The Green Lakes-Soda Creek Loop west of Bend is a “quick hit playground for a two-hour run or a place to expose your kids to a backpacking experience,” said John Sterling, executive director of the Conservation Alliance. With an office in Bend, the alliance represents almost 200 outdoor companies, such as REI, North Face and Patagonia, and gives millions of dollars to protect North America’s wild places for their habitat and recreation values.
Sterling chose this trail because of its versatility. “I’ve taken my kids for a three-day backpacking adventure, picked huckleberries and caught a sunset,” he said. “In August and September, there’s no better run—I can blaze through in two hours, and it’s no less inspiring.” (Inspiring is the two hours it takes him to run twelve miles and 2,000 vertical feet.)
Within the Three Sisters Wilderness, Green Lakes is one of Central Oregon’s most popular high alpine destinations. In most years, the snow is gone by late June, but this year’s season will start early. The hike starts and finishes at the Green Lakes trailhead just past Todd Lake on the Cascade Lakes Highway (a $5 parking fee is required, and dogs must be leashed). Whether you start at Soda Creek and hike counterclockwise or do the Green Lakes trail first, you’ll climb through a forest with creeks and small waterfalls, pass impressive lava and obsidian flows, enter meadows studded with wildflowers and in-your-face views of Broken Top and the 10,358-foot South Sister.
The majestic peaks cradle two Green Lakes, which reflect mountains and sunsets equally well. Eat lunch, take a snooze, use binoculars to spy on climbers struggling up South Sister, but get there early for one of the couple dozen designated spots. Carry your own water or purifier and in the early season, mosquito spray. Sterling said that for all the traffic it gets, the Green Lakes/Soda Creek Loop still feels remote.