Outbound Collective logo

South Sister via Devil's Lake Trailhead

Deschutes County, Oregon

based on 8 reviews



11.8 miles

Elevation Gain

4900 ft

Route Type



Added by Rachel Davidson

Hike up South Sister (10,358 ft.), Oregon's third tallest mountain, for incredible views and a great introduction to high-altitude hiking.

Not only is South Sister a stunning image and visible from hundreds of miles throughout Central Oregon, but it is a great beginner climb to introduce hikers to high altitude mountain life. As long as you’re mentally prepared, have good physical endurance, and pack right, there’s no reason why this mountaintop should be out of reach.

Getting there is simple and accessible for any type of city vehicle. The primary route begins at Devil’s Lake Trailhead, which is 26 miles west of Bend off of the Cascade Lakes Highway. You’ll pass Mt. Bachelor and eventually see a sign on your left that leads you to the campground. To start, walk to the very end of the parking lot and follow the unmarked trail past the bathrooms. You’ll cross the main highway (some people will park alongside the highway here too) and come across a sign that says “South Sister Climbers Trail 36.” Fill out a Wilderness Permit at the kiosk and begin your ascent.

The hike begins in a lush forest that stays green year-round. Elevation gain is moderate, and in 1.5 miles you will emerge onto a sandy plain and see a four-way crossing. Pass by the turn off for Moraine Lake and continue up Wikiup Plain, following signs for South Sister Summit. The trail across the plain is soft, flat, and leads you right up to the base of the mountain.

Cairns mark the way on this next section and lead you up through rocky ridges to the saddle of Lewis Glacier, where you’ll see a small brilliantly-blue alpine lake. It seems like some people dump their backpacks here before heading to the summit – but I highly discourage that. You still have a few hours round-trip before you make it back to this point and you’re about the encounter the toughest and most exposed part of the climb. Be sure to carry adequate food, water, and sun protection with you.

Leave the lake and follow the ridge up and to your right – the route should be obvious. You will be walking entirely on deposited lava and cinder rock now. This entire trail that leads you to the summit is wide, packed, and very defined. Compared to my first summit seven years ago, there is considerably less scree and potential for sliding. When my dad and I first went up this mountain, I remember both of us begrudgingly sliding one step backwards for every two we took forwards. That being said, my friend and I did fall on our butts once or twice on the descent.

This volcanic ridge leads you to the false summit, where you can find manmade wind blocks and stop to catch your breath and fuel up. But don’t fret; the true summit is visible just across a large snowfield, and is just a short, flat, gradual walk ahead. Follow the climber’s trail to the right around the snowfield (which becomes Teardrop Pool when melted out).

You’ll find a tall summit rock marked with a small metal pole and a piece of pink ribbon wrapped around it. As tempting as it is to jump around up here, be careful – lava rock is sharp and unforgiving. Enjoy the views of Mt. Bachelor to your south and Middle SisterNorth SisterMt. Jefferson, and more to your north. Return the way you came and remember; you’re only halfway done. In almost all mountaineering cases, the bulk of accidents happen on the descent.

I’m writing this article after one of the most dangerous seasons that South Sister has ever had. More and more people are climbing the mountain, but more and more are inadequately prepared (either in physical condition or with gear), and an alarming number of hikers have had to be rescued – sometimes waiting overnight for mountain personnel. Be careful, be safe, and if it’s your first time up here – never hike alone.

For this climb I can’t recommend enough that you choose proper footwear and use a pair of tall hiking boots. Almost the entire trail on the actual mountain consists of sandy scree that will flood your tennis shoes, and sharp rocks that could twist an unsupported ankle. Tennis shoes will not just be uncomfortable – they could be dangerous.

It’s also important to remember weather fluctuations at this altitude. Below the Lewis Glacier Lake you may feel warm, even hot, and want to ditch your extra layers – but fight that urge and be sure to carry up all of your supplies to the summit. It’s considerably more windy and chilly on the summit ridge, and a lot can change in two hours.

Read More

Download the Outbound mobile app

Find adventures and camping on the go, share photos, use GPX tracks, and download maps for offline use.

