Broken Top: Northwest Ridge via Green Lakes Trail

A ridge hike and scramble to an impressive summit in the Three Sisters Wilderness.

Hiking Extreme

20 km
1.1 km
1.1 km
5-6 hrs
Low Point
1.7 km
High Point
2.8 km
Broken Top: Northwest Ridge via Green Lakes Trail Map

Note: this route gets a "Moderate" Mountaineering difficulty rating.


Broken Top is a volcanic mountain in the Three Sisters Wilderness. It sits in the shadow of the Three Sisters themselves, not as tall but still impressive with it’s craggy slopes and jagged summit. There are multiple ways to climb it, but the northwest ridge is the easiest route and considered the standard. It’s popular for beginning mountaineers and for Cascades peakbaggers of all levels.

The route mapped here begins from Green Lakes trailhead. From there, it’s a pleasant hike on a popular trail to the lakes, through forest and fields with good views toward the mountain. There are campsites at the lakes, but they’re in high demand with backpackers so it may be hard to get (see information about permits below). Most climbers choose to simply do this route in a day from the trailhead.

Once at the lakes, continue along the north shore of the first lake to find the climbers trail heading up the mountain. This eventually gains the northwest ridge at a saddle, and a visible path continues upward from there, through black talus and broken outcrops along the increasingly airy ridge.

Everything is rather straightforward hiking until the crux, which comes at a basalt band about 10 feet in height, requiring easy 5th Class moves to get through it. Confident climbers will not think twice here, but parties with less experienced members may want a rope and light rack for protection. Above there, a series of ledges and gullies lead the rest of the way to the summit. The moves through these sections are easier than the basalt band, but come with more exposure. In early season, snow and possibly ice can factor in as well.

The summit is not very big, and is covered in odd-sized blocks, so it’s comfortable for only a few people at a time. Take the chance to move around and peer off every side of this impressive summit. You can see into the crater and over the mountain’s two small glaciers. The Three Sisters arc away to the north, and Mount Bachelor rises directly south. Descent is by the same route, taking extra caution of loose rock and of climbers below.

Note: The Forest Service is implementing a new permit system in 2021, which affects access to Broken Top. Be sure to review the updated information online, because you will need to plan ahead to reserve your permit.




Scrambling up mountains and along technical trails with moderate fall exposure. Handholds are necessary to navigate the trail in its entirety, although they are not necessary at all times. Some obstacles can be very large and difficult to navigate, and the grades can often be near-vertical. The challenge of the trail and the steepness of the grade results in very strenuous hiking. Hikes of this difficulty blur the lines between "hiking" and "climbing".

High Exposure

3 out of 4

Some trail sections have exposed ledges or steep ascents/descents where falling could cause serious injury.


3 out of 4

Little chance of being seen or helped in case of an accident.

Best time to visit

between April and October


  • Alpine
  • Summit Hike

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area