From the trailhead, the trail climbs steeply for two miles along a symmetrical volcano. The trail passes through a rich diversity of forest settings. Large "yellow-belly" ponderosa pines give way to mixed conifer and then subalpine vegetation. In the second mile of the hike, trees thin and unsurpassed mountain views emerge.
The openness of the upper portion of the trail can make for a very hot climb in the summer. Black Butte is the site of several generations of Forest Service fire lookouts and has, therefore, played an important role in protecting Central Oregon forests for over 80 years. In 1910, lookouts worked from a platform perched in a pair of trees. The Cupola was built in 1922 and served as the primary lookout facility until 1934, when the 83 foot tower was completed. Builders estimated it would require 300 pack loads of material to construct the tower - it actually took over 1000 loads. In 1995, a new lookout and tower were constructed off site and then lifted by helicopter to the summit.