Are you looking for a simple, rewarding hike in the Bend, Oregon area? Why not try the trail up to the top of Pilot Butte?
Pilot Butte is the brownish cinder cone projecting up about 500 feed in the northeast part of Bend, and is visible from almost any part of town.
In the early 1800’s when the area was first being settled, and fur trappers from the Hudson Bay Company at Fort Vancouver, and the John Jacob Astor Company in Astoria were searching for beaver along the waterways in the Central Oregon area, Pilot Butte was a beacon that told them where they were.
On one of our first visits to Bend, before we moved to the area, my wife and I thought it would be a great place to get some exercise during the summer.
However, after moving to Bend we realized that many people hike up the Pilot Butte all year long. I have even seen people making their way up while snow was actually falling. Our first time hiking up was on a cold, icy winter day in December.
There are two trails that lead to the top of Pilot Butte, both of which are about a mile long.
One trail, called the Nature Trail, is a well maintained dirt path that begins in the parking area, and then winds its way to the top of the butte. It has a mixture of moderate to steep sections, and there are even benches along the way in case you need to take a rest, take some photos, or if you just want to stop and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Bend area.
The other trail, called the Summit Drive Trail, starts in the parking area and goes up the butte to the left until it joins the summit road. When the trail intersects with the road, you turn right to go up, and it continues as a dirt trail along the shoulder of the summit road.
If you take the Summit Drive Trail during the time of year when cars are making their way up the road, please pay attention and keep to the side of the road when they pass.
This trail is also a slightly more gradual ascent to the top of the butte than the Nature Trail, and the road itself is popular with those pushing strollers, or biking or running up to the top of the butte.
Also keep in mind that during the winter months there can be a lot of snow and ice on some parts of these trails, so wear proper footwear or traction cleats when hiking to the top.
While bikes are not allowed on the Nature Trail, or the beginning section of the Summit Drive Trail, they are allowed on the summit road itself, which is accessed from Greenwood Ave., otherwise known as Highway 20. The summit road is usually open from mid-April to late fall when the road isn’t icy.
Once you get to the top of Pilot Butte you will be rewarded with a wonderful 360 degree view of one of the most beautiful areas of Central Oregon.
At the top of the butte there is an interpretive area that helps visitors identify the various mountains, and on a clear day there are a lot to see.
If you look to the west you’ll see the Cascade Mountains, including Mt. Bachelor, the Three Sisters, Broken Top, Mt. Jefferson and a variety of other Cascade peaks.
Looking out to the east you can glimpse a large portion of the beautiful Central Oregon High Desert.
Another popular feature of Pilot Butte is that dogs are allowed on the trails, as long as you keep them on a leash. Dog owners are also responsible for cleaning up after their pets, and there are plastic bags for that very purpose provided on the trails.
Hiking up Pilot Butte is a great way to get some exercise and enjoy the outdoors without having to travel to some of the more remote trails in Central Oregon. And since some of those trails are not accessible during the winter when there is a lot of snow, hiking up the butte lets you get outdoors even during the snowy winter months.
If You Go:
The trailhead parking area is located off of Highway 20, just to the east of Pilot Butte, there are signs pointing the way, and there is plenty of parking available.
Distance: About two miles round trip.
Access: Hikers, walkers, families with young children, and dogs are allowed on leashes.
Bike to the top along the summit road.
Drive to the summit for the view when the road is open to vehicle traffic.