Summiting Broken Top is absolutely epic.
It’s spellbinding in itself to drive around Bend, Oregon, admiring the Cascade Mountain Range from the ground, but it’s a completely different, intoxicating experience to witness the mountains from the summit of Broken Top.
The Broken Top hike is rugged, challenging, stunning, and above all, an adventure for the books.
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.
In this guide, I highlight what to expect when summiting Broken Top so you can decide if this hike is right for you. I also cover trailhead options, how to obtain a permit, fees, getting to the trailhead, what to pack, and more.
Table of Contents
Complete Guide to Summiting the Broken Top Hike
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There are three main trailhead options for completing the Broken Top hike:
- Green Lakes Trailhead
- Todd Lake Trailhead
- Broken Top Trailhead
Which trailhead you begin the Broken Top hike from will depend on a couple of factors — the permit you score being the main one. More on this later.
Below is a breakdown of the three trail options.
Broken Top Hike via Green Lakes Trail Stats
Distance: 12.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,674 feet
Time: 8-10 hours
We opted to complete the Broken Top hike and summit the mountain via the Green Lakes Trail. Mainly, because we had a Green Lakes Trail permit.
It is also the only route that actually accounts for you going all the way to the summit of Broken Top. The other routes listed, have you ending around No Name Lake.
We were also stoked to get a Green Lakes permit because the Green Lakes Trail is one of the best and most stunning hikes in Bend, and and great place to camp and break up the challenging trail.
This guide will break down in depth what to expect hiking this route.
Broken Top Hike via Todd Lake Trail Stats
Distance: 15.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,880 feet
Time: 8-10 hours
As you can see, this route is a little longer than the Green Lakes route — and, as I mentioned above, doesn’t account for you summiting Broken Top. While navigating to the summit is still an option for this route, it will increase the mileage and require some trail finding.
Again, you will need a permit to start from this trailhead.
This is a beautiful route for hiking the Broken Top hike, as the trail takes hikers to No Name Lake — a stunning turquoise alpine lake.
Broken Top Hike via Broken Top Trail Stats
Distance: 5.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,420 feet
Time: 3-5 hours
This route is the same route as the trail outlined above, just with a different starting point.
If you have an extremely high clearance vehicle — one you’re comfortable navigating a pot-hole-ridden road and one you don’t mind taking a beating, this route might be an option for you.
But again, you’ve been warned.
Starting at the Broken Top Trailhead shaves off a lot of mileage but it also excludes a lot of views. When deciding if this route is for you, keep in mind that this trailhead also requires a permit.
Know Before You Go
Broken Top Trail Permits
Regardless of which trailhead you begin at, you will need to secure a permit in advance.
A permit is required to overnight or day-hike the Broken Top hike between June 15th and October 15th.
All hikers must secure a Central Cascades Wilderness Permit for the appropriate trailhead (Green Lake/Soda Creek, Todd Lake, or Broken Top/Crater Ditch) before beginning the hike.
Permits can be acquired here.
The first rollout of permits occurs on the first Tuesday in April. These permits account for 40% of all allotted permits for the season.
However, if you miss the initial rollout of permits, you’re not entirely out of luck.
The other 60% of permits are released 7 days in advance of any given date. This is how we scored our permit to hike the South Sister Summit.
If hiking in the Three Sisters Wilderness is on your bucket list, my biggest piece of advice is to check the website daily.
In addition to needing a permit to hike the trail, all hikers must also pay for a parking pass. All trailhead parking lots require a Recreation Pass.
Vehicles left at any of the above-mentioned trailheads must display one of the following passes:
- $5 Northwest Forest Day Pass (Day passes can also be purchased onsite)
- $30 Northwest Forest Annual Pass
- $80 American the Beautiful Annual Pass
For help in deciding which pass is best for you and where your pass is honored read here.
What to Expect Summiting Broken Top
Starting from the Green Lakes Trailhead, the hike begins mellow and flat.
The trail winds its way through a magical, towering forest, alongside a trickling creek and past a series of waterfalls. It’s easy to see why Green Lakes Trail is the most sought-after hike in Bend.
For the next couple of miles, the trail takes you across rivers, beside lava beds, and up a few manageable switchbacks before delivering you into a clearing.
Once you exit the forest and enter the open valley, you’ll get your first glimpse of Green Lakes.
The Green Lakes Trail takes you right along the shore of one of the lakes, but if you want to check them all out it will take a bit of exploring.
Towering in the distance are the picturesque peaks of the Cascade Mountain Range. From this part of the trail, you can see the epic South Sister Summit (another must-do hike!) and Broken Top Summit.
Here is where things get a little tricky.
There are several trails diverting in different directions once you reach the clearing, each of which leads to either lakes or campsites.
To start heading towards the summit of Broken Top though you will need to find where the Green Lakes Trail merges with the Broken Top NW Ridge Route.
The easiest way to do this is to hang a right, right after you pass the first lake.
This turn will situate the lake on your right. In less than a half mile after taking this right, you will come to a Y in the trail — stay right.
