- Trip Name: South Sister (Summit)
- Trip Length: 11.6 miles out-and-back
- Trip Time: 7-9 hours (maybe more)
- Best time to visit: Summer to early fall
- Difficulty rating: 10 (long, steep, very exposed)
- Views: 10
- Wilderness experience: 4 (can be crowded on summer weekends)
- Recommended activities: Day hike
- Best for: Hikers
- Restroom: Yes, at Devils Lake Trailhead
- Permit: Northwest Forest Pass ($30 annual pass, $5 day use fee payable on-site)
- Recommended map: Central Oregon hiking Trail Map by AdventureMaps.net
- Click here to download our FREE topo trail map
- Click here to download this Trail Guide as a PDF
- Click here to purchase the GPS file for this hike ($3)
- Click here to check out our photos from this hike
Trip Technical Data
- Trailhead: Devils Lake
- Trailhead Elevation: 5,480 feet
- Elevation of South Sister: 10,358 feet
- Elevation Gain: 4,878 feet
- CAUTION: This is a VERY strenuous hike. There are no purified water sources along the hike. Be sure to bring LOTS of water and be prepared to spend many hours in the sun!
Driving Directions to trailhead from Bend
Travel Time: 45 minutes
Heading out of Bend on Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway you will pass the large sign seen to the right. From this sign you will follow Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway for 25.5 miles to the trailhead. After you pass Devils Lake and drive around a long, sharp curve the access to Devils Lake Trailhead is on your left.
South Sister is one of the most popular hikes in Central Oregon. A ten thousand foot summit you can reach on a day hike with no technical skills is rare. Don't let these statistics fool you. This is a very difficult hike and requires excellent physical condition, especially if you are not conditioned to the higher elevations of Central Oregon.
Starting from the Devils Lake Trailhead you can see the summit of South Sister through the valley between Kaleetan Butte and Devils Hill. The trail starts on the north side of the parking area and in about 1,000 feet you cross over the Scenic Byway you just drove in on. Once across the road, you will gain 1,000 feet in elevation in the first mile and a half. This stretch is mostly forested with some peak-a-boo views behind you to Mount Bachelor. At 1.75 miles, you will reach a trail intersection with the Moraine Lake Trail, and will continue straight on the South Sister Summit Trail. At this point you will be leaving the shade of the woods behind you and entering the sub-alpine section of the hike.
Over the next 1.25 miles you will gain about 300 feet as you walk the ridge looking down onto Goose Creek on your right. From here, there are endless and changing views starting with South Sister standing straight ahead. You will find Broken Top to your right (east), the Rock Mesa lava flow to your left (west) and behind you, Mt. Bachelor (south).
After hiking along the ridge above Goose Creek your ascent truly begins at the hikes three mile mark. Once the climb starts you will gain over 3,200 feet in 2.4 miles to the crater rim of South Sister. This section of the trail contains varied terrain from stretches of hard packed sand to some boulder climbing. The majority of the terrain, however, contains loose scree rock which requires much caution and patience as you scramble up a few steps and then slide back one or two steps. At points, you may lose the trail in the loose rock and have to continue to follow the ridge line until you rejoin the visible trail.
Just over 4.5 miles into the hike you will find yourself on a small, rare, flat area overlooking a glacier melt lake fed by the Lewis Glacier above. This makes a fantastic spot to take a break for a snack or lunch before your final push to the summit. From here you have 0.8 mile and 1,300 feet left to climb before you reach the crater rim.
Reaching the rim is an amazing feeling and the views you gain are once in a lifetime. At this point, you need to follow the crater rim to your right about 0.4 mile to reach the actual summit. This can also be accomplished by crossing the crater glacier. This trims 0.2 mile off the walk around the rim.
The views from the summit cannot be described in words. Check out our photo gallery to get a true representation.
When you decide to leave the summit, the return trip retraces your steps back down. As you descend use extreme caution coming down the scree slopes as the footing is very bad and slipping and sliding is common. Going down doesn't have to be the end of your fun for the trip. As we found, if there are still good snow patches, sledding without a sled is rather fun! (See the video below)
Please let us know how your hike went and share some of your photos on our Facebook page!