Oregon’s Black Crater might sound sinister, but its actually just a cinder-based natural feature. Cinder volcano, that is.
The hike up the slopes of this mountain is a terrific challenge for those looking for a conditioning trail. Although it is just under four miles, the Black Crater Trail is one of the steeper trails in Oregon, gaining 2,500 feet of elevation on the way up.
The trailhead starts just off the McKenzie Highway near Windy Point, and immediately begins to spike in elevation. You’ll first walk through a dense forest with remarkably little understory vegetation, but the ground is padded with a bouncy layer of fir and hemlock needles. The shade blocks views, but keeps you cool during the strenuous climb up.
About a half-mile along the trail, you'll pass by stretches of rocky rubble. Sharp eyes might spot the scurrying of pikas (adorable miniature relatives of rabbits the size of hamsters). Even if you don’t hear them, you might hear their squeaking barks. Keep walking and the rocky ground will unfold into a stretch of meadows that come alive with seasonal wildflowers. The soil is still rock, but stubborn plants poke out of the dark soil nonetheless.
Push on to the last mile and the trees fall away. Expect straggling firs, and the odd (and rare) whitebark pine. The cold and intense winds have stunted plant growth, but determined shrubs and small hemlocks scratch out a lonely existence here. And even they fall away as you reach the summit, which sits an impressive 7,251 feet above sea level. From up here all of Central Oregon is within sight. Take in the Cascade volcanoes, every river bend, and the McKenzie Pass lava flows. It’s a sweet reward for the tough hike up.
You can find the Black Crater Trailhead about 11 miles west of Sisters on Highway 242. It’s situated between mileposts 81 and 80, just past Windy Point. The trailhead can been found by the signed parking area.
A free wilderness permit is required. You can get one from the self-issue station at the trailhead.