Northwest Hiking Trails

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Black Butte Lookout


Trip report by: Rex Kamstra

"I would definitely recommend this trip to a friend."

Photos: [1] The two lookout towers loom overhead with just under a mile to go. [2] The 1934 tower, with Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Hood seen through forest fire snags. [3] The 1923 cupola cabin, with excellent views of Broken Top and Mt. Jefferson. [4] Four generations: 1980 log cabin, 1923 cupola cabin, 1934 tower, and 1995 tower.

Hike to one of the most historic lookout sites in the Pacific Northwest, with 4 generations of structures intact on the summit, and panoramic views of the Cascade Range from the Three Sisters all the way to Mt. Adams in Washington on a clear day, and out over the tinder-dry pine and brush lands around Bend and Redmond.

The trailhead leaves the parking lot toward the northwest, through a viewless and shady ponderosa pine forest. At 1/2 mile you'll reach a switchback and head back toward the southeast, wrapping your way around the south side of the butte. At a mile, the trees thin out as you reach the sunbeaten south slope, leaving very few shade stop opportunities. Photo This is also the thirstiest part of the trail, so bring along your water for this section, it can be very warm in the afternoon here. You can see the two lookout towers that grace the summit above you. The trail gets a bit steeper at 1.5 miles, as you round the butte on the east side. As you approach the summit, the trail wraps around the northeast slope and through snags left over from a forest fire that burned near the top of the mountain in 1981.

The first lookout tower you will reach is the one currently in use, constructed in 1995 to replace the taller tower you'll come to next, which was built in 1934 and is presently condemned. Neither tower is accessible as a public vista, and the present tower may only be climbed with prior arrangements. During summer months the tower is staffed to spot wildfires, so the lookout operator can't possibly play host to the hundreds of hikers that reach the summit each month (I hiked this one before the lookout was staffed,early in May, on a Monday, and there were about 12 other people on the trail that day).

Photo Passing the older lookout tower, you'll come to an even earlier structure, a cupola cabin built in 1923. Only a handful of these unique buildings are left in the Pacific Northwest. Since the cabin never did offer a 360 degree view, the tall tower next door was built. Just over the rocks from the cupola cabin is the lookout's present summer residence, a log cabin built in 1980. Signs are located near each structure describing the history as well.

After soaking in the view and envying the lookout on duty at having one of the best views of the area, return the way you came.

Directions to trailhead: Take Highway 20 west of Sisters, Oregon, 5.5 miles to the Indian Ford Campground turnoff on the right. Take FS road #11 north for 3.8 miles to FS road #1110 (signed Black Butte Trailhead), take a left on this road and drive 5.1 miles to the end of the road and the trailhead.

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Hiking distance: 1.9 miles one way
Elevation Gain: 1560 feet
Hiking time: 90 minutes up, 45 minutes down
Difficulty: Moderate

Note: This is backcountry wilderness travel. You are responsible for informing yourself of the hazards and taking the necessary precautions.

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