Summiting the South Sister

Climbing the last stretch, a mile straight up through red-brown silt and gravel, I kept my eyes on the peak ahead. The blue sky over the rounded bulge summit at 10,358 feet beckoning me like a turquoise pendant. Reaching the top of this mountain however, awarded me with a hiking high better than any jewels could offer.

Hitting the trail, I completed the first hike of my “10 hikes in 10 years” plan by summiting the South Sister in central Oregon. The third largest mountain in Oregon and the highest of the three sisters, the South Sister is one of few climbs of its size in the state that doesn’t require technical equipment. A 12-mile round trip trail leads from the base of the valley at Devils Lake up the mountain plains then finally along a rocky ridge to the mountain’s summit.

From the peak’s crater, hikers enjoy views of the mountain’s two smaller sisters to the north, Mt. Bachelor to the south and Broken Top to the east. Sweeping views of the high Cascade lakes system and jagged mountain forests also highlight the horizon.

Starting at 7:15 in the morning, the hike took my friend and I about 8.5 hours to complete (including an hour exploring the summit and enjoying the ultimate picnic views).

With the Pole Creek Fire burning to the north of the mountain range, we also received a unique vantage of the billowing smoke as it enveloped the forested peaks. Reaching the summit just in time to see the surrounding ranges, we watched the smoke overcome the mountain floor and begin rolling over Broken Top filling the air with the smell of dangerous briquettes. Yet, the glacier at the top of the summit remained white and the sky to the south blue with a cool breeze for the satisfying hike back down.

If you go:


I definitely recommend camping overnight at Devils Lake or one of the nearby campgrounds, so you can get an early start. I stayed the first night at Little Fawn Campground on Elk Lake; about a 10 minute drive away. If you enjoy backpacking, haul in your tent and sleep sack to the meadows at the base of the mountain or you can also stay at a hotel in Bend.


Make sure to pack plenty of water or a filter system for the hike. It can take between 7-12 hours to complete depending on your skill level and on a hot day your body will need a lot of water to continue the climb. Also stash in your bag, some high calorie foods like granola bars and nuts as well as a full hikers lunch to keep your energy up. Try these 3 Gluten Free Hiking Snacks.

After the hike, venture into bend to enjoy one of the region’s amazing breweries like Deschutes Brewery, 10 Barrel Brewery or Bend Brewing Company.

Trail Guide:

Read the trail guides before you leave for the hike so you know fully what to expect. Start early and if there is a cloud at the top, do not try to summit. I used William Sullivan’s guide and the EveryTrails guide.


10 thoughts on “Summiting the South Sister

  1. I admire your willingness to hike here while the wildfire was closeby and creating a level of unbreathable air.
    Have you ever hiked to Obsidian Falls?
    Congratulations on meeting one more of your bucket list!

    1. Thanks so much! It was such an awesome hike to the top of the South Sister.

      I haven’t hiked to Obsidian Falls yet, but it is definitely on the to-do list. We wanted to do a few more short hikes in the area on Sunday after hiking to the summit, but the smoke really started to settle into the area. Just means I’ll have to go back! Next time, I’m thinking of spending a few days backpacking the area.

      1. I have no experience backpacking, but after reading “WILD” I would really love to hike to Obsidian Falls, mostly to see the obsidian. Would you entertain the idea of going here with me on a long day hike?

  2. Congrats on on reaching the South Sisters summit. Going up last summer, I kept wondering why the people I met coming down were covered in this fine red dust.. That was until I got to the climb where you had to deal with the scree; then I found out why they were so red.
    Yes, the view was well worth the effort!!!

  3. Great job, Kelsey! The photo of North and Middle Sisters towwering above the smoke from the east is an awesome shot!

    What’s on next year’s list? I recommend Mt. Thielsen if you haven’t already decided.

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