Get the app


Dog Friendly

South Sister via Devil's Lake Trailhead Reviews

Well marked trail, pretty much all uphill. Towards the top there’s still patches of snow (7/25/2020) but easily navigated without any special gear. Take it slow and enjoy the views. Even with training I still ended up suffering from altitude sickness around 8,000 feet (even camped night before at Moraine Lake) so recommend knowing your limits. Can’t wait to do it again!

This is an absolutely stunning hike, and one of my favorite summits. From the top, you can see a huge distance into Oregon, with peaks such as mt hood standing out so sharply.

As of 7/10/17, the trail is still under a considerable amount of snow and following it proved troublesome at times. That being said, there are generally solid foot tracks through the snow fields to follow. Just be careful, as some of these tracks are from people getting lost. Highly recommend taking a compass and map, and/or a hiking app with gps to make sure you're on track. Take plenty of water...my girlfriend and I carried 3 liters each for us and our two dogs. We felt we should have had another liter each. Take a water filter just in case, there's a stream that runs adjacent to the trail before you get to the open plain, but would take some off trail walking to get to. You could also go down to the glacial pool before you begin your ascent of the mountain. Our dogs are seasoned hikers and did well, but they were very tired on the climb down. I would suggest hiking boots for the dogs if they have and will wear them. The volcanic scree will collect in pads easily and become bothersome. Trail runners will work just fine for you, but make sure to wear gaiters. Mosquitos were ferocious. I despise using deet, but if you go now...walk fast or wear deet...you will get swarmed. Sunscreen and layers are a must as well. It's exposed and windy on those ridges. Including a lengthy break on top of the mountain, it took us around 8.5 hours round trip. Enjoy your hike, it's certainly worth it.

The climb up South Sister is definitely a classic hike in Oregon - it's one of the most accessible volcano summits in the Northwest, and the views are staggering. There is so much good to say about this hike, detracted from only slightly by the fact that it's so popular - make sure to get to the trailhead early, both to get an early start and to secure a parking spot. In general, start earlier in the day and bring PLENTY of water since it can get very hot and is a huge change in elevation to the summit. A bandana could also be nice, since the trail is very dusty. Trekking poles are also key - the hike back down is a knee-buster! Also, I've seen people hiking on the glacier at the mountain's shoulder in the past...don't do it - it's an active glacier with crevasses and an easy way to create a dangerous situation.

Summary: 6 miles out and same back; 5,000 elevation gain Duration: ~3.5 hours to peak (if quite fit, but much longer for most) When: hiked in summer to avoid snow or highly sandy conditions (caught 80-degree day in late Sept) Which: there is only one trail to summit, which means there will be traffic coming/going Where: park at Devil’s Lake Trailhead (get there early for spot;) hike past restroom over creek via narrow bridge for short bit, then cross highway, which brings you to actual South Sister Climber Trail No. 36 sign (trailhead) Action: complete trail pass document, which you will find at South Sister Climber Trail No. 36 sign (trailhead) Route: straight-shot all the way, but there are signs to keep you on track to summit versus detour to Moraine Lake Ascent: climbing is early and in earnest; trail is easy-to-follow; scree or more accurately loose cinder sand and gravel is encountered traversing “ridge” to false summit and is mile segment where most will suffer, but then you’re at the glacier and can either loop around to the right or simply cross the snow and ice to true summit Descent: same steep “ridge” makes descent interesting; wearing gaiters will help avoid scree seeping into boots, but not required Pets and Children: both are allowed, but have common sense Provisions: may be long day, which warrants ample food and water Equipment: headlamp, if starting in the dark to enjoy alpenglow; although not necessary/recommended for first 10+ miles, my friend appreciated poles during final mile descent to trailhead (i.e. tired and sore knees) Caution: per hike’s steep nature, a little preventative care is suggested; for example, ankles will be flexed for extended periods and may cause unexpected friction to back of heels

Definitely not an easy hike, but having poles, Gatorade, and acclimation time makes all the difference.

Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!


Hike to Moraine Lake Beneath South Sister

Green Lakes Trail

Sparks Lake Loop

Boat-In Camping at Sparks Lake

Camp Along the Shore at Sparks Lake

Camp at Todd Lake