backpack: Three Sisters Wilderness – Green Lakes
On this three night backpacking trip in the Three Sisters Wilderness, we camped at the Green Lakes and did day hikes to Broken Top and Golden Lake.
- distance & elevation gain to campsite: 5.5 miles, 1,100 ft. gain
- day hike options: Golden Lake, Park Meadows, Broken Top
- best months: mid-July to September
- location: Three Sisters Wilderness; nearest town: Bend
- land management: Deschutes National Forest
- trail conditions: Green Lakes Trail
- hike description: OregonHikers.org – Green Lakes via Falls Creek Trail
- permits: Central Cascades wilderness permits are required for all backcountry campsites
- trailhead pass: NW Forest Pass required
Total mileage for all four days: 27.5 miles with 3,632 ft elevation gain
Day 1: hike in to Green Lakes camp
5.5 miles, 1,100 ft. gain
Since this is a heavy use area, we hiked in on a Sunday afternoon, starting at the Fall Creek trailhead. Judging by how many people that we saw day hiking, and the number of backpackers hiking out, this area is indeed quite crowded on weekends. Our destination was one of the 28 designated campsites in the Green Lakes area. I forgot (?!) my camera on this trip, so I relied on my iPhone – until it died – and a friend was generous enough to loan me her point-and-shoot camera for the rest of the trip.
The trail follows Fall Creek all the way up to the Green Lakes area, and crosses it three times: once on a rustic footbridge with a side railing, and twice on large leveled-off logs above the creek. At two miles in is a junction with the trail to Moraine Lake, popular camping destination for hikers summiting South Sister.
The hike in is very scenic, with wildflowers in full bloom along the many creeks and meadows. Eventually, the trail climbs above the creek with views of the creek’s many waterfalls. Several miles in, a large ridge of lava rock appears on the west side of the creek, with large chunks of glossy black obsidian shining in the daylight.
When we entered the Green Lakes area, park ranger Molly provided info on the best campsite for our group. As I talked to her about our Leave No Trace practices, I discovered that she is friends with the park ranger that I met the previous weekend at Jefferson Park… ranger Eric. He complimented us on our clean campsite there, and I couldn’t have been more proud. : )
The Green Lakes area includes three lakes: North Green Lake, Green Lake, and South Green Lake. We setup camp near heart-shaped South Green Lake. Pumice hills and wooded hills fill the area, with views of South Sister, Broken Top and the top of North Sister.
Day 2: day hike to Golden Lake
7.7 miles with 1,342 ft elevation gain
From our campsite in the Green Lakes area, we took the Green Lakes trail north towards Park Meadow. We didn’t go all the way to Park Meadow, instead, we took an unmarked side trail to Golden Lake. On the way there, we had views of Middle and North Sisters.
The trail to Golden Lakes is unmarked, but there was a cairn showing us where it was. Views of Broken Top dominate the horizon on the way to Golden Lake.
Other than a fisherman, we were the only ones at Golden Lake. We took a long break here before heading back to camp.
On the hike back to camp, we enjoyed scenic vistas that highlighted South Sister and Broken Top.
The Green Lakes Designated Campsite Area is well marked on the trails in the area.
As we headed back into the Green Lakes area, we passed through lava and pumice fields with views towards Mount Bachelor.
Day 3: day hike on the Broken Top Trail
9 miles with 875 ft elevation gain
From our campsite, we took the Broken Top Trail to the junction with the Crater Trail, which leads to the unnamed glacial lake at the base of Broken Top.
Views to the south included Mount Bachelor, the Cascade Lakes basin, Diamond Peak, and in the far distance, the northern rim of Crater Lake.
Winding around the base of Cayuse Crater, evidence of the volcanic history of this area was visible all along the trail. The hike went through varying terrain: heavily wooded, to open with pumice hills covered with miniature wildflowers, and through meadows with streams criss-crossing the area.
Eventually, Broken Top and Broken Hand dominate the landscape as the trail approaches the base of each.
Once we reached the junction with the Crater trail, half of our group continued on to the unnamed lake at the base of Broken Top while the other, more tired half of our group (including me), turned around and hiked back to camp.
Day 4: backpack out to Fall Creek Trailhead
5.2 miles, 115 ft gain, 1,300 ft loss
I had no camera on the hike out, so I leave you with this parting shot from the Green Lakes area.