South Sister Trail

HARD 263 reviews
#1 of 127 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
4,940 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Out & Back

dogs on leash

backpacking

camping

fishing

hiking

rock climbing

snowshoeing

forest

lake

views

wild flowers

wildlife

bugs

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
1 day ago

Amazing views, but definitely physically and mentally testing! I hiked this last week and brought 3 L of water, but was wishing that I had brought more by the end. Hiking poles were very helpful especially on the fairly steep descent. I would highly recommend bringing those as well as some decent hiking shoes. I consider myself to be in decent shape and hike quite frequently, so this trail was a good workout and I would definitely do it again. If you’re going just make sure to be well prepared with equipment, food, and water and make sure to pace yourself. Highly recommend this hike!!

hiking
1 day ago

Great hike on family vacation. Amazing views
Great workout

backpacking
6 days ago

We backpacked this 3 years ago in August & it was amazing. About 1.5 miles from the base is Lake Morraine (sp?) - campsites are up the hill to the right from the lake. We used a bear bag and I’m glad we did, we definitely heard critters at night and our dog barked a few times due to hearing something.

The hike to the top itself is challenging but doable (we did it in sneakers, although wouldn’t recommend this). About a mile from the top there’s a false peak where you can jump into a glacier to cool off before doing the hardest part of the hike. Pretty much every step you take on the last mile your feet slide back due to the lava rocks & pebbles so I recommend wearing appropriate footwear that helps with stability & covers the ankles so you don’t end up with tons of rocks in your shoes (speaking from experience). If you’re taking your pup, make sure he/she has shoes too, the rocks would shred their paws without them.

The views from the top are breathtaking on a clear day. You can literally see all the way to Mt. Hood. Highly recommend.

Also, on the way down, be careful on the rocks past the false peak - very easy to slip & fall without proper stability.

hiking
7 days ago

If you're looking for an inexperienced hiker review, this is definitely the one! I'm 15 years old and consider to be in pretty good shape. I have never really hiked something so big like this before! Bring a good pair of hiking shoes, plenty of water, and energy bars! We did not bring poles and that was a huge mistake! We started at 6:00 am and the bugs were terrible (bring bug spray!!!). The hike to the false summit was not that bad, but the mile to the summit was crazy and super rocky and took an hour and a half. We reached the summit around 10:00 am (4 hrs). The views were definitely worth it! Spent around 15 min up there and made the way down. It was super slippery and rocky and definitely change your socks before going down! We made it back to the parking lot around 1:30 pm (around 2 hrs) and the entire trip took us roughly 6 hrs. It's not technical, but it's very demanding!

hiking
10 days ago

South Sister does not disappoint! A good pair of hiking boots, 3 liters of water, and some fuel and you’re ready. I suggest a 5 or 6 am start to avoid the crowds, bugs, and overheating.

Stella, the golden retriever enjoyed teardrop pool at the false summit. Taking a swim in the glacial water. Also a great spot to get more water if needed.

The view from the summit is absolutely incredible! I came prepared with a beanie and windbreaker as you get a slight chill once you stop moving to taken in the view.

Gods Speed ~ Never Stop Exploring

hiking
10 days ago

The views at the top and tear drop lake made this hike totally worth how steep it is.
I suggest sunblock, mosquito repellent and trekk poles. Watch your footing on the way down, as I fell a few times. I started the trip around 10:50am and arrived back to the trail head at 5:54pm. I saw so many people hiking up and down. The trail is safe and I did happen upon a rattlesnake, but it you give them space they will give you space too. Make sure to bring plenty of water, you will need it. I recommend extremely supportive hiking boots, due to the climb. Definitely for experienced hikers. This is a must do hike in Oregon.

hiking
11 days ago

South Sister was a beautiful journey in every section of the hike. For many, this will be a very tough hike, and possibly the toughest hike to date. I highly recommend a good amount of training on steeper trails ahead of time to get the most enjoyment out of hiking this great mountain.

The trail begins in a wooded area just off the road. We filled out our group card and started out with the initial gains to get through the wooded section. The trail levels off for a short time and South Sister comes into view. However, once you get closer to the mountain, and enter the steeper rocky section, you'll lose sight of the true summit. This change in perspective, and the need to watch one's steps, leads some to believe that the false summit is the end. I heard a few hikers mention that they thought they were almost to the top.

Once at the false summit, the true summit of South Sister becomes visible again. This mountain only became more beautiful as I got closer. You will also see the beginning of the red section of scree that many hikers struggle with. I took the scree section slowly and didn't have too much trouble. However, it is quite tiring because my steps slipped a bit. It was much like stepping on the occasional baseball or golf balls. It was pretty loose going down, so sliding was preferable. The trekking poles were a great help both ways.

