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South Sister Summit

HARD 22 reviews

South Sister Summit is a 11.8 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Bend, Oregon that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as difficult. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from March until October. Dogs are also able to use this trail.

11.8 miles
4983 feet
Out & Back

dog friendly




nature trips

rock climbing


trail running




wild flowers



  • Devils Lake Campground TRAILHEAD
    This campground is where most people start off the hike to the South Sister. While there are a lot of parking spaces you will find that by 7:30am they will all be taken.
    44.03531, -121.76583
  • Registration
    You will need to register for hiking in the area. You could get a $200 fine if you don't. It only takes a second, and it's free, so fill out your form here.
    44.03784, -121.76429
  • Trail to Moraine Lake
    As you emerge from the forest onto a sandy plain you instantly come upon a four way crossing. The path to the left takes you to Wikiup Plain. The path to the right is a .8 mile hike to Moraine Lake. If you are on your way to Moraine lake you might consider first hiking straight ahead, where you will get a nice view from above, and also find another trail that will take you down to the lake. The path to South Sister continues straight ahead.
    44.05496, -121.77117
  • Moraine Lake
    There are campsites scattered around the lake. It's a popular place for staying while hiking the South Sister (even though the hike itself can be done in a day). Camping is only allowed in designated areas, and they usually fill up by Friday. There is not a lot of vegetation around the lake, but you will find plenty of volcanic rock. Be warned that campfires are not allowed in the area. The word "moraine" is a geology term. A glacier deposits moraine (accumulation of boulders, stones, or other debris), which dams up a valley, which results in a lake.
    44.06255, -121.76328
  • Sandy Plain
    The next mile or so takes you across the sandy plain. It's a nice flat portion of the hike that takes you right to the bottom of the South Sister. The mountain you see to the north east is called Broken Top an extinct stratovolcano which stopped erupting around 100,000 years ago
    44.06949, -121.76890
  • The Accent Begins
    This is where the climb up the mountain really beings to get serious and steep. It's a little over a one mile hike up to the saddle at Lewis Glacier. Here the trail switchbacks through rocky outcrops with few opportunities for shade. Hikers have stacked rocks piles along the way to rest.
    44.07359, -121.76911
  • Saddle at Lewis Glacier
    Here at the bottom of Lewis Glacier you'll find a small lake. You'll also find a lot of backpacks and camping gear that people leave here that they don't want to take with them to the summit. Now is a good time to drink a lot of water and eat some food to prepare for the final grueling mile up to the summit. Lewis Glacier covers about .3 square kilometers.
    44.09079, -121.76881
  • Cinder Ridge
    This final mile is steeper then anything you've come across so far. It's also made of very loose, very powdery cinder rock. You will most likely see many hikers dumping their shoes out along the trail. Hikers have carved various paths through this area. It's advised that you follow one that switchbacks up and not one that just goes straight up. Some hikers find they slide a half step down the hill for every step up.
    44.09640, -121.77195
  • False Summit
    You might think you are at the top, but the actual summit lies across the glacier in front of you. You can choose to take the rocky ridge to your right, or cross the flat glacier. In the late summer part of the glacier begins to melt and Teardrop Pool, Oregon's highest lake, is revealed.
    44.10035, -121.77289
  • South Sister Summit
    The top of Oregon's third highest mountain sits at 10,358 ft. Enjoy the views to the north of the Middle and North Sisters. Beyond that you can see Mt Washington, Mt Jefferson, Mt Hood, & Mt St Helens. To the south you can see Diamond Peak. Great job! But be prepared for a very steep, grueling six mile hike down the mountain!
    44.10355, -121.76929
  • The Summit
    Amazing views from the top. Take your time here then traverse back across Teardrop Pool to the crater rim and have fun on your descent.
    44.10355, -121.76929
4 months ago

very intense, but the view is worth every second of difficulty!

7 months ago

so awesome climbing this mountain in the snow. Highly recommend

7 months ago

This is a must-do! 4 out of 5 simply because of heavy traffic. Bring sunscreen, about 3+ liters of water (in warmer weather), and take your time.

