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Bend, Oregon, United States

South Sister Summit

Climbing to the summit of the South Sister from Devil's Lake Trailhead.

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 (10 votes, 6 reviews)
Difficulty: Difficult
Length: 12.0 miles / 19.3 km
Duration: Full day
Overview: The South Sister, also known as Charity, is Oregon's third highest mountain. The hike to the top is very difficult, but fairly easy as far as climbing mountains can go, as there is indeed a trail that goes all the way to the top and can be done without any technical mountain climbing gear.

The hike can easily be done in a day, and usually takes between 7 and 10 hours round trip. The hike to the top is about 6 and a quarter miles long (12 round trip) with a 4900 feet elevation gain.

The mountain itself is a volcano that is around 50,000 years old and last erupted 2000 years ago.

As you hike you will pass Moraine Lake, and the Lewis and Clark glaciers. At the top of the South Sisters you will find Oregon's highest lake Teardrop Pool.

Tips: To get to the trailhead at Devils Lake take Cascade Lakes Highway #46 28.7 miles west from Bend. It's a little over 6 miles past Mt Bachelor Ski Area.

Make sure you bring lots of water. On a cloudy day you will easily go through 2 quarts of water. 3-4 quarts are recommended on a hot day. There are a few lakes along the route that you can fill up at if you have a filtration system.

Bring lots of food. This is a grueling steep hike and you will need your energy.

The temperature can vary greatly from the trailhead to the summit. Pay attention to the weather forecasts. Even in August, if a cold front comes through it can get down into the 30's at the top. If so bring a jacket, hat and gloves.

Bring good hiking boots and think about gators to protect your shoes from filling up with the loose sand and rocks that are the bane of many hikers on South Sister.

Bring a good hiking stick, or hiking poles. You'll find it very useful both going up and coming down the steep trail.

Be smart, if there is a cloud at the top of the mountain there may be a blizzard inside. Don't take unnecessary risks.

Stay off Lewis glacier. Untrained hikers have ventured out onto the glacier and fallen into crevices 40 feet down.

Points of Interest


Devils Lake Campground TRAILHEAD

This campground is where most people start off the hike to the South Sister. While there are a lot of parking spaces you will find that by 7:30am they will all be taken.

The campground is run by the National Forest Service and while there is no fee to camp at one of the 9 tent sites here (no reservations either first come first serve), you will need a National Recreation Vehicle Permit ($5/day or $30/annual). You can purchase a day pass at the campground.

There are two vault toilets at the trailhead. These are the only toilets you will find on the entire trail.


You will need to register for hiking in the area. You could get a $200 fine if you don't. It only takes a second, and it's free, so fill out your form here.

Hike through the forest

The first 1.5 miles of the hike are though a hemlock forest. The trail is very steep, but it's a good bellwether trail. If you cannot handle this short section you will not be able to hike to the summit.

You won't get any views as you hike through the dense trees.

The hike back through this section seems to last forever as you long to return to your car.

Trail to Moraine Lake

As you emerge from the forest onto a sandy plain you instantly come upon a four way crossing.

The path to the left takes you to Wikiup Plain.

The path to the right is a .8 mile hike to Moraine Lake. If you are on your way to Moraine lake you might consider first hiking straight ahead, where you will get a nice view from above, and also find another trail that will take you down to the lake.

The path to South Sister continues straight ahead.

Moraine Lake Viewpoint

The trail to the left here is a half mile hike down to Moraine Lake. A few yards ahead is a nice viewpoint of Moraine Lake from above.

Moraine Lake

There are campsites scattered around the lake. It's a popular place for staying while hiking the South Sister (even though the hike itself can be done in a day). Camping is only allowed in designated areas, and they usually fill up by Friday.

There is not a lot of vegetation around the lake, but you will find plenty of volcanic rock.

Be warned that campfires are not allowed in the area.

The word "moraine" is a geology term. A glacier deposits moraine (accumulation of boulders, stones, or other debris), which dams up a valley, which results in a lake.

Sandy Plain

The next mile or so takes you across the sandy plain. It's a nice flat portion of the hike that takes you right to the bottom of the South Sister.

The mountain you see to the north east is called Broken Top an extinct stratovolcano which stopped erupting around 100,000 years ago

The Accent Begins

This is where the climb up the mountain really beings to get serious and steep. It's a little over a one mile hike up to the saddle at Lewis Glacier.

Here the trail switchbacks through rocky outcrops with few opportunities for shade. Hikers have stacked rocks piles along the way to rest.

Over this mile you will gain 1600 ft in elevation.

Saddle at Lewis Glacier

Here at the bottom of Lewis Glacier you'll find a small lake. You'll also find a lot of backpacks and camping gear that people leave here that they don't want to take with them to the summit.

Now is a good time to drink a lot of water and eat some food to prepare for the final grueling mile up to the summit.

Lewis Glacier covers about .3 square kilometers.

Cinder Ridge

This final mile is steeper then anything you've come across so far. It's also made of very loose, very powdery cinder rock. You will most likely see many hikers dumping their shoes out along the trail.

Hikers have carved various paths through this area. It's advised that you follow one that switchbacks up and not one that just goes straight up.

Some hikers find they slide a half step down the hill for every step up.

You will now you are are the hardest section when the cinder turns from grey to red. This red section is very difficult, but you are nearly at the top!

