Hiking Pilot Butte Trail is somewhat of 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.
Depending on the time of year, visitors can drive to the viewpoint, walk the paved road, or opt to hike the Pilot Butte Trail to the top.
Don’t let the distance fool you. While the trail isn’t long it does cover a good amount of elevation in a short time. Pilot Butte Trail is generally considered a great trail for the whole family, but it will leave you breathless.
In this guide, I highlight what to expect hiking Pilot Butte Trail, trailhead and parking information, seasonal road closures, other walking trails in Bend, and more.
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Hiking to Pilot Butte State Scenic Viewpoint
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Pilot Butte Trail Stats
Distance: 1.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 456 feet
Time: 1 – 1.5 hours
Know Before You Go
Does Pilot Butte State Scenic Viewpoint Require a Permit?
Visitors do not need a permit or park pass to enjoy Pilot Butte Hiking Trail. Anyone is welcome to hike, walk, or drive to the State Scenic Viewpoint.
When Is the Best Time to Hike Pilot Butte Trail
For the most beautiful views from the top, consider hiking Pilot Butte Trail for either sunrise or sunset.
Hiking the trail for sunrise will award you with alpine glow views of the Cascade Mountain Range. On a clear day, the sun perfectly hits the top of the peaks casting a pink hue over the mountains.
Sunset offers a slightly different, albeit stunning, view. The sun sets behind the range, creating a warm, hazy silhouetted perspective of the peaks.
For Less Crowds
Weekends bring hoards of hikers and runners to Pilot Butte Trail.
If you can explore the trail on a weekday you’ll have the best chance of encountering fewer people. However, keep in mind that Pilot Butte is an iconic landmark in Bend and therefore a popular destination regardless of the day.
Where Do You Park for Pilot Butte Trail?
There is a designated parking lot for Pilot Butte Trail located on the east side of the butte. The parking lot is small and fills up quickly, keep this in mind when choosing your start time for the trail.
Luckily, there is plenty of street parking surrounding Pilot Butte.
The parking lot is open daily, year-round, from 8:00 am – 6:00 pm. There is a gate that is opened and closed to enforce these times. If you’re interested in doing a sunrise or sunset hike, consider parking on a nearby street.
Can You Drive up Pilot Butte?
Depending on the time of year, visitors do have the option to drive to the Pilot Butte State Scenic Viewpoint.
From NE Greenwood Avenue there is a turn-off on the west side of the butte (opposite of the parking lot). The paved road winds vehicles around and up the butte to a small parking lot.
Note that the summit access road is closed each winter due to unsafe road conditions — roughly from November to April. Check the Oregon State Parks Website for advisory updates.
Can You Hike Pilot Butte Trail as a Loop?
If you’re not stoked about hiking Pilot Butte Trail as an out-and-back route, you have the option to take the paved road back down (or vice versa).
Both the hiking trail and paved road are of equal distance but offer slightly different views of the surrounding area and mountain range.
Pilot Butte Base Trail
You also have the option of extending the hike by taking a loop around Pilot Butte before or after reaching the scenic viewpoint.
The Base Trail is a 1.7-mile loop around the base of Pilot Butte. When paired with Pilot Butte Trail, the total distance of the hike is 3.5 miles.
What to Expect Hiking Pilot Butte Trail
From the trailhead parking lot, head towards the wooden trail board to start the hike. Continue walking past the board, keeping right to follow the trail.
You’ll pass two paths that veer off to the left, leading you clockwise around the butte. Stay right.
You’ll come to a third Y in the trail: one path continuing straight and another veering off left toward the butte. Take the left trail.
Hooking a left puts you onto Pilot Butte Trail while continuing straight sets you onto the Pilot Butte Base Trail.
Pilot Butte Trail
Once you veer onto Pilot Butte Trail, the trail begins to gain elevation immediately. The trail is narrow but well-groomed and easy to follow.
Lining both sides of the trail are thick sagebrush plants and juniper trees, among other varieties of high desert flora.
