“Hey, let’s ride the Broken Top Loop tomorrow,” my friend Lydia said. “The snow is gone and the trail is open, so let’s go!”
It was early summer, and though I had ridden the Broken Top Loop several times before, it had always been in late summer or early fall. I didn’t think riding it earlier in the season would make much of a difference, but boy, was I wrong!
As you might expect, the star attraction of this loop trail is Broken Top itself, which looms so close to the trail that you feel like you could reach out and touch it. The trail runs right below the blown-out crater of the volcano, with its yellow, green, and ochre striations clearly visible in the rock walls above you.
The trail also features good views of Mt. Bachelor to the east, and Sparks Lake and the Cascade Lakes basin to the south. It seems like every time you go around a corner, you encounter something new to delight the eye.
But on this trip I discovered that I’d missed out on half the beauty of this ride by waiting until late summer to ride it. In early summer, the wildflowers will knock your socks off.
The trail crosses several tributaries of Crater Creek and Soda Creek. If you ride the trail four to eight weeks after the snow melts, you’ll find the stream banks teeming with a spectacular array of wildflowers: moneyflower, Indian paintbrush, goldenrod, daisies, asters, bog orchids, bistort – the list goes on and on.
Of course, the snow disappears at different times in different years. While “wildflower season” on this trail would normally be mid-July to early August, this winter was so mild that the wildflowers could start showing up in mid-June.
Before you go, be sure to call the Deschutes National Forest Service to make sure the trail has been logged out. You don’t want your early-season ride to be cut short because of an impassible log down across the trail.
To ride the Broken Top Loop, start at Todd Creek Horse Camp, 25 miles west of Bend. On the east side of the campground, take the bridge over Todd Creek to head north on the Metolius-Windigo Trail. At the third trail junction, turn left and follow dirt Road 380 to the Broken Top hiker trailhead.
From here you’ll enter the Three Sisters Wilderness and begin riding the Broken Top Trail #10, which will take you near the base of the Broken Top crater, provide nice views of Mt. Bachelor and the Cascade Lakes Basin, and allow you to enjoy the wildflowers blooming at the creek crossings.
After a little more than 2 miles, turn left on the Soda Creek Trail #11. Here you’ll cross more flower-lined creeks as the trail heads downhill toward Todd Lake. After you pass the lake, turn right on gravel Road 370 and ride beside it back to Hwy. 46. Cross the highway and ride into Todd Creek Horse Camp to return to your trailer.
Ride Statistics: 13 miles round trip, with elevations from 6,100 to 7,200 feet. Stock water is available on the trail. The best map is the Three Sisters Wilderness Map.
Getting to Todd Creek Horse Camp: From Hwy. 97 in Bend, take Exit 138 (Colorado Ave.) and head west. Follow the signs toward Mt. Bachelor, which will put you on Hwy. 46 (Century Drive/Cascade Lakes Hwy.) Continue for 23 miles, passing Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort, and turn left into the horse camp. The entrance is directly across the highway from the sign for Todd Lake.
Campground Facilities at Todd Creek Horse Camp: 7 sites with steel 2- or 4-horse corrals. Easy parking for multiple rigs at each site. Picnic table and fire ring at each campsite. Stock water is available from a hand pump or from the nearby creek. Vault toilet, manure bin. Day-use parking for 5-6 trailers. Northwest Forest Pass required for camping or day use.
More Information: The Broken Top Loop is covered in the Broken Top Area chapter of Riding Central Oregon Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, (Ponderosa Press, 2012).
Reprinted with permission from Northwest Rider magazine, June 2015 issue.