7 months ago

Summary: 6 miles out and same back; 5,000 elevation gain
Duration: ~3.5 hours to peak (if quite fit, but much longer for most)
When: hiked in summer to avoid snow or highly sandy conditions (caught 80-degree day in late Sept)
Which: there is only one trail to summit, which means there will be traffic coming/going
Where: park at Devil’s Lake Trailhead (get there early for spot;) hike past restroom over creek via narrow bridge for short bit, then cross highway, which brings you to actual South Sister Climber Trail No. 36 sign (trailhead)
Action: complete trail pass document, which you will find at South Sister Climber Trail No. 36 sign (trailhead)
Route: straight-shot all the way, but there are signs to keep you on track to summit versus detour to Moraine Lake
Ascent: climbing is early and in earnest; trail is easy-to-follow; scree or more accurately loose cinder sand and gravel is encountered traversing “ridge” to false summit and is mile segment where most will suffer, but then you’re at the glacier and can either loop around to the right or simply cross the snow and ice to true summit
Descent: same steep “ridge” makes descent interesting; wearing gaiters will help avoid scree seeping into boots, but not required
Pets and Children: both are allowed, but have common sense
Provisions: may be long day, which warrants ample food and water
Equipment: headlamp, if starting in the dark to enjoy alpenglow; although not necessary/recommended for first 10+ miles, my friend appreciated poles during final mile descent to trailhead (i.e. tired and sore knees)
Caution: per hike’s steep nature, a little preventative care is suggested; for example, ankles will be flexed for extended periods and may cause unexpected friction to back of heels

7 months ago

8 months ago

Very challenging to summit. Quite crowded on the weekends. Better be prepared. 4 stars out of 5 only because of the heavy use.

8 months ago

8 months ago

I am 69 and I did this on Saturday 9/3/16 and now that I have recovered I can tell you this was a grueling adventure. Starts off uphill and steep right away and just gets steeper as you go. After I got to the true summit I thought I would not want to do this again but after a few days I am already planning another ascent. After all just before I got to the top the clouds rolled in and couldn't see anything from the top. Need to go back. I did enjoy it but it was hard. Check out the comments from John below. His description is right on.

8 months ago

8 months ago

This was an amazing hike - I climbed it over Labor Day weekend and there were lots of fellow hikers. The top of the mountain kept going in an out of the clouds. From the lake just below the summit you could see the top but when I got to the top it clouded over but I did get to see glimpse of the rim and the crater and the glacier. I left the trailhead around 11 am and returned around 6 pm. I would absolutely do this one again.

8 months ago

8 months ago

Awesome. Brutal.

These are the two words I would choose to describe this hike if I was limited to two.

This hike took us 5 hours to get to the summit. 3 hours to the saddle at Lewis glacier and a brutal 2 hours to finish the final 1.1 miles to the summit. It was worth it . The views are amazing.

We started at the trail head at 4 a.m using headlamps . This was our first time night hiking and now I've got the bug for peak bagging and night hiking. The trail is obvious and easy to follow.

The sign at the trail head says that the distance to the summit is 6 miles, but some sources say it's only 5.5 miles. Anyway it's between 11 & 12 miles round trip.

The first 1.5 - 2 miles is through forest mostly up hill. If you struggle through this segment I would recommend turning around and working on your fitness before attempting the summit.

The next 1.7 miles is through what's called "the meadow", mostly gently rolling hills that get you to the base of the saddle at Lewis glacier.

To get to the saddle is a 1.2 mile slog uphill over sometimes loose grey rock. I had fun scrambling up this hill. The sun started coming up part way up this section. There is water available at this saddle if part of the glacier has melted.

Now comes the hard part. 1.1 miles to go. 0.7 miles of loose red volcanic cinder. This 0.7 of a mile took us 1.5 hours. It was brutal. We have now reached the false summit. We now have an easy .4 of a mile to walk around the glacier to reach the summit, and the views of the other two sisters. Make sure you do this last part since you've already done the hard work!

On the summit there is plenty of room to spend the night. Over the years people have built wind breaks out of the volcanic rock for shelter during the night. The southern end of the glacier melted and was available to drink. I would filter it ( we saw dogs playing in it).

The trip down took us 4 hours. Going down the red cinder was quick and fun. We kind of slid down in a skiing motion. The scrambling section below the saddle at Lewis glacier that I had so much fun climbing was brutal on the knees coming down.

Most of the hike is exposed to the sun and it got warm quickly. I was glad we started when it was dark and summitted when it was still cool.

This hike was fun. Any healthy person with a positive attitude can do it, just be prepared. Research it and know what to expect. You won't make the summit wearing flip-flops or carrying a child on your shoulders.

One final tip. Take a change of socks for after you descend the saddle. You'll be glad you did.

trail running
8 months ago

South sister's epic 2 hours 27 minutes to Summit the Summit is badass the Alpine lake is badass I plan on making this an annual event for me and my friends the whole area is just beautiful plenty to do camping fishing hiking whatever this place is perfect for losing your mind and finding yourself spent 3 days here and never wanted to leave .... bring sunscreen no less than 2 to 3 litres of water bring a jacket it does get cold and super windy on the way up and at the summit bring glasses and hiking gloves this is a 12 and a half mile hike from Devil's Lake lots of people were bringing there dogs not a good idea all the dogs I seen hated it the rocks are sharp and the grade is steep ummmm if you need walking stix to hike don't hike this get the leg strength thru easier hikes walking stix are a crutch and bring your hiking speed down and clogs up the trails also seen tons of 150 dollar nike running shoes lol do you and your feet a favor buy your self some 150 hiking boots or trail running shoes Soloman Speed Cross 3 cleated running shoe or boots are the best they make them in Gortex they also make matching gators for the trail running shoes keeps the rocks out

9 months ago

Just completed this hike today. If you're looking for a 100% honest description of the hike, then read the review below. It's perfect.