Once you veer right you have officially connected with the Broken Top trail that will take you to the summit.
We used this downloaded offline version of the trail from AllTrails and had no problem locating the trail.
Once you connect onto the Broken Top NW Ridge Route, things escalate quickly.
Consider this part of the trail the all-gas-no-brakes section and the portion that earned this trail its hard rating.
From here to the Broken Top summit nearly every step you take will be sharply uphill.
The trail is steep, scrambly, and exposed. The higher you go, the more all of these things amp up in intensity.
But did I mention the views?
The ridge section of the Broken Top hike delivers easily the most epic views one can find in Bend.
From the ridge, the nearby mountains of South Sister, Middle Sister, and North Sister seem unexplainably amplified.
At one point we all thought we’d never make it to the top for lack of willpower to stop breaking and gawking over the views.
As you scramble up the face of the ridge, it’s easy to see how the mountain got its name, broken top.
Every step you take is over broken, uneven shavings of rock, making the ascent slow going. While this part of the hike is tough, it’s manageable.
Once the top is in sight, things start to get a little spicy. At this point in the train, please heavily consider if you should proceed. The Broken Top Summit is technical and for lack of better words, a little scary at times.
If you are not comfortable rock climbing, have a fear of heights, or don’t have any experience with technical trails, consider admiring the summit from where you are.
The views are miraculous, regardless.
If you do choose to proceed (I don’t blame you) you’ll come to a sheer rock wall with a crack — this is the most common way to summit Broken Top, and how the summit earned its class 5 climbing rating. Some hikers even choose to rope up this section.
We didn’t plan to use rope and weren’t comfortable scaling the crack without one nor willing to accept the risks associated with doing so. Instead, we perused the area and found what we consider a relatively safer climbing route — and one that doesn’t require ropes.
To use the alternative route, go right once you see the crack. Walk along the ledge looking to your left for a more manageable rock climb. We walked only a short distance before we spotted a climb that seemed much more manageable.
Once we scrambled up and over the wall, we reconnected with the trail; although I’ll admit, it’s a bit of a free-for-all all to the top.
While there were a couple of moments where we all turned to one another with that should-we-keep-going-look, it was 100% worth it in the end.
Broken Top Summit? Most rewarding hike in all of Bend, Oregon.
Don’t take my word for it, go see it for yourself.
What to Pack for the Broken Top Hike
If you are planning to backpack the Broken Top hike via the Green Lakes Trail as we did, check out my detailed Backpacking Essentials Guide for a complete list of gear I bring on backpacking trips.
If you’re knocking out the trail as a day hike, below are a few items I recommend bringing, wearing, or using while completing the Broken Top hike.
Having a day pack you love is essential for any hiker.
I’m always taken aback when I see hikers hiking with no pack, their water bottle in one hand, and their phone in the other. When hiking the Broken Top hike, or any trail for that matter, wear a day pack that allows you to house all of your belongings in one place so you’re not tempted to under-pack and your hands are free in the event that you need them.
When summiting Broken Top, you will absolutely need them.
When completing the Broken Top hike, you will pass through everything from dense forest to exposed ridges. I recommend dressing in layers to accommodate temperature changes along the trail that come not only as a result of the canopy but also the elevation.
Opt for lightweight, moisture-wicking, and breathable materials for the hike.
My go-to hiking attire right now consists of items from the REI Swiftland line, as well as the REI Trailmade line for affordable and breathable tops, bottoms, and layers. I also can’t get enough of the Stio Cut Bank Shorts or Pinedale Pants.
P.S. — don’t forget a swimsuit and towel if you want to take a dip in one of the lakes post-summit!
The first half of the hike on Green Lakes Trail isn’t difficult or technical, but the latter half of summiting Broken Top is.
You’ll need shoes with good tread and ones that make you feel comfortable in your foot placement. I’m a trail runner fan through and through, but hiking shoe preference is completely dependent on the person.
Once you hit the lakes, the rest of the hike is completely exposed. Absolutely zero sun coverage for the next 4-5 miles.
Snacks and Water
The Broken Top hike, especially for those braving the actual summit, is long and tiring.
Fuel up for the long day trek by packing snacks that will give you a much-needed energy boost on the trail. Honey Stinger Energy Chews and Clif Bloks Energy Chews are my go-to for mid-hike pick-me-up.
For water, make sure that you’re prepared to carry adequate amounts of water for the summit. I recommend carrying at least 2-3 liters for the Broken Top hike. However, you will have plenty of opportunities to filter water should you want to take that route.
P.S. — If you haven’t already invested in a reusable water bottle, now is the time. Nalgene gal for life.
The trail is straightforward and well-marked until you reach Green Lakes.
After that, the trail gets a little bit more touch and go. We relied heavily on the AllTrails map once we started the top scramble. If you don’t own a GPS watch, consider downloading the trail from AllTrails before beginning.
I hope this guide is helpful in helping you plan an epic day hike or backpacking trip to Broken Top. If you have any questions about summiting Broken Top via the Green Lakes Trail leave me a comment in the section below.
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