On a clear day from viewpoints throughout Central Oregon, the Three Sisters mountains command attention as the gorgeous snow-capped peaks seen to the west. Each of this trio of volcanic peaks reaches more than 10,000 feet in elevation, and have become a part of Central Oregon culture. The Three Sisters draw visitors seeking mountain climbers hoping to ascend the peaks, those seeking nearby hiking, camping and mountain biking, landscape photographers and anyone who appreciates a gorgeous view. The mountains, part of the Cascade Range, have inspired names of landmarks and streets, and countless Central Oregon small businesses. Originally named Faith (now North Sister), Hope (now Middle Sister) and Charity (now South Sister) the mountains are found about 23 miles due west of Bend, as the crow flies. Read on to discover ways to explore and appreciate the Three Sisters mountains and the surrounding area.
Best Three Sisters Viewpoints
Catching a glimpse of the Three Sisters can happen any time of day from locations around Central Oregon, though now all viewpoints are created equal. For a guaranteed view (on a clear day) of the mountains, head to the top of Pilot Butte, a cinder cone in the center of Bend. Pilot Butte State Scenic Viewpoint can be accessed by car in the summer, or by a summit hike or walking the paved road to the top year-round. Another great viewpoint option is the Three Sisters Viewpoint, located between Bend and Sisters on U.S. Highway 20, also called Mckenzie-Bend Highway. Designated viewpoint parking areas are located on both sides of Highway 20, along with an informational sign about the mountains. This viewpoint is about 9 miles southeast of Sisters or 9 miles northwest of Bend city limits, at 66200 Mckenzie-Bend Hwy.
Hiking in the Three Sisters Wilderness
The Three Sisters Wilderness area surrounding the Three Sisters mountains includes more than 281,000 acres and features about 260 miles of hiking trails. A 40-mile stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail traverses through the Three Sisters Wilderness, along with many trails that offer breathtaking views of the Three Sisters mountains, Broken Top, Mount Bachelor and other scenic landmarks. All overnight hiking and some day-use hiking is subject to a permit from June 15 to October 15 each year as part of the Central Cascades Wilderness Permit System. Find more information about permits from the U.S. Forest Service. Many wonderful hikes are located within the Three Sisters Wilderness and nearby, including these five hikes we recommend.
Tips for Hiking South Sister
South Sister is the third highest peak in Oregon and the tallest of the Three Sisters. Hiking South Sister is a roughly 12-mile trek out and back, which is recommended only for advanced hikers and backpackers. A few tips for hiking:
1. Prepare for the hike by training on easier hikes, including those with elevation gain. Hikers ascending South Sister will gain nearly 5,000 feet in elevation on the way up.
2. Plan the journey between June and October, keeping in mind it’s a snowy mountain that will have more accumulation on the trail and at the summit earlier in the season.
3. Acquire a Central Cascades Wilderness Permit for the day of the planned hike and be sure to check the weather in advance, ensuring a pleasant hike and the rewarding views from the top.
Three Sisters Mountain Biking
Hundreds of miles of mountain biking trails take off from Bend via the Phil’s Trail network adjacent to southwest Bend and the Peterson Ridge Trail system out of Sisters. For up-to-date information about mountain biking in the region, BendTrails.org offers an excellent resource for bikers. Many trails traverse through wilderness areas near the Three Sisters Wilderness, with the closest being the Metolius-Windigo Trail, a 100-mile multi-use trail that runs from the Mount Jefferson wilderness to the north to Windigo Pass on the south end near Crescent Lake. The trail is typically described in its various sections, each with distinct characteristics.
Map of the Three Sisters
Get a feel for the location of the Three Sisters mountains through this map below.
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