However, there are three things I would like to add.
1. BRING SUNSCREEN. everyone focuses on having enough water and food (which is important) but no one reminds you about sunscreen. People were trading their food for sunscreen at the summit. You are in the DIRECT sun for more than 3/4 of the hike. My boyfriend and I came home burnt to the crisp.

2. If you have a water filter bring it. There are many pools at the top that you can filter fresh water right out of the pools formed by melting snow.

3. I would HIGHLY recommend bringing a walking stick or poles. We didn't have any and we were some of the few without them. I had to find a small stick to make work to make it to the top.

This is an incredible hike that will push you harder than you thought possible, but it is definitely a rewarding experience.

9 months ago

9 months ago


9 months ago


Summiting South Sister 07/30/2016

I’ll be honest. This was the hardest hike that I’ve ever done. The elevation gain was killer with the short miles. The miles were not short BUT it was completely worth it. Every sweaty, hard, and lack of oxygen moment. The hike is about 5-6.25 miles to the summit, 10-12 miles round trip.

My first tip to all is leave very early and arrive early at the trailhead. The parking lot was almost full at 7am.

The first 1.5-2 miles are hard and goes through the forest. It goes steadily uphill with switchbacks. If you’ve done some of the more intense Columbia gorge hikes you should be fine on this section.
Once you emerge from the forest, you’ll come to a 4 way intersection. Straight forward is towards South Sister. Left is Wikiup Plain. Our group went to the right, towards Moraine Lake. This was about mile. This went through a plain/meadow. We choose to backpack in and stay overnight. We unloaded our backpacks and set up camp. Then had an early lunch and started back out of Moraine Lake towards a pathway to South Sister.

The following mile was pleasant since it’s a sandy plain and flat. This portion of the hike was my favorite as a novice mountain climber. After this portion, it is ALL uphill.

After the sandy plain, the incline to reach the Lewis Glacier lake is hard. You think you’re getting close to the summit and you are but not quite yet. It’s about a mile hike to this point but it is all boulders, loose gravel, and switchbacks. What got me through this entire hike was all the resting rocks as I got closer to the top. The elevation was getting to me at this point too. I had to take lots of pausing breaks to catch my breath.

But I did make it. I took a nice and decent pause at this point. The surrounding view was stunning and scary at the same time. I kept looking up thinking one more mile. One More Mile!

The final mile was soooooooo hard. For every step that I took in the loose red gavel, cinder, sand, scree; I slid back two. I was so frustrated at this point of the hike and had to take breaks where I could since the resting rocks seemed fewer and fewer. What got me through was all the hikers coming down encouraging saying it was only a “little bit more to go”, “You got this”, and “it’s so worth it”. I made a mental note to myself to do the same when I came down.

I really pushed myself to get to the top and I made it. It wasn’t the summit point yet but it was the top. To reach the summit, you need to follow along the right side of the rocky ridge. It was so clear the day we went but windy and cold.

My girlfriends and I made it to the top at 10,358ft. We were able to see Middle Sister, and North Sister as well as Mt. Washington, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Hood, and Mt. St. Helens. My pictures don’t do it justice with what we saw. It was simply stunning. It was one of the hardest hikes that I’ve ever done but so worth the sweat, blood, and near tears.

I swore to myself that I’d write a review for all the various hiking websites since I read them avidly before my hike. Thank you to all who post their advice and experiences. Hopefully someone find this helpful.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

My wife and I decided to hike the sister for our 9 year anniversary. This was our first time trying a hike of any level. We read this description and the reviews and thought it would be fun. About half way up the woods we knew it was going to be VERY hard for us. My wife did not want to continue to the top but I encouraged her to keep going a little further. It helped when we heard quite a few other couples saying that they did not want to continue either. We ended up making it all the way to right before the saddle at Lewis glacier. We are very proud of ourselves. The views are amazing and next year after training and getting more in shape we will try again with more confidence and knowledge. The last mile was really the hardest part for us. We are still very sore the night after. Great trip.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

This was my first time on the mountain and it was difficult. The payoff was worth it though! Keep in mind that the altitude affects everyone in some way. Listen to your body and slow down if need be. Take plenty of breaks, pack the protein (you'll need energy! ) and a good amount of water. If it's your first time hiking a 10000 plus foot mountain, you'll enjoy having the bragging rights!