Green Lakes Trail is the best hike near Bend, Oregon if you ask me.
Green Lakes Trail takes hikers past several waterfalls, through dense forest, across natural bridges, alongside streams, and to the shores of pristine alpine lakes.
All the while, hikers are exploring in the presence of the iconic Cascade Mountain Range. Talk about views.
It’s easy to see why Green Lakes Trail is among the (if not the) most popular hikes near Bend, Oregon. Unfortunately, the new permitting system doesn’t make it easy to get on the trail. Hiking or backpacking Green Lakes Trail requires a lot of planning and a bit of luck — both of which I explain in detail in this guide.
This guide highlights what to expect hiking or backpacking Green Lakes Trail, how to obtain a permit, fees, getting to the trailhead, what to pack, and more.
Table of Contents
Complete Guide to Hiking Green Lakes Trail
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Green Lakes Trail Stats
Distance: 9 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,174 feet
Time: 4-6 hours
Know Before You Go
Green Lakes Trail Permit
A permit is required to day-hike or overnight camp on Green Lakes Trail between June 15th and October 15th.
All hikers must secure a Central Cascades Wilderness Permit for the Green Lake/Soda Creek Trailhead before beginning the hike.
Permits can be acquired here.
Green Lakes can also be accessed via other trailheads including Soda Springs, Todd Lake, Park Meadow, and Moraine Lake — if you don’t see any permits available from the main trailhead.
Permits become available on the first Tuesday in April. These permits account for 40% of all allotted permits for the season.
If you already missed the initial rolling out of permits, you’re not out of luck.
Additional permits are released 7 days in advance of any given date. These permits cover 60% of all allotted permits for the season.
If hiking in the Three Sisters Wilderness is on your bucket list, checking the website daily for permits is the way to go.
Important to Note
A ranger sits at the trailhead and checks permits as you both enter and exit Green Lakes Trail. Make sure you have the necessary permit before beginning the trail.
Green Lakes Trail Parking Fee
Parking at the trailhead also requires a Recreation Pass. This pass is in addition to your day-use or overnight permit.
Vehicles left at the trailhead 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
To learn more about which pass is best for you and where your pass is honored read here.
Camping at Green Lakes
Visitors hiking Green Lakes Trail between June 15th and October 15th must obtain an overnight permit to camp.
There are 28 designated campsites in the Green Lakes Management Area.
Things to keep in mind when camping:
- Camp within 15 feet of campsite post markers
- Campfires are not allowed
- Dogs must be kept on a leash between June 15th and September 15th
- Human waste must be buried at least 8 inches deep and 200 feet away from any water sources
- All trash must be packed out
We chose to camp at site 15 for a great view of the lakes and closer access to Broken Top — which we summited later that day.
While we did see one or two other campers during our trip, it truly felt like we had the entire Green Lakes area to ourselves.
I, myself, am guilty of being annoyed with the permit system from time to time, but the structure is ultimately in place to protect the spaces we love. Make sure to practice good stewardship when camping in the backcountry and always uphold the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace.
Green Lakes Trail is the perfect launching point for both a South Sister Summit and the Broken Top Summit.
The South Sister Summit can be reached via the Green Lakes trail. While the trail is a bit long for a day hike — roughly 15.3 miles — it makes for the perfect backpacking trip if you’re able to score an overnight permit at Green Lakes.
For a shorter hike, consider summiting South Sister via the South Sister Trail.
Likewise, hikers can also reach the Broken Top Summit from the Green Lakes Trail. From the Green Lakes camping area, the Broken Top Summit is roughly another 2.2 miles, one way.
A 12.4-mile round-trip summit of Broken Top via the Green Lakes Trail doesn’t make for an impossible day hike, just a long and challenging one.
We were lucky enough to secure an overnight Green Lakes permit so we summited Broken Top and then set up camp at Green Lakes before hiking out the following day.
If you’re up for the challenge, summiting Broken Top continues to be my favorite adventure in Bend to date.
Getting to the Trailhead From Bend
Reaching the Green Lakes trailhead from Bend takes just over 30 minutes.
