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Hike to the South Sister Summit in Central Oregon

Hike to the South Sister Summit in Central Oregon

So it’s been on your bucket list for ten years and you’re finally ready: it’s time to climb a mountain.

One of the few summits suitable for casual and avid adventurers alike is the hike to the summit of Oregon’s South Sister, thirty miles west of Bend.  We recommend first-timers use the easier and well-marked Devil’s Lake Trailhead ($5 Northwest Forest Pass required), which can be considered a beginner summit hike, but hikers should understand that the trail is strenuous, steep, and often unstable.

Hikers should prepare with the following gear: trekking poles, as areas of the hike have steep and sandy terrain; proper hiking boots, as the aforementioned tough terrain can easily sprain an ankle (and imagine descending a mountain on one good leg!); sun protection, since the majority of the hike takes place at elevation without tree cover; and plenty of water and snacks.

Overall, this trek will take between seven to ten hours round-trip, so climbers should leave early to beat the crowds and avoid the possibility of descending after dark.

Oregon’s South Sister is the state’s third tallest mountain and you’ll gain over 4900 feet during the duration of the hike. The prime time for safely summiting the mountain is late summer and early fall, though areas of the trail can be covered in snow even in late July.

The top of the mountain can be hazardous if trekked during inclement weather, and what looks like an innocent cloud from the bottom can be a perilous blizzard at the summit. You shouldn’t settle for anything less than crystal-clear weather.

Glacier and alpine lake at the summit | Travis; Flickr

As the trail progresses, the terrain becomes more unstable and hikers will find themselves slipping in earnest (cue trekking poles!), but those who persevere will find themselves rewarded by one of Oregon’s most magnificent views.

As you reach the climax, passing by Prouty Glacier, Oregon’s largest, you will find yourself nestled amidst a shimmering alpine lake and a vast mountain crater, and facing a sprawling view that encompasses half the state and stars the peaks of the North and Middle Sister, Mount Bachelor, and Broken Top.

View of the North and Middle Sister from summit | Travis; Flickr

For those unsure of their ability yet to traverse a mountain, the trailhead also leads to the Moraine Lake loop, which still boasts a 2000 foot increase elevation and stunning views of mountain peaks and the alpine lake, while promising a more casual journey and less volatile conditions.

But for those who go the whole way: congratulations are in order. You’ve got grit. You climbed a mountain and may now cross it off your bucket list. Or, you can go ahead a climb a few more. We recommend the latter.

Round trip: 12.5 miles

Elevation gain: 4,940 feet

Driving distance from Bend: 27 miles, or about 30 minutes

Difficulty: Strenuous. Should only be attempted by those in good health and shape.

Want to check out some more hikes in the Bend area? Look no further than our Central Oregon page, where you’ll be able to find all sorts of fun adventures in the central Oregon region.

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