Hiking with butterflies on the Pacific Crest Trail

Mileage (Roundtrip): 6.2 Trail Conditions: Light hikers recommended.
Hike #: 9 Scenery (1 "Meh" to 10 "Amazing, Wow"): 9
Sullivan Hike #: 50 Difficulty (1 "Easy" to 5 "Difficult"): 2
Hike Name: Matthieu Lakes Region: The Three Sisters

Driving Directions: From Sisters take the McKenzie Highway (Highway 242) towards the McKenzie Pass. At milepost 78 turn south (left) towards Lava Camp Lake. Follow the dirt/cinder road for .4 miles and then turn right into the parking lot for the Lava Camp Lake camping area.

Bring: Bug spray if you visit in July. Treats for Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) hikers.

Other Things to Know: Scott Cook features this hike in Bend, Overall and suggests a few add-on’s detours that are worth checking out including a side trip to Yapoah Lake. The McKenzie Highway was closed in August 2017 due to the Milli Fire. The McKenzie Highway may be closed until the Spring of 2018.

After a week of scorching hot days in Bend, Angelique and I jumped into the car and headed up to the high country west of Bend.  Our destination, the Matthieu Lakes which sit south of the McKenzie Pass along the old Oregon Skyline trail now the PCT.  An easy loop hike with great views of the Cascades, I first hiked these trails in 2014 as part of an amazing multi-day backpacking trip around the Three Sisters.  I was excited to return to the area and to hike a stretch of the PCT that I missed in 2014.

The hike begins at the secluded Lava Camp lake.  After a short .2 mile walk through a dense forest the trail intersects the PCT.  To get to the Matthieu Lakes turn left (south) at this junction but I strongly recommend turning right and hiking north on the PCT for ten minutes or so towards the Dee Wright Observatory and the McKenzie Pass.  The view of the Three Sisters from the lava flow south of McKenzie Pass is simply stunning and worth a quick detour.

Cascades, lava

Lava flow near McKenzie Pass

After soaking in the view, we returned to the intersection with the Lava Camp Lake Trail and continued south on the PCT.  This stretch of trail climbs gently and was very dusty.  After .7 miles we arrived at another junction, with the PCT continuing to the left and the Matthieu Lakes Trail continuing straight ahead.  We decided to stay on the PCT and to return on the Matthieu Lakes Trail which turned out to be a good choice since there were several horses ahead of us starting up the Matthieu Lakes Trail.  The next 2.2 miles of the hike were very pleasant – an easy climb through a dense forest and past meadows teaming with paintbrush and lupines. 

cascades, cinders, lava

View of North Sister from the PCT

At about 2.9 miles into the hike we reached the barren ridge described in Sullivan’s book and were treated to amazing views of Mt. Washington, Mt. Jefferson, and the North and Middle Sisters.  After taking in the views and exploring the cinders and lava rock on the hillside we continued downhill to South Matthieu Lake.  South Matthieu Lake sits in a bowl just below Scott Pass which is worth a quick visit to get a good view of the Yapoah Crater.  The lake is small and the shoreline a bit beat up, but we enjoyed the view of North Sister from the east side of the lake as we ate our lunch.

After lunch we began the easy descent to our car on the very dusty Matthieu Lakes trail and ran into the first of several swarms of California tortoiseshell butterflies.  While Angelique and I were thrilled by the

reflection, mountains

North Matthieu Lake

sheer number of butterflies that were flitting around us (hundreds and hundreds), Zoe was completely freaked out and snapped at the air at regular intervals for the next thirty minutes or so trying to catch them.  While my photos of the butterflies did not come out, here is an article about the butterflies which invaded Central Oregon this summer.

The butterflies continued to pester Zoe until we reached North Matthieu Lake, where we stopped long enough for Zoe to have a quick swim.  We decided not to linger at the scenic and wooded North Matthieu Lake as there were a lot of mosquitos buzzing around and quickly completed the rest of the hike.  After cleaning up at Lava Camp Lake (and after giving Zoe a CBD pill to calm her down) we headed to Sisters for a quick iced coffee at the Sisters Coffee Company and a donut from the Sisters Bakery.  A good hike overall with impressive mountain views, dense forests, and two very nice lakes.

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