Trailgrams: Trail blazin' around Sisters

Matthieu Lakes Trail


Last updated 8/15/2023 at 10:29am

Photo by Scott Bowler

Matthieu Lakes is an outstanding local hike with varied terrain and views.

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The Matthieu Lakes Trail combines nicely with the PCT up to Scott Pass, providing a lovely gateway into Three Sisters Wilderness. The trail is (almost) always a great bet in the summer, with multiple highlights, including: spectacular views, fascinating geology, flowers, interesting bits of burned forest, and a great swim on the way back.

Why go? This moderate "lollipop" starts immediately east of the McKenzie Pass lava beds. The first mile or so is through heavily burned forest, now full of seedlings, fireweed, and other pioneer plants - plus loads of weirdly sculptural dead trees. Start clockwise, climbing to Scott Pass on the PCT. You'll parallel the fairly recent Yapoah Crater lava flow, gaining increasingly spectacular views, both north toward Mt. Washington and south toward North Sister. Once at Scott Pass you have several options to extend your hike before returning to North Matthieu Lake for a well-deserved swim.

When to go: It's a great hike anytime after the mosquitoes die down until Highway 242 closes in the fall due to snowfall. Earlier in the summer there are more flowers and it's often cooler; later you have fewer bugs and warmer water; and once school starts up, far fewer people - it can be pretty crowded on weekends at the lakes. A bonus this time of the year are the PCT hikers you will meet, always interesting to talk with. The first fall snows really change the look and feel of the place and is my favorite time.

What to expect: Both the beginning and end of the hike are in burned forest, and thus exposed can be pretty hot, so if you're hiking with dogs and kids, go as early as you can. It's about 6.5 miles if you turn around at Scott Pass, just past South Matthieu Lake, making a 3 to 4 hour round trip. Add more time if you want to swim, or extend the hike 3 to 4 more miles to Yapoah Crater on the PCT, and return. If you climb the unnamed butte immediately south of Scott Pass - highly recommended - you will be rewarded with an excellent view of North Sister. You will have climbed/descended about 1,000 feet in all.

Getting there: Take Highway 242 west from Sisters and watch for a brown sign on the left for Lava Camp Lake Campground/PCT parking area, about a mile east of Dee Wright Observatory, and just before the highway cuts into the lava bed. Park in the lot, being sure to display your NW Forest Pass. There's an outhouse shared with the tiny campground there, and the trail starts at the sign on the west edge of the lot.

What you'll need: This is a popular trail, so you must get a $1 Central Cascades Wilderness Permit from to day hike; a short backpack into either of the Matthieu Lakes is possible too, with the requisite permit. Don't forget the Ten Essentials, including plenty of water and/or a filter to drink from the lakes. Enjoy!


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