Many hikers on their way down like to encourage those are their way up with "ONLY A LITTLE BIT FARTHER", as it wasn't so long ago they were in their shoes.

False Summit

You might think you are at the top, but the actual summit lies across the glacier in front of you.

You can choose to take the rocky ridge to your right, or cross the flat glacier.

In the late summer part of the glacier begins to melt and Teardrop Pool, Oregon's highest lake, is revealed.

South Sister Summit

The top of Oregon's third highest mountain sits at 10,358 ft. Enjoy the views to the north of the Middle and North Sisters. Beyond that you can see Mt Washington, Mt Jefferson, Mt Hood, & Mt St Helens. To the south you can see Diamond Peak.

Great job! But be prepared for a very steep, grueling six mile hike down the mountain!
Great first summit for me! Very Challenging. Im in my 40s. I live at sea level. My hiking partner was very experienced.

Started the hike at 0630am. Hit summit at Noon. Back to trailhead at 345pm. Spent about 30 minutes on the summit. Took a lengthy snack break on the way back. Took a lot of rest breaks on the way up.

The conditions of the forest trail, meadows area is accurate. The conditions of the climbing portion were extremely dry. The only snow we crossed was at the top. Temperatures were 40s when we started and pretty much stayed the same as we climbed up. The wind remained light and was not a factor, however, we noticed it picking up on the descent. We kept getting questioned about how windy was it at the top. Usually, from poorly dressed hikers. Let me stress that shorts and tee shirts are probably not the smartest things to climb in. One, its very dry and the volcanic rock is powdery and loose making it a dirty task. Two, with the sun out you have to worry about exposure at altitude. We saw some people who were going to feel the pain once the realized how sunburn they got. Three, the conditions on any mountain can change rapidly...usually for the worse. On a side note we saw a group of younger guys that were way overdressed for the occasion and carrying too much gear starting out. We passed them in the first mile through the forest as they were stripping down because they were overheating. Even though, I (not my partner) was going slow we didn't see those guys again until we were scrambling down the mountain.

The current drought and heat wave in the area means you also need to plan to take more water or a filter to replenish water along the way. The glacial pool before you start up to the false summit provides an excellent refresh point if you have filter. I recommend 3 quarts of water at a minimum if you are a novice like I am. I burned out of my 2 quarts at the summit and had to refresh at the glacial pool going down.

The trail length is stated at 12 miles round trip. However, that is probably calculated by as the crow flies. We used an iPhone App with pace counter/gps that usually runs pretty true.. and if anything shortchanges on the distance we hike. We had almost 17 miles round trip. Trust me, We did not deviate from the trail. There was enough people on the trail and it was clearly marked. The maze of switchbacks near the summit could be a factor as well as their were several alternate former connecting trails that were closed for reclamation. We also heard from several local hikers the trail was much farther than marked.

Visited on Jul 27, 2015

by RIPCORD01 on Aug 03, 2015
i visited this place last december.. will definitely visit again

by planetwi36 on Oct 19, 2014
My wife and I decided to hike the sister for our 9 year anniversary. This was our first time trying a hike of any level. We read this description and the reviews and thought it would be fun. About half way up the woods we knew it was going to be VERY hard for us. My wife did not want to continue to the top but I encouraged her to keep going a little further. It helped when we heard quite a few other couples saying that they did not want to continue either. We ended up making it all the way to right before the saddle at Lewis glacier. We are very proud of ourselves. The views are amazing and next year after training and getting more in shape we will try again with more confidence and knowledge. The last mile was really the hardest part for us. We are still very sore the night after. Great trip.
Visited on Aug 23, 2014

by euphoricthc on Aug 24, 2014
This was my first time on the mountain and it was difficult. The payoff was worth it though! Keep in mind that the altitude affects everyone in some way. Listen to your body and slow down if need be. Take plenty of breaks, pack the protein (you'll need energy! ) and a good amount of water. If it's your first time hiking a 10000 plus foot mountain, you'll enjoy having the bragging rights!
Visited on Aug 01, 2013

by Bull494 on Aug 10, 2013
This is a great hike. I love these non-technical scrambles, have also done Mt St Helens (WA) and Mt McGloughlin in Southern Oregon.

This trip summary was really well done, and gives a good description of the hike.

We hiked in on a Monday, camped that night at Morraine Lake, then hiked to the summit, and returned to our campsite for the evening. It was a really nice way to do it, made it a little more of an adventure.

We traveled with a 13 year old, and it took us close to 12 hours. We saw a lot of folks who made it up and back anywhere from 6 to 8 hours (from Morraine Lake).

It was quite cold at the summit. Take a warm coat, even if you don't think you will need one!

Visited on Aug 09, 2012

by Nreynold on Nov 27, 2012
A challenging climb but with a great payoff at the summit. It's true that if you can't handle the first 2.5 miles of the hike, the last mile to the summit will tear you apart. Many people turned around the day we went up because of scree and improper shoes.

The trail is easy enough to keep to until half way up the mountain where there was still 20% snow on the trail. We brought snow shoes, but they were not necessary. Plenty of backpacking spots; rock wind barriers and flat ground.

I recommend hiking this trail on a full moon and getting to the summit at sunrise. Bring flashlights and be safe!

Visited on Aug 20, 2011

by JRoss on Sep 03, 2011

South Sister Summit Trail Map

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