southsister1If you are looking for a very challenging hike with beautiful views of the Middle and North Sisters, Broken Top, the Green Lakes, the city of Bend and beyond, maybe you should hike to the top of South Sister. South Sister is Oregon’s third highest mountain, with an elevation of 10,358 ft, and on this hike of about 12 miles round trip you will gain about 4,900 feet. Interested, well grab your CamelBak, other Hydration Pack or Hydro Flask, check out these hiking tips, and get ready for a very challenging beautiful hike!

To get to the trailhead, drive west on the Cascade Lakes Highway about 29 miles (about six miles past the Mt Bachelor Ski Area) until you reach the Devils Lake Campground which is on the left. The sign for the “South Sister Climbers Trail 36” is at the end of the campground parking lot near the restrooms. The trail up South Sister is quite steep, but no technical climbing skills are required to reach the top, so if you are in good shape, and hike a lot, you should be able to conquer South Sister. While this climb doesn’t require actual climbing skills, it is difficult, and you will need to bring plenty of water for everyone, sunscreen, and something to eat along the way for energy.

Hike up South Sister Photo Gallery

View photo gallery of the hike to the top of South Sister.

southsistertrailheadA Northwest Forest Pass permit is required to park at the trailhead, or you can pay the $5 daily fee when you park. A free permit is required to enter the Three Sisters Wilderness, and the permits are self-issued at the station at the beginning of the trail. And remember that dogs need to be on-leash in Three Sisters Wilderness on: Green Lakes, Moraine Lakes, South Sister, Soda Creek, Todd Lake and Crater Ditch Trails, from July 15 to September 15.Please note that while some very experienced climbers will ascend South Sister all year long, I recommend that you do this one from mid-July to early fall, depending on the weather conditions. Always check the weather forecast before attempting this hike as the weather in the area can change quickly, and you don’t want to be stuck on this trail if the weather turns bad.

After you leave the South Sister Climbers Trail trailhead you will cross a footbridge over Tyee Creek, and then you will cross the highway and begin the uphill climb through a dense forest. You will hike about 1.5 miles with no view at all other then the forest, then finally the trail emerges from the forest into a meadow and you get your first good view of South Sister and Broken Top. I recommend that you start this hike very early, perhaps while it is still dark using headlamps or some other form of light, so you can get through this part and get to the meadow as the sun is rising. If you do that you will get a beautiful view of South Sister and Broken Top as the sun is rising, it will be worth the early start.

southsister2Once you reach the meadow there is a fork in the trail with a sign pointing you to the Moraine lake trail to the right, Wikiup Plain trail to the left, or South Sister Summit straight ahead, you want to just go straight ahead. From here you follow the trail up and up. As you get closer to the top you will run into some very loose cinder rock soil that will make the going pretty hard. Depending on the time of year you my find that you take two steps up, and one step back as you progress through the final part of the climb, but if you are smart you brought along some trekking poles that will be extremely helpful for this part of your hike. Some folks like to do this trail early in the summer when there is still just a little snow to make the last part a little easier. If there is a little snow on the top part of the trail you won’t have the problem of trying to hike up the loose cinder rock. But only do this if you know the trail, and are prepared for snow and ice.

While it is a difficult climb up this trail, when you reach the top you will be rewarded with some beautiful views of the area. I recommend that you just stay at the top for awhile and enjoy the view, and maybe eat that lunch you carried up the mountain before starting back down. Like most hikes where you climb uphill, you will find that going down can be very hard on the knees and legs, but those trekking poles you brought along will help with the downhill part as well.

Fees: You can use a Northwest Forest Pass to park, or pay the $5 day use fee.

The trail is in the Three Sisters Wilderness, so wilderness permits are required for both day-use and overnight travel in the Three Sisters Wilderness area from Memorial Day Weekend until Oct. 31. Free permits are available at the trailhead, so no worries just follow the directions.

Dogs need to be on-leash in Three Sisters Wilderness on the Green Lakes, Moraine Lakes, South Sister, Soda Creek, Todd Lake and Crater Ditch Trails, from July 15 to September 15.

Keep in mind that this is a heavily used trail, and parking may be limited, especially on weekends.

Permits: Day and overnight visitors entering the Three Sisters Wilderness are required to obtain a permit between Memorial Day and October 31. They are free of charge and must be self-issued at trailheads. One Exception: All visitors entering the Obsidian Limited Entry Area must obtain a limited entry permit from McKenzie River Ranger District (Willamette NF) or Sisters Ranger District (Deschutes NF).

You will find useful information on the Deschutes National Forest and Three Sisters Wilderness at the U.S. Forest Service website.

Please note: The Northwest Forest Pass is required at some trailheads on National Forests in Oregon and Washington. These passes are distinct from the wilderness permits. Go to the Recreation Passes & Permits page for more information on the Northwest Forest Pass, including cost and how to get a pass.

South Sister Trail parking and trailhead

Hydration Packs, Hydro Flasks & Hiking Tips

Hydration Packs help Outdoor enthusiasts stay hydrated without having to carry a water bottle. and give the hiker hours of hydration. You can find a wide variety of hydration packs at Amazon.com that will suit the need of almost every hiker and outdoor enthusiast.

If you prefer not to carry a hydration pack, but instead prefer to carry a couple water bottles, I recommend purchasing a Hydro Flask from Amazon.com. Hydro Flasks will keep cold drinks cold for up to 24 hours, and hot drinks hot for up to 12 hours. Perfect for hiking.

What do I carry? Well both, because I like having lots of water on a hiking outing. And don’t forget to check out this list of hiking tips for some of the other essential items you should always have when out hiking.