The summit is worth the journey. I crossed the snow at the top to view north and middle sister. This was the spot I was waiting to see. It was surreal to see the primal land from that high vantage point. It was nice and cool but quite windy. Fortunately I took a light warm layer.

The trip down is much faster. I took three liters of water and ran out going down. Next time I will keep some water in the car and take extra on the way up. I recommend some insect repellent for the mosquitoes in the forest. They were much worse later in the day.

11 days ago

Difficult, but hardest hike you’ll ever do? No. If you are in good shape, you’ll be fine. Just take it slow. I also highly recommend taking it early in the morning (4-6am start) as you will avoid the heat, the crowds, and drink less water, which you should carry at least 2-3 liters of.

And wow. The views! What makes the relentless elevation gain worth it is that once you are on the mountain, turning around is an absolute pleasure.

Not sure where this falso summit people are talking about is. You can see the summit on the approach, so you kind of know how big it is right off the bat.

hiking
14 days ago

This hike mostly sucks. Don’t ignore the other reviewers stating this is the hardest hike they’ve ever done. The definition of “asskicker”

To put this into perspective, the Bright Angel Trail climbs 4380 feet out of the Grand Canyon in 8 miles. South Sister takes you 4940 feet up in 6. This hike is approximately 300 ft shy of a vertical mile.

Ladies might want to consider wearing something longer than gym shorts... By the time you get back down to the desert flats it will be hot af and chaffing happens. Drinking lots of water helps prevent this. And bring more water than you think you need. SO and I both brought 3 liters and were almost out before we reached the flats.

I would also highly recommend a dip in Devil’s Lake when you get back.

Have fun ya’ll!

hiking
16 days ago

This was by far the most difficult and beautiful hike I’ve ever done. I am fairly inexperienced with hiking but I am fit so I struggled somewhat, esp with steep top. But it was totally worth it to slowly trek to the top! Def being trekking poles and lots of water / filter. I ran out at the top )halfway through!)

hiking
19 days ago

If views of the Cascades, going across an active volcano on a glacier excite you, then this is for you. If you are willing to feel the pain for miles 4,5, and 6 then this is for you. This is serious pain. I hike all over the US and Canada and this was the most difficult hike I’ve completed. Even 16 to 18 mile hikes with similar elevation gain do not compare to how this relentless incline.

Once in the top we had views into Washington state.

Bring plenty of water, poles, and sunscreen.

hiking
19 days ago

Amazing views make this difficult hike worth the effort. Started at 6:30am and took several long breaks so reached the summit at 10:45. Glad it was breezy on the upper flanks and summit because the direct sun was brutal.
Gorgeous weather and panoramic views. So many butterflies at the top!
Bring lots of water and snacks and wear a hat because you are exposed for most of this hike after the wooded climb up from the road. Mosquitoes were bad in the morning from the woods to the first exposed ridge.
Start early and take breaks. Wear good supportive shoes and bring hiking poles.

19 days ago

Took Devils Lake TH. If you plan to rest to hydrate and refuel - plan on 4-6 hours to the summit and 3-4 hours back. Lots if hikers do it quicker, but a slow steady pace is recommended. We got a late start. If you can leave by 7:00am do it. Beautiful views- perfect weather! Mild breeze when we needed it. Lots of loose ground in several areas which makes it hard to stay mentally upbeat. Take trekking poles and wear sturdy boots with traction.

Lots of mosquitos on the way back to the cars!

21 days ago

Brutal hike on a very hot day!
Take lots of water and hiking poles recommended!

Beautiful hike once you put the difficulty behind!

21 days ago

Oh my gosh. This was hard and so rewarding. We beat the fire smoke (mostly) and got some amazing pictures. The terrain is tough but worth the aches and pains. I used 2.5 liters of water. Started at 5:45am.

hiking
29 days ago

No other word to describe but as intense. I’d recommend trekking poles because to get up to the false summit and to the main summit it is pretty unsteady with loose rock and powder. Very easy to lose footing. I’d also suggest bringing more than a liter of water and definitely a protein bar or two. Other than that it was a beautiful hike.

hiking
1 month ago

My 12 year old and i hiked to the summit 5 days ago, it was a tough trail and yes the mosquitos were bad in the forest just before you come up to the Moraine Lake trail jct.. We will fo this one again for sure. Make sure to take sunscreen, sunglasses and at least 2-3L of water, unless you plan on stopping at the alpine lake below the summit to refill.