As you gain elevation, the views of Bend and the surrounding area only improve. Hikers can even glimpse the iconic Smith Rock State Park as well as the distant peaks of Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Hood on a clear day.
While the east and north sides of the trail offer incredible views of their own, is the west-facing section of Pilot Butte Trail that takes the cake.
Once you round the butte, the Three Sisters Mountains come into view.
Talk about a show-stopper.
The Scenic Viewpoint
Once you reach the scenic viewpoint you’re rewarded with 360° views.
At the top of the butte, there’s a small paved circle located in the center of the parking lot loop where there are several informative signs.
Take a moment to read the signs and soak in the views before heading back down.
For the descent, you can opt to take the natural Pilot Butte Trail back to the car, or opt for the loop trail by hiking the paved road down.
PS — There are also vault toilet facilities located at the summit.
More Bend Walking Trails
Bend is an incredible city for so many reasons, one of which is the access to the outdoors within the city itself.
Yes, Bend is surrounded by incredible National Forests, State Parks, and countless, epic multi-mile and multi-day hikes. However, you don’t have to escape the city limits to find scenic walks and landscapes.
Whether you live in Bend or are just visiting, consider checking out these other trails around Bend.
Deschutes River Trail
There are several sections of the Deschutes River Trail to explore while in Bend.
Regardless of the section you choose to hike, most of the trail is well-groomed and perfect for the whole family. This is a very popular trail with walkers and bikers, year-round.
Two of my favorite sections of the Deschutes River Trail are the Old Mill Reach and South Canyon Reach.
The Old Mill section of the trail explores the beauty of the Deschutes River as it winds through Old Mill, while the South Canyon trail takes you a bit further out of town for more serene views and river sounds.
Drake Park Loop
Walking the Drake Park Loop is one of our favorite things to do when we are spending the day in Bend.
The path is a short 1.2 miles and offers beautiful views of the river and waterside park. This is a popular area for people of all ages to walk, bike ride, hang out on the lawn, and take a dip in the river during the summertime.
Another great walking trail option located near Pilot Butte Trail is the Larkspur Trail. This trail is suitable for the whole family and is visited frequently by locals living in the area.
The trail is just under 4 miles, with the path being a mix of pavement and packed gravel. The Larkspur Trail connects several other trails in East Bend including Pilot Butte Trail.
Riley Ranch Trails
The Riley Ranch Trails offer a scenic escape from Bend.
The trails at Riley Ranch Nature Reserve cover 184 acres of former ranch land, offering 1.5 miles of gravel and natural paths. These paths lead hikers through pristine landscapes including meadows, forests, lava flows, cliffs, and canyons.
Visitors can walk down to the Deschutes River or opt for a bird’s eye view from the viewing platform.
Black Butte Trail
Black Butte Trail is less of a walking trail and more of a swift kick-in-the-butte hike.
However, if you’re down to tackling a more challenging butte, Black Butte Trail offers exceptional summit views. On a clear day, hikers are rewarded with views stretching as far as Mt. Hood.
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.
Essentials for Hiking Pilot Butte Trail
Pilot Butte Trail is a short and sweet hike but that doesn’t mean you should show up unprepared or empty-handed.
Below are some items I recommend bringing for your hike to ensure you have the best experience hiking one of Bend’s best walking trails.
Regardless of a hike’s distance, I always bring a day pack.
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.
If you struggle with knee pain or 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).
Lastly, if hiking Pilot Butte Trail for sunset is on your bucket list — it’s spectacular, by the way — make sure to throw a trusty headlamp in your pack. 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 in Bend, I recommend dressing in layers.
For your base layers, start with lightweight, moisture-wicking, and breathable materials.
Whether you opt for the paved route or the Pilot Butte Trail dirt path, 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.
Pilot Butte Trail winds in and out of tree coverage with the scenic viewpoint being fully exposed.
Snacks and Water
Again, short or not, it never hurts to have snacks (especially energy-giving ones) and plenty of water.
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 Pilot Butte Trail or other things to do near Bend, leave me a note in the comment section below.
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