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One of Central Oregon's most popular hiking destinations is Green Lakes Trail. This popular hike offers views of both South Sister Mountain and Broken Top Mountain that tower over three small pristine alpine lakes in the Three Sisters Wilderness. Because the trailhead is only 27 miles from the City of Bend, large numbers of outdoor enthusiasts crowd the parking area on warm summer weekends. Self-service wilderness permits are available at the trailhead, and camping in the area is popular enough that the US Forest Service has designated several primitive campsites well away from the trails, shorelines and streams in the area. The Fall Creek Trailhead serves as the starting point of several hiking trails, and Green Lakes can be reached by either the shorter, moderate trail (round trip 8.5 miles) or the longer and more difficult Green Lakes Loop (17.1 miles). The shorter trail follows forest-rimmed Fall Creek upstream past several spectacular small waterfalls into the Green Lakes Basin.
The three Green Lakes are aptly named for their deep green coloring when seen from above on the trail. Set directly between South Sister and Broken Top, tiny Lower Green Lake is the first to come into view. At only three acres, some anglers cast a few flies to attract one of the native brook trout found here. Most hikers continue past the small lake to reach Middle Green Lake. A side trail allows adventurers to walk around the entire 83-acre lake. Directly north of Middle Green Lake, Upper Green Lake covers 10 acres. Set in an area of low grasses and wildflowers in season, the lakeshore invites tired hikers to rest and eat their picnic lunch. Campfires are not permitted, but those who pack a backpack stove can boil surface water for a hot refreshing drink. Upper and Middle Green Lakes both hold brook trout, while Middle Green Lake also contains rainbow trout. The water is exceedingly clear and transparent, encouraging fly fishermen to coax the clearly-visible trout with a well-placed lure. One of the routes to the slopes of South Sister Mountain begins at Middle Lake. Other trails lead to Broken Top and into other areas of the Three Sisters Wilderness.
All three Green Lakes were once one larger lake. A large lava field, the Newberry Flow on the lower southeast slope of South Sister, blocked drainage from snow-melt runoff and separated the lakes. Several other small lakes in the area faced the same fate. A couple of small streams contribute water to Middle Green Lake. Out-flowing Fall Creek has cut a channel around the east side of the old lava flow, draining excess water over five miles and dropping rapidly in elevation by 1000 feet until it drains into Sparks Lake. This is the source of the picturesque waterfalls along the trail. Because of the altitude and short summer season, the temperature of Middle Green Lake seldom reaches above 55 degrees, so there is little temptation to swim in the inviting water. Middle Green Lake reaches depths of about 45 feet, while the two smaller lakes have not been measured. The hiking season here is short, with snow-free trails from mid-summer into early autumn. Horses are allowed on the trail after the snow has melted, as are leashed dogs. The route is not recommended for children.
Taking the longer Green Lakes Loop back to the trailhead is somewhat more difficult due to the elevation change. The views of alpine meadows, South Sister, Broken Top and other area peaks are outstanding. Several side spurs lead to other spectacular views that are favorites of photographers. Vault toilets are available at the trailhead, but there are no accommodations in the Three Sisters Wilderness. Due to the popularity of the trails, hikers with a flexible schedule are advised to plan the trek during the week and visit other, less crowded trails on busy summer weekends. The City of Bend acts as host to the many visitors who arrive in the area to enjoy outdoor activities. Other favored activities in the area include fly fishing the Deschutes River and enjoying trekking and camping in the Deschutes National Forest. Bend offers the opportunity to tramp through unspoiled wilderness during the stay and yet enjoy the luxuries offered by resort lodges and comfortable hotels by night.
This popular area is replete with all types of lodgings such as cozy bed-and-breakfasts, vacation cabins and condo rentals. Those having their fill of hiking and spectacular vistas can take the day off and golf one of the local courses, visit unique galleries or shop in the many boutique shops in town. The area is a favorite with mountain bikers, particularly the scenic Cascade Lakes Highway. Bend offers plenty of restaurants, nightlife and entertainment. RV travelers will find a number of full-service private campgrounds both close to town and with scenic views. And when visitors fall in love with the area, there are a number of real estate firms that offer a variety of properties in all price ranges. And it all starts with your first visit to spectacular Green Lakes and the Green Lakes Trail.
*Statistics listed are for Middle Green Lake.
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