Pets allowed
Elevation Gain
20.00 ft (6.10 m)
Trail type
2.50 mi (4.02 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

If the view of Mount Hood from Trillium Lake is the postcard perfect spot for Oregon's tallest peak, then the corresponding view of South Sister from Sparks Lake is the postcard perfect spot for the state's third tallest peak.  Tucked away on the sporadic lava flow of Sparks Lake's eastern shore is a short double-loop hiking trail appropriately named after the late photographer laureate* who not only brought central Oregon's majestic Cascades to the public eye, but really most of the Pacific Northwest as well.

Sparks Lake was one of Ray Atkeson's favorite spots, and we're pretty sure you'll enjoy it too!  This trail not only takes you along the lake's eastern shore, opening up panoramic views of South Sister and Broken Top, but also allows you to explore the dynamic nature of cooled lava.  This entire lava field is composted of crevices, extruded formations and natural quarries.  Once on the trail, make sure to head off the main route for a meander through Davis Canyon, a fissure 16-feet deep in parts and as little as 2-feet wide.  If you decide to follow the southern loop, be sure to stick to the trail, as this forest of dense lodgepole pine can be eerily disorienting.

* Ray Atkeson is credited with doing more to promote Oregon's natural beauty than any other photographer.  His winter recreation photography is certainly what elevated him to national status.  Before Timberline Lodge was constructed on Mount Hood, Ray Atkeson and his contemporaries were glamorizing the sport of skiing, and in turn, his large-format black and white photographs appeared in publications such as National Geographic, TIME, and Readers Digest.  Many would argue he alone introduced Oregon to the nation.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass

NW Forest Pass


Incredible subalpine lake vistas. Easy for the whole family. Swimming in Sparks Lake.


Very short. Heavily used.

Trailhead Elevation

5,500.00 ft (1,676.40 m)


Big vistas
ADA accessible

Typically multi-day




If you're wondering, this loop is about 2.5 miles long :)
Visited again last summer. Such a relaxing place to recharge and take in some classic Central Oregon scenes.
No surprise this trail was named after a native photographer. So much opportunity for photogenic landscape shots!
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