This 15-mile hike around Three Fingered Jack makes for a challenging day excursion or an excellent overnight opportunity. The route primarily follows the PCT (Trail #2000) and the Old Summit Lake Trail (trail #4014), but it also goes off-trail for a few miles. It is a good idea to have a topographic map and compass or at least a smart phone with a GPS app to help navigate these short off-trail segments.
The loop starts by following the PCT north from the Santiam Pass Trailhead. You’ll gradually climb through forest burned by the B&B Complex Fire in 2003. As you near Three Fingered Jack, the views start to get better. You’ll pass right beneath the crumbling west face of the mountain before starting to skirt around it. At mile 6.75 of this loop you’ll reach the top of a ridge and be greeted by a stellar view of the Canyon Creek Meadows area below (where you’ll be heading next). This is a great place to pull out a map and orient yourself. Descend the short stretch of switchbacks (the first significant ones of the trail thus far) and keep an eye open for an unmarked but well defined side trail that cuts to the right and toward the meadow. Veer off the PCT and follow this side trail as best you can (it will disappear in places, just keep heading downhill and toward the meadow and stream).
Once at Canyon Creek Meadows, take some time to enjoy this special place. If you're planning on an overnight trip, this is a great spot to spend the night. When you are ready to leave, consult your map and head south (uphill) toward the glacial tarn lake. The lake isn’t visible from the meadow, but there is a rough and steep trail that leads there. Continue to follow this trail past the lake and to the top of the ridge (basically as high as you can go). Be warned - this trail is steep, unmaintained, and rugged - use caution. Once on top of the ridge, enjoy the views and scout out a path down the other side. You’ll want to ultimately head in a southeasterly direction and toward the small green meadow in the distance. There isn’t much of a trail from here on out, so pick a path and have fun!
Once you’ve descended the steep slope you’ll likely find a small creek that you can follow or, again, just head in a southeasterly direction until you hit the Old Summit Lake Trail. This section of cross country travel is definitely the least enjoyable because you’ll be making your way through a burn area with lots of downed trees to cross. Once back on some real tread, take a right and follow this trail south. You’ll pass Booth Lake and Square Lake (both excellent opportunities for a swim). As you approach Square Lake there is a junction; stay on the Old Summit Lake Trail. From here you’ll skirt the lake and travel about 2 miles until you reach the PCT again. Take a left and you’ll be back at the trailhead in no time at all.