Oregon

Broken Top Wilderness

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Central Oregon just never disappoints. Primitive dirt roads that keep the driving interesting. Diverse wilderness scenery ranging from desert-ish expanses to shady stands of pines to lush alpine meadows traversed by crystalline creeks. All against a backdrop of craggy, towering volcanic peaks. And this little excursion along the base of Broken Top offers it all.

I explored this area in August 2018 with a couple of fellow softroaders in modified first-gen Honda CRVs (seen in some of the photos above; you can peruse more of their own adventures on Instagram under @silver_rd1 and @solman02 ). We met up at the junction of NF 370 and Cascade Lakes Highway and headed up into the wilderness from there; see below for more details on routing possibilities. When you first head up off Cascade Lakes Highway, it initially looks like nothing more than the parking lot for the Todd Lake trailhead, but just keep going...a fter you pass through the area of parked cars, the graded gravel immediately gives way to a rough, unmaintained dirt road that winds up into the wilderness along the eastern flanks of Broken Top.

The passing scenery is exquisite, but the road requires near constant attention. The ultra-fine silty soil common in this area results in roads that get rutted by rain runoff, become pitted with remarkably deep holes dug by truck tires climbing the steeper slopes, and generally erode away to reveal large and sometimes ominously sharp rocks emerging randomly from the roadbed. I would be prepared to stop frequently just to take in the mountain vistas and the details of nature.

In fact, my first time up the road, I was so focused on driving that I completely missed one of the loveliest spots on the route:  a perfect green meadow sloping down away from the road with a creek cascading down a stairstepping bedrock waterfall. This ended up being the perfect spot to take a break from the car and have a little lunch. Getting out of the car from time to time was a real pleasure on this mid-August excursion because I encountered very few mosquitoes (unlike my Diamond Peak bloodletting trip in mid-July) plus the wildflowers were still blooming in vivid reds, yellows, and blues.

There aren't many side roads branching off NF 370, but those few are absolutely worth exploring, winding you through some pretty little scenes and in some cases yielding better views of Broken Top and South Sister. You'll see the NF 380 spur on your map, and it's a really nice side trek to a trailhead, but don't miss a couple of unmarked roads, one to the east, and one to the west, before you get to 380...these sweet little trails were among my favorite spots of the day.

An undeniable highlight of this drive are the creek crossings. For our visit, all the creekbeds were dry except one very lovely and satisfying stream the road took us through. I'm not sure why it's so alluring to drive through waterways, but from what I've seen on Instagram and YouTube, it seems to have a universal appeal among softroaders, overlanders, and offroaders. We thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity.

Route Options
There are numerous ways to approach this drive. It's do-able as a day trip from Eugene, taking Hwy 58 to the Crescent Cut-Off road and then up Cascade Lakes Hwy to NF 370. I didn't go far past the junction with NF 4601 (which heads east towards Bend). The road continued being fun to drive but the scenery became less compelling and ultimately I opted to just go back the way I came along NF 370 towards Cascade Lakes Highway (and was glad I did, as I discovered a few things I'd missed the first time through).

Coming from Bend, there are numerous forest service roads that can eventually get you to NF 4601 and then 370 (there are some fun spots to discover in there too, but I didn't spend enough time to truly document it...maybe another day).

It would also be possible to do a loop from Bend or Eugene and come into the area from Sisters/Hwy 20 to the north, and work your way down through the wilderness and finish at Broken Top, then loop home via Cascade Lakes Highway.

After driving north/east up the road with Shawn and Erik, we went our separate ways and as I mentioned before, I then re-drove the route in the opposite direction. I ended up dispersed camping along the Deschutes River that night, then headed back towards Eugene the next day via NF 600. This is another fun, primitive road similar to NF 370. It heads west from Little Cultus Lake, crests the pass, and winds towards Waldo Lake where you can get back onto pavement and zip home...another really fun route which I've written up separately; see: Cascade Lakes Hwy to Waldo Lake Backcountry Route

(Note, this area is entirely inaccessible in winter)

VIDEO OVERVIEW OF THIS EXCURSION: