South Sister Trail

HARD 186 reviews
#2 of 117 trails in

South Sister Trail is a 11.2 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Bend, Oregon that features a lake and is only recommended for very experienced adventurers. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from June until October. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

DISTANCE
11.2 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
4940 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Out & Back

dogs on leash

backpacking

birding

fishing

hiking

nature trips

rock climbing

scenic driving

skiing

snowshoeing

trail running

walking

forest

lake

views

wild flowers

wildlife

rocky

scramble

snow

no shade

South Sister is the third tallest mountain in Oregon and the tallest of the famous three sister chain. A relatively non-technical climb in winter and volcanic ridge in summer, South Sister is a long, but straight forward climb year round. The summit offers up unparalleled views of Middle Sister, North Sister, Three Fingered Jack, and all the way to Mount Hood or even into Washington on a clear day while the southern view includes Broken Top and nearby Mount Bachelor. The traditional route starts from Devil's lake campground crossing over highway 46 before making a forest ascent to the South Sister base. From there it is a long switch back / ridge climb to a false summit and then over the crater to the true peak. In winter the climb offers long runs for adventurous ski-mountaineers but routes are not marked or clearly maintained. While the climb is considered non-technical, there are steep sections in low snow periods and open crevasses along the climbing route.

hiking
6 months ago

Great hike. BRING hiking poles! 8-12 inch s of snow. Nice and crunchy on the way up but slushy on the way down. GORGEOUS vista views. Hard hike for sure. Be in some kind of shape or suffer. Loved it. Hiked Oct. 5th (last week) much more snow today I’m sure.

6 months ago

Amazing hike, lots or snow as of 9/25/17. First stretch of woods had 2-4 inches about a mile in. Flat middle stretch had 8-12 inches. Snow shoes would probably help but its pretty slushy, packed and icy so maybe spikes would work better. Trekking poles are a MUST, and ideally some waterproof socks/boots. We weren't prepared and turned back before the final accent. There was also some posted potential trail closures down by the trailhead that referenced fire activity but it may have been out of date because the trail was fine, and we saw some folks who had made it all the way up and all was fine. Campground at the base was snow-free and beautiful but dropped below freezing at night.

7 months ago

Snow from basically the parking lot all the way to the top, microspikes are not needed but make a huge difference in the slushy snow.

7 months ago

While this climb allows for some unbelievably rewarding scenery and views, it is not for everyone. You should not attempt it unless you are already in great hiking shape. The final ascent past the glacier is brutal and dangerous, but it is well worth it at the top. The unique part about this hike is all the different geographical challenges, although it is easy to get lost off the trail. Make sure to come prepared for changes in temperature at the top.

hiking
7 months ago

Five star hike, yet not a solitary one. Currently closed due to fire activity Update: Reopened 9/18/2017

hiking
7 months ago

Epic Hike!! Great training for our hike to Half Dome in Yosemite. Very hard but worth it. I recommend at least a gallon of total water. I ended up getting dehydrated after all was said and done.

hiking
7 months ago

Epic hike, 5 hours up, 90 minutes on top. We walked around the whole summit. I highly recommend. 4 hours down. Started @ 635am and back to the car @ 520 pm. Not easy but soo worth it.

hiking
8 months ago

Excellent hike, gorgeous views of Bachelor, Broken Top, and surrounding area. Some butterflies still around and I loved the change in terrain throughout the hike. However, I wouldn't recommend to someone without some hiking experience and be prepared with plenty of water. Last two miles are up steep, loose ash/soil and very dusty; if you have low shoes, I suggest gaiters to keep the debris out. I recommend going early before it gets hot out or you will be exposed to hot sun during the majority of the hike. We left the trailhead at 5am (used a headlamp through the lower forest section) and summitted around 9:30am when it was still relatively cool and windy at the top. It was gorgeous views on the way up but the smoke and haze from the forest fires started rolling in on the way down. I couldn't believe how many people were attempting late in the day when it was hot out and the views (and thus reward) were limited. We couldn't even see the top on the way down - yet another reason to go early when fires are present. On August 19th, every trail around South Sister was closed for forest fires, except the summit hike, so review trail information before you go. US Forest Service Permit required at trailhead.

hiking
8 months ago

Summiting South Sisters is not for the weak minded. It is a very hard climb and requires you be mentally and physically prepared. It took us 7 hours to climb to the summit. The first 4 miles took us 2 ours and the last 2.5 miles took us 5 hours. It was an epic experience. We met so many amazing people on our climb. Everyone was encouraging. We were surprised to see people starting so late in the day. This hike unless you are in ultra shape and used to climbing takes 6 to 10 plus hours to hike. So make sure you know what you are getting into. We loved the community we felt with the other hikers and created a facebook page for those who have climbed or are wanting to climb. facebook.com/Isummitedsouthsister Would love for you to join our community. Post pictures, share your experience, learn about the climb.

hiking
8 months ago

This was my first mountain I've ever done. And for a first time hiker it was hard to find really good info on this hike. First off it's hard. Like really hard but doable. My best friend and I made it to the summit a couple days ago and my muscles still hurt.
Several things I would like to stress. Poles & gators are a must! Poles probably saved us. Makes the up easier and the down feel safer. I wish I had known about Gators. They cover your shoes and keep the rocks out. Even with them I had to empty my shoes 3x coming down. Water and more water. I packed 4L and drank all of it! And Gu...the kinda gross gu packs that athletes use were life savers. It gave me energy and my muscles the sodium they needed. It still felt like you do a million walking lunges on the way up and then of course hundreds of squats on the way down.
To describe the trail. There is 2 mile of forest which is really cool but mostly up. A nice kind of intro. Then 2 miles of meadow which is a nice stroll a great break before the summit begins. The last 2 miles is up hill!!!
The first mile up the summit is ok...hard but ok. Gave me some major confidence boosts, much needed. There are some definite sketchy points where the trail is hard to find, we were lucky to have someone who had done it before and helped us out on the way. You reach the false summit which has some amazing views. Then you look up...yep up, up, up. You still have another mile of UP in scree. Or as I called the whole way up s$&t. If you want to prepare at all for this hike. Climb sand dunes because it's about the same. Except there are rocks.
It took us about 2-2.5 hours to go that one mile. We took our time and the altitude definitely got to us. But we made it. Sadly due to the fires that surrounded Sisters wilderness blocked out what we had been told were epic views. Guess that means we have to do it again....maybe in a few years. There were an amazing amount of butterflies on the summit which was absolutely amazing.
We stayed on the summit for a bit and gave our muscles a rest. Going down was easier but we were done. We worked our bodies hard.
This hike is hard. The hike is worth it. I hope this helps the inexperienced hikers out there wanting to step up your game. Good luck. Take your time. There will be people who run up the mountain. We even saw a gal skip down the mountain. Shake it off. One step in front of the other and don't let the mountain get in your head!

8 months ago

Is this affected by the forest fires at all? We are heading up tomorrow.

hiking
8 months ago

This was an awesome hike but make no mistake, it's a very hard hike. I'd consider myself an experienced hiker, having done many other summits at greater distance and higher elevation. However, this hike is among the hardest I've done. The elevation gain over such a short distance is challenging. The last 2 miles are very tough as the terrain becomes very loose and steep. We planned to summit in about 3.5 hours and ended up taking about 5.5 hours to get to the top. That's how challenging this hike can be. But all the challenges made the view at the top just that much more worth it!

hiking
8 months ago

What an experience! Seeing the middle and north sister from there was absolutely breathtaking. It took me 4.5 hours to summit and about 3 to return, with about 45 minutes at the summit. Hiking poles are a must on the red ridge and generally very helpful due to lack of oxygen. Gators were also very helpful on the descent and crossing glaciers. Apple Watch said it was 12.57 miles total from Devils Lake Trailhead. Amazing!

hiking
8 months ago

Amazing trail, very sectioned out with different landscapes and sceneries. I started at Devils Lake trail, so it was closer to 12.5 miles. Ascended in 4:30 on 8/11. It was clear when we started, and we were surrounded by thunderstorms by the last mile of the ascent. Very strenuous trail, especially last 1.25 miles with loose red rock. Brought our dogs (two small poodle breeds) and their feet were worn and raw by the time we summited. Between storm clouds and smoke haze from nearby forest fires, we didn't have a clear view, but what we could see was fantastic. No sure water access, but we did find a small glacier fed trickle about 4 miles up. Moraine lake is about 2 miles up, but .5 miles off trail. I recommend bringing all the water you will need. Took us 8.5 hours total, with a 45 min lunch stop. The butterflies had to be he most amazing thing... they were around from start to finish but we're numerous at the summit. If you stand still (long enough to stop breathing hard) you can hear the flutter of their wings. Will do again on a clearer day.

hiking
8 months ago

Did the assent in 4:15 and we are in good hiking shape. It is definitely a strenuous hike more than just the amount of altitude you have to climb. The scree makes it feel like you are walking uphill on a beach. But, its all worth it at the top and for the sense of achievement. I'll just reinforce here that you have to be vigilant about weather changes. Most of the way up, it was crystal clear, but by the time we got to that last long ridge of scree, the storm clouds were building and by the time we summitted, there were storms raging on the far side of the mountain. Fortunately, they didn't make it to the trail side on our descent.

hiking
8 months ago

Superbe montagne. Aller retour très intéressant demandant une bonne condition physique.

hiking
8 months ago

Hard Hike! Millions of butterflies at the summit right now which is a sight in itself! Mosquitos for the first few miles, but you lose them after Moraine Lake.

hiking
8 months ago

Super beautiful and challenging hike. I highly recommend camping over night at Lake Moraine because the first mile is pretty steep. It was really nice to break up the hike into two sections. The first mile 3/4 is moderately up hill. Once you hit Moraine, there is a nice warm up 1/2 mile or so that is pretty flat with a few rolling hills. Then you hit the elevation climb and it's steadily difficult all the way to the summit. We took a short rest at tear drop lake and ate some snacks. The last mile is definitely the hardest with scree and rocks to navigate. Once you get to the top, hike to the right around the ridge. The views are incredible.

For the love of god, please don't bring your dog up south sister. The scree and sharp rocks cut up their paws, and there is no water source. Not to mention how hot the ground gets. If it's 75 outside, the ground could be as hot as 120. I have an adventure dog, and I would never bring her up South Sister. I saw multiple people carrying their dogs down the mountain.

backpacking
8 months ago

If the forecast permits, I highly recommend carrying your gear to the summit and camping there. Rock shelters are built to shield you from the wind though the wind still may keep you up from time to time by shaking the tent. It is one hell of a place to wake up.

hiking
8 months ago

Was an excellent hike with excellent views and very glad it's off the bucket list now!!! Was a very hard hike( to me) but so worth it!

8 months ago

Left at 2pm with 45oz of water. BRING MORE WATER, you will be exposed to the sun all the way! By 4:30/5pm I was at the Glacier but had to go down as I had no water left at all. It is a challenging hike especially in the snowy portions.
I will definitely come back for a morning start and some more water!

backpacking
8 months ago

Stayed at Moraine lake. Great sky views. Great climb. Very rigorous. So many butterflies, which I can't find out why they are even there. Stunning views. If you don't start early the sun will really get you.

hiking
8 months ago

This was my first mountain and it was incredible! I thought about quitting after the first false summit, but with some encouragement from my partner and other climbers I persisted. The elevation was making me nauseous and light headed, but water and chocolate will fix just about anything. The scree is definitely something to keep in mind and I wish that I had brought trekking poles. If you plan to make the summit in the summer, make sure to bring sunscreen as it is very exposed and lots of water or a filtration system.The views from the top are amazing and so incredibly worth it!

hiking
8 months ago

amazing hike! its grueling. its worth it. you think oh maybe this is good enough, I will turn back. But never give in.. The summit is beyond worth it. Slow and steady will win this race. And just bring tons of water. also never forget to leave a gallon of extra water at base camp or in car! sun screen, bug spray and food. Also have gators. There will be slush...start early end early...it will take an average hiker, with a 30 min break..around 7-10 hours. up and back.

8 months ago

Definelty some work! Took us 8 hours and we started at 2pm. Bring trekking pokes for the down hill. Scree and rocks and rough and makes it kinda cool. I brought and drank a gallon of water.

9 months ago

made the summit in about 4 1/2 hours
drank 5L of water but I started at 6:30am. would have needed more trying to make the top in the heat. hard but worth it

hiking
9 months ago

Hiked on July 19th and the trail still has snow in some spots. We used micro spikes and made it with no problems. I saw others with just their hiking boots and they didn't seem to have any problems either. Took us a long time about 10 hours round-trip...because I'm pretty slow. But we made it to the summit and the views are absolutely beautiful. The trail was not crowded at all. Next time we may camp and spend more time.

hiking
9 months ago

July 8 '17 Summit- Much of the hike is still covered by snow. It begins covering the trail well below treeline. You should have some route-finding skills and be comfortable traveling on snow.

The snow was pretty good on the way up, some people used crampons or microspikes, I did see some people with just hiking boots. The snow ended once you begin up the screen slope below Lewis Glacier. If you need to filter water, this lake is open. The ridge to the summit is clear of snow. The lake at the summit is still frozen over. Summit was great! Bring a jacket, it was a little windy. We hung out for about an hour and headed down.

The snow was pretty sticky on the way down. I did see some people with skis. Make sure you have sunscreen, and plenty of water (I drank over 100oz) or bring your filter. If you're not an ultramarathoner plan for a full day.

backpacking
9 months ago

Beautiful views, goes through forest. The start is a nice stream. It was well snowed in mid-July. The summit offered amazing views off all the cascade mountains from Shasta to Mt. St. Helens :) We backpacked up to moraine lake, then summited the next day.

Essentials are sunglasses for the snow, bug spray, and sun screen. Also, if you can pack as light as you can !!! If backpacking, take a small summit pack to summit. Leave the backpacking packs. Trekking poles also really help. You will drink a lot, so bring water filters to have water, and if you can a small backpacking stove to melt snow if necessary. Don't go off trail, if so take a compass, map or GPS device, you could get lost in the wilderness!

hiking
9 months ago

One of the best hikes I've ever been on. The views are incredible and definitely make the final grueling half mile worth it. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen and get an early start. I hit the trail head down at Devil's lake at around 6 and was at the summit by 10.

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