Little Belknap Crater


10 am


0d 3h 0m


7.2 miles

Max Elevation

6,306 feet




We got a late start for a “pre-Labor Day” excursion because of a delayed roof replacement project at home. After looking at the weather for next few days, we decided on central Oregon as our destination, and focused on the Sisters area. That’s as far as our planning went. We had a full cooler of food and ice that should last 3 – 5 days. After a quick stop in Madras for gas and a few last-minute groceries, we drove through Sisters just after 6 pm knowing we’d need to decide on a place to camp before sunset at 7:15 pm. We checked out Cold Spring Campground on the west side of town which had plenty of spots but looked too chilly and dark. So we continued another mile or two and turned north onto National Forest Service #600 and started a gentle climb. After about a half mile we found ourselves in the middle of a red cinder cone littered with trash and spent shot gun shells. Reasoning that it was almost dark, a Wednesday night and rain was in the forecast, we parked with our nose towards a quick getaway, crossed our fingers and settled in for the night.


That’s us (the little silver speck to the right in the photo above, and to the left in the image below).


The next morning was 37 degrees, and as gorgeous as the photos indicate. Later we discovered our little cone had a name: Fourmile Butte. We downed some coffee and granola and continued on Hwy 242 to McKenzie Pass and the Dee Wright Observatory. Serious warning signs about no motor homes or trailers, our 22 foot rig easily negotiated the tight curves and narrow road up the pass.

Having fully expected a large scientific celestial observatory installation, this crudely built little lava hut was a total surprise. We set out for the Little Belknap Crater (elevation 6,306) a few miles into a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, without fully realizing that all but a very brief segment was carved right through a very black and rugged lava flow. Thankfully it was a nippy 40 degrees and we remembered our hiking poles. The trail surface was loose chunks of sharp malpais. By the time we climbed to the turnoff to the Little Belknap Crater, icy rain was falling and the clouds were gathering. David scrambled up the last section to the brilliantly red cinder summit.

Afterward, we thought we’d continue on Hwy 242 and loop back to Sisters via Hwy 20 and the Santiam Pass. Sadly, a traffic fatality caused the road to be closed for several hours. We pulled over, had lunch and did some reading until the road opened again. Once again, we were approaching sundown by the time we got back towards Sisters. This time we pulled off onto NFS 1120, near Camp Sherman, searching for both a strong signal and a likely location to camp.

Note: Please check back later for David’s photos and commentary.

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