Hiking Pilot Butte Trail
For whatever reason, when my brain hears “butte” it automatically defaults to assuming the trail is mellow.
Heed my warning when I say, Black Butte Trail is not mellow. While the trail is short in miles covered, it makes up for it in elevation gained.
From the get-go, Black Butte Trails puts hikers to work. The straight starts steep and remains steep, for the entire climb to the summit.
At one point, Cole and I glanced at one another in that unspoken, “It can’t be this steep the whole way, right?” glance.
Turns out it can be and is.
The silver lining is that while the first half of Black Butte Trail is beneath thick forest, the second half is wide open. Once you break the treeline, the views are unbelievable.
As you’re trudging along through the forest section, don’t forget to look up from time to time and peer between the trees. Glimpses of towering mountain peaks abound around every corner.
The dirt path of Black Butte Trail, though not technical, does get rockier as you near the summit.
Depending on the time of year, be prepared to encounter snow patches at the summit, even if there’s no snow in town or on the rest of the trail. We hiked during May and were surprised to encounter snow we couldn’t see from the base.
We didn’t hike with microspikes but they definitely would have come in handy the last quarter mile or so.
However, we just took our time navigating the ice and snow patches and were able to reach the old fire lookout with no problem.
Once you reach the summit, Black Butte Trail levels out presenting countless directions to roam and soak in the views.
At the top, there is a picturesque old fire lookout situated facing the Three Sisters Mountains.
Next to the fire lookout is a bench, presenting a perfect spot to sit and soak in the views before heading back down to the car.
There is also a viewing deck with signs naming the surrounding mountain peaks. The view from the top of Black Butte is spectacular and exceeds any pre-connotations the word “butte” may suggest.
We hiked the trail for sunset so found ourselves in a bit of a beat-the-clock situation on the descent. If you too are adventuring to the summit of Black Butte for sunset, make sure to have a headlamp on hand, just in case.
When the summit is blanketed in snow, having the trail map downloaded on AllTrails comes in handy. Once we located Black Butte Trail once again, we started the descent.
The trail feels equally steep on the way down as it did on the climb up. Take your time and ensure you have your footing as you hike the 2 miles back to the parking lot.
More Epic Hiking Trails Near Bend
Pilot Butte Trail
Hiking Pilot Butte Trail is practically a rite of passage for both Bend residents and visitors.
Located in the heart of Bend, the trail leads hikers to a stunning scenic viewpoint over the city. Not only do you have an unobstructed shot of the surrounding Bend area, but a jaw-dropping view of the Cascade Mountain Range.
The hike is suitable for the whole family and offers a natural trail option, a paved option, and a driveable option.
Green Lakes Trail
Green Lakes Trail is arguably the best all-around hike in Bend.
Green Lakes Trail takes hikers past several waterfalls, through dense forest, across natural bridges, alongside streams, and to the shores of pristine alpine lakes.
Talk about an all-in-one adventure for the books.
South Sister Trail
South Sister Trail is physically demanding, but 100% worth every challenging step it takes to reach the summit.
From 360° views of snowcapped peaks to untouched, turquoise-blue alpine lakes, this trail is brimming with unbelievable beauty.
For those in search of a killer workout, killer views, and killer bragging rights, look no further than South Sister Trail.
Broken Top Trail
The Broken Top Hike is rugged, challenging, stunning, and above all, an adventure for the books — so, naturally, my favorite hike in the area.
While the Broken Top hike is hands down one of the best trails near Bend, Oregon, it’s not for everyone. Summiting Broken Top is technical and exposed and requires a high level of experience, strength, and confidence in one’s abilities.
If you’re up for the challenge — and adventure — Broken Top Trail is your trail.
Essentials for Hiking Black Butte Trail
Don’t let the fact that Black Butte Trail is only 4 miles have you showing up unprepared to tackle the trail.
Below are some items I recommend wearing or bringing for the trail to ensure you have the best experience hiking to the summit of Black Butte.
Short or long trail, day packs are a must.
For a day hike of this length, I recommend anywhere from a 16L-25L pack. I always air on the smaller side for short hikes so I don’t end up packing unnecessary items and therefore carrying unnecessary weight.
Trekking poles are more of a personal preference gear item. However, with a trail this steep they massively come in clutch.
If you’re no stranger to knee pain or struggle with balance I highly recommend looking into trekking poles, if you haven’t already. I started using Black Diamond Trekking Poles a few years ago and I’ve never looked back (and my knees have never been more grateful).
If you are following my advice and adventuring to the top of Black Butte for either sunrise or sunset make sure to pack a headlamp for either your ascent or descent. Again, Black Diamond is my brand of choice and has been for years.
With Central Oregon being classified as a high desert, the temperatures can fluctuate drastically between sun-up and sun-down. When hiking anywhere near Bend and the surrounding areas I always recommend dressing in layers.
For your base layers, it’s smart to start with lightweight, moisture-wicking, and breathable materials.
Though a well-manicured trail, the scramble up Black Butte Trail is steep. For traction purposes, it’s important to wear a good pair of trail shoes with dependable tread.
While hiking shoe preference is completely dependent on the person, I’ve tried several different brands and types from boots to trail runners and some have stood out amongst the rest.
Black Butte Trail begins in thick tree coverage but eventually leads hikers above the treeline into full sun exposure.
Snacks and Water
Again, short or not, it never hurts to have snacks (especially energy-giving ones) and plenty of water. Black Butte Trail isn’t a long trail but it is a swift kick in the butt.
If you haven’t already invested in a reusable water bottle, now is the time. Nalgene gal for life.
If you have any other questions about hiking Black Butte Trail or any of the other must-do hikes I included in this guide, leave me a note in the comment section below.
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