hiking
1 month ago

This was my 4th Time on South Sister. Great weather and the trail is virtually snow free (except one little patch for like 20 feet that may have melted by days end). Lots of sun screen. Carried 5 liters of fluid - only drank 2 but finished the rest when i got down. Mosquitoes were not that bad - just a few at the start.
I am 52 and I hiked from Devils Lake Campground to the summit proper in 3 hours 20 minutes. Had some food (Carne Asada all meat burrito) and took some pics then headed down. Took me 2 hours 12 minutes to get back to the campground. Total hiking time was 5:32 minutes. One AP said 13.7 miles and another said 13.5. I also wore North Face Ultra 110 trail running shoes - my favorite - low tops and no rocks got in. It was a good hike and workout.

hiking
1 month ago

Excellent introduction to big mountain hiking and climbing. Requires some fitness and persistence, but this trail does not require any technical climbing skill. Moderately fit people can get to the summit in 4 hours from Devil’s Lake Trail Head. This same person will need a little over 3 hours to hike down. Fit (specifically: active runners and hikers) people can summit in 3-3.5 hours and descend in under 3. Add an hour at the summit to enjoy the views. I highly recommend trekking poles as it is easy to slip on the way down. Trail can be hiked in sturdy tennis shoes, but hiking boots are best to reduce the amount of dirt and rocks that can get into your shoes. Trail shoes are great.

Beautiful views & a great sense of achievement await those who summit.

hiking
1 month ago

Hiked trail on July 5 from Devil's lake to summit and back. Departed 0915, Moraine Lake 1015, Bottom of Lewis Glacier 1215, Summit 1315. Entire route was warm and sunny, until the top where it was cold and windy. Hardest hike I've done for sure. Total out and back time around 7.5 hours. Last 2 miles took 2 hours extremely steep and loose footage makes for a slow final summit.

hiking
1 month ago

First attempt failed this time due to poor conditions at the summit. I hiked into Moraine Lake and camped the night before. The mosquitoes were a problem when the wind wasn't blowing. I headed out at 4am for the summit and got up to cirque lake before having to turn back due to freezing cloud cover blowing 30-40 mph. I waited for an hour, but before heading back down. It didn't clear up until about noon, but I was already back in Bend by then. Note: after the first couple miles of the approach, there is almost 100% sun and wind exposure on the way up, depending on time of day. When there isn't sun and wind, there are plenty of mosquitoes to accompany you. Plan accordingly!

1 month ago

Loved this climb/hike. The only unfortunate thing is we chose a day when the wind almost ripped us off the mountain. When we were on the summit for over half an hour we were alone, which is unusual on a popular route like this but the weather forced most people back. Very similar to the St. Helens climb in height and length and effort. If you are one of the people frustrated by the poorly run permit system on St. Helens go to South Sister no permit required and more backpacking available. Not technical at all but strongly suggest trekking poles.

1 month ago

Fantastic hike just really crowded.

hiking
1 month ago

Lucked out with the best day to hike this. Clear blue skies and hardly any wind. My first summit and it was definitely one for the books! Met so many great people and had a blast!!

1 month ago

backpacking
1 month ago

My absolute favorite place to hike! She is spiritual. This was my second trip up the mountain and unfortunately the weather made the summit too dangerous. 40-50 mile an hour winds but we gave it a go!

hiking
1 month ago

Trekking poles, gaiters OR tall boots, Deet, sunglasses, layers, water, food, $5 for parking, an early start, and GOOD SLEEP! Brought spikes but didn't need them.

4.5 hours up
3.25 hours down

5000' gain(and loss) is nothing to laugh at. I am in very good physical condition, moderate-intense exercise everyday, but I was VERY sleep deprived the day of the hike, the levels of suck were astronomical. I was delirious and in pretty rough shape at the end, glad I had a companion. Make sure you are in good all around shape (mental, physical, sleep, food, attitude, etc.) before attempting this. It's a straightforward hike but the distance and elevation will challenge anyone. Which makes it worth saying that I still loved this hike/climb.

Some of the cons: A little busy, mosquitos for the first and last 3-4 miles, scree/sand/pebbles for the top half of the hike. Wear gaiters or boots that go higher than ankle.

hiking
1 month ago

First time up but did a little research and stayed on the summit overnight. It was windy but there are spots that provide shelter from the wind. Wind was ~30 mph and temp in the 20s overnight but I packed according and was comfortable. It wasn't easy getting all that gear up there but that sunrise was great.

backpacking
1 month ago

Packed into Morraine Lake, had lunch and set up camp and the continued onto summit. Beautiful hike! Quite a bit of snow but perfect for a glissading descent. Scree field at the top wasn’t the most fun but the summit is worth the riff. Love this hike will do again!

hiking
1 month ago

Great hike. Perfect conditions yesterday (July 2). I’m an experienced hiker and found this challenging but totally doable. Yes there is loose scree in the final stretch to the summit, but I didn’t have gaiters and I was totally fine. A good pair of tall hiking boots worked fine and I only had to pull out a rock once in a while. Tons of parking around Devils Lake, but don’t forget to bring $5 cash!!

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