From Bend, take the Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway toward Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort. Continue following this route for roughly 25 miles.
A short 5-7 minutes after passing the ski resort, the Green Lakes Trail parking area will be located on the right.
The Green Lakes Trail parking is small and fills up quickly. We arrived at 8:30 a.m. and the lot had only a few spots remaining. To secure a spot stress-free, consider arriving early to begin your hike.
What to Expect Hiking Green Lakes Trail
Green Lakes Trail is popular for many reasons, one being that it isn’t very difficult. Many other hikes in the area are very long and physically demanding.
Green Lakes Trail, however, remains relatively flat with only a slight gradual uphill. Though you’re not covering a large amount of elevation, the trail still delivers stunning views of waterfalls, valleys, lakes, and peaks.
The first part of the trail winds hikers through dense green forest and alongside Fall Creek. Several waterfalls line the trail making the hike magical from the get-go.
Over the course of the next couple of miles you cross rivers, walk alongside lava beds, and tackle a few switchbacks. Though the trail is already beautiful, the best is still yet to come.
Since Green Lakes Trail is so heavily monitored by the permit system, you don’t often encounter many other hikers.
While we passed a few others on the trail the encounters were brief and we spent most of our time on Green Lakes Trail alone amongst the trees.
Eventually, the trees thin and you get your first view of a lake.
The trail takes you right to the shores of some of the lakes while others take a bit of exploring to find. If you’re feeling adventurous, the lakes make for a perfect spot to jump in and cool off.
Surrounding the lakes in every direction are the picturesque peaks of the Cascade Mountain Range. You can easily spot the South Sister Summit and Broken Top Summit, both of which you can extend your hike to reach.
If you’re day hiking Green Lakes Trail, make sure to take your time exploring the area, grab a seat next to one of the lakes, take a dip, and just enjoy the beautiful area before making the hike back out.
Backpacking Green Lakes Trail
As I mentioned earlier, securing a backpacking permit for Green Lakes Trail requires planning, timing, and a bit of luck — or, on the flip side, the freedom to be flexible and pick up and go with short notice.
If the stars align and you find yourself with an overnight permit, you’re in for a real treat. Backpacking Green Lakes Trail is one of the least taxing and most rewarding backpacking trips I’ve been on.
The Green Lakes area in itself is enchanting and serene — but the surrounding peaks are where the real adventure lies.
What to Pack
If you are planning to backpack Green Lakes Trail, check out my full Backpacking Essentials Guide for a complete list of items I bring along for backpacking trips.
For those looking to day-hike, here are a few things I recommend taking with you for a smooth and worry-free trip.
Having a great day pack that’s comfortable — one that’s not too big, and not too small — is essential for any hike. A day pack allows you to house all of your belongings in one place so you’re not tempted to under-pack water or skimp on the snacks.
When hiking in the mountains, it’s wise to dress in layers to accommodate temperature changes along the trail.
The temperature while in the forest can be considerably different than the temperature along the unshaded bank of the lake. Consider dressing in 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 so you can take a dip in one of the lakes!
Although Green Lakes Trail isn’t difficult or technical you’ll still want to opt for a good pair of hiking shoes.
Don’t forget to pack a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and/or long-sleeved shirt and pants to protect yourself from the sun. The elevation around Green Lakes can be misleading — it might not feel as strong, but the sun is at work.
Snacks and Water
While the trail isn’t necessarily difficult, it is long.
As far as water goes, make sure that you can carry at least 2-3 liters for the trail. Make sure to opt for a reusable water bottle or reservoir over plastic.
There are also several opportunities to filter water along the trail.
The trail is pretty straightforward and well-marked, but you never want to begin a hike without some sort of offline map or GPS tracking device.
Conditions are constantly changing in the Cascade Mountain Range and as a hiker, you always want to be prepared. If you don’t own a watch, consider downloading the trail from AllTrails.
I hope this guide is helpful in helping you plan an epic day hike or backpacking trip to Green Lakes. If you have any questions about hiking Green Lakes Trail leave me a comment in the section below.
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