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South Sister
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South Sister

South Sister

Page Type: Mountain/Rock

Location: Oregon, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 44.10360°N / 121.7681°W

Object Title: South Sister

Activities: Hiking, Mountaineering, Trad Climbing, Sport Climbing, Mixed, Scrambling, Skiing

Season: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Elevation: 10358 ft / 3157 m


Page By: 2skinners

Created/Edited: Jul 28, 2001 / Sep 22, 2006

Object ID: 150455

Hits: 178279 

Page Score: 97.01%  - 66 Votes 

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Difficultly: At worst, class 3 on the main trail.
Distance: Round trip - 12.4 miles.
Elevation gain: About 5000 feet.

Tallest-Youngest-Highest-Largest. These are just a few of the words that describe South Sister and some of it's features.
It is the tallest of the Three Sisters, outdistancing both Middle Sister and North Sister. As well as being the third tallest mountain in the state of Oregon.
It is the youngest, geologically speaking having the most recent volcanic activity of the Three Sisters.
Highest describes the lake that sits right near the summit, Teardrop Pool, being the highest lake in Oregon.
Lastly, largest describes Prouty Glacier, holding the distinction for the largest glacier in Oregon.

To the North, awesome views of the neighboring Sisters await you at the summit. To the Southeast, Broken Top, Mount Bachelor, and Green Lakes are visible. Even Mount Hood, Mount Adams, and Mount Thielsen may be visible on a clear day.

Getting There

Starting from Bend, drive west on the Cascade Lakes Highway for 27 miles. Continue past the Mt. Bachelor Ski Area 6.5 miles. Then turn left at Devils Lake Campground. The sign for the South Sisters Trail head is at the end of the campground parking lot, just to the right of the restrooms. The trail pointer is labeled "South Sister Climbers Trail 36."

Red Tape

A Northwest Forest Pass permit is required to park at the trailhead. The permits cost $5 per car for a day pass. Annual passes are available for $30 and are good for all national forests in Oregon and Washington. The passes are available at most Forest Service offices and outdoor stores in the area. Permits, which are free, are required to enter the wilderness. These can be filled out at the trailhead. A maximum group size of 12 people are allowed in the Three Sisters Wilderness.

To purchase your permit online, click here

When To Climb

Summer & Autumn:South Sister has one popular route that can be climbed with little technical skill or equipment during the summer. This is the south side route and starts from either Green Lakes or Devils Lake. The route requires only descent physical conditioning and a tolerance for massive amounts of scree. There is also another class 4 route ascending between the Lewis Glacier and Prouty Glacier that offers snowfields and small waterfalls during the summer while avoiding the crowds as well as the dusty, rotten scree route mentioned above. However, this route does not follow a well-worn trail as the Southern route does.

Other routes exist that offer more technical challenges. The east side routes include the Prouty Glacier and the Prouty Headwall. From Middle Sister, climbers can take the North Ridge, Silver Couloir, or the North Face Couloir.

Winter & Spring:South Sister can be done during the Winter and Spring. Snowshoes can be used in some instances but Ice axe and crampons are highly recommended as well as knowing how to properly use them. If there is a cloud covering the summit, it is highly recommended to just give up as you will probably be climbing in some very adverse conditions.

Avalanche preparedness and safety are also recommended on climbing this peak in the Winter and Spring. It is a good idea to bring a snow shovel and know how to use it, as well as having prior experience with checking avalanche conditions. An avalanche beacon would also be a worthwhle investement if climbing with someone else or with a group.

Click here for the Northwest Avalanche Center webpage.


Camping is permitted at the trail head at the Devils Lake Campgound.

Geology & Glaciers

South Sister is the youngest (geologically speaking) and the tallest of the Three Sisters and is said to have last erupted about 1900 years ago. It's main cone is primarily made up of andesite, dacite, and rhyodacite.

Interestingly there has been some uplift in the past years as well as swarms of earthquakes, none of which are too active currently. The uplift is located about 3 miles West of South Sister and covers an area of about 9-12 miles. The uplift is only about 4 inches but has been detectible with satellite imagery.

Click here for a link to the current seismicity.

South Sister is home to 8 Glaciers, one of which is the largest known glacier in the state of Oregon. That one being Prouty Glacier, which covers about 1.1 square kilometers

Other glaciers on South Sister are:
Carver Glacier
Clark Glacier
Eugene Glacier - Which now covers an area of about 0.09 square kilometers.
Irving Glacier
Lewis Glacier - Which now covers an area of about 0.3 square kilometers.
Lost Creek Glacier
Prouty Glacier (as previously mentioned) - Covering 1.1 square kilometers.
Skinner Glacier

Weather Conditions & Road Conditions

Click here for a list of current road condtions.

Click the Satellite picture for a video loop of current weather

2skinners Other Mountain Pages

Feel free to check out my other mountain pages and pictures as well.

Hippo Butte
Red Buttes
Schonchin Butte

Ebright Azimuth

Bolan Mountain
Crater Lake Caldera
Grizzly Peak
Lower Table Rock
Mount Ashland
Mount Thielsen
Soda Mountain
Upper Table Rock

Discovery Peak
Colonel Bob
Mount Pilchuck

Additions and Corrections

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OtomaxUntitled Comment


Hasn't voted

There are also a limited selection of campsites around Morraine Lake available.
Posted Aug 5, 2003 10:26 am
Dave in BendUntitled Comment

Hasn't voted

I have climbed South Sister 12 times. Eleven of those times I have gone up the "standard" route from Devils Lake on the south side. The northwest ridge of the volcano is a nice change of pace if you are looking for more solitude. Approach from Pole Creek Spring, hike in about 7 miles to Camp Lake. Good overnight tent spots in this area (the name says it all). From Camp Lake I did an up-again, down-again traverse over snowfields and volcanic scree ridges to reach the base of the northwest ridge, which is approached by ascending the Eugene Glacer snowfield. Once the ridge is gained, it can be followed all the way to the crater rim. Anytime from July through September or early October is good for a climb of this route. No technical gear is necessary, just a little common sense.
Posted Jan 26, 2004 8:48 pm
J.J.12Re: J.J.12


Hasn't voted

Oh Good! i was wondering which route would be better between North ridge & North west ridge on South sister. i am starting at Pole creek Th, Summiting all 3 sisters 2maro morning & going to do a PSR Solo & after doing the technical climb/Summit on North & then moving on to Middle i didnt really wanna go up the North ridge of South with less energy so i think i'll loop around a lit bit & go NW route. Thx this was helpful. hoping to complete all 3 in 10-12hrs, Fast & loose gets the job done quick =)



Justin J.L.
Posted Sep 11, 2015 11:11 am
palawanUntitled Comment

Hasn't voted

There are also a few camping spots on the top of the mountain. I'm not sure about the availablity of the spots, but I know it gets very windy during the night.
Posted Mar 30, 2005 11:55 pm
96avs01Untitled Comment


Hasn't voted

There are several (3-4) man-made rock walls with moderate clearings for an evening at the top. There is room for 2-man tents at 2-3 of the sites, but an overnight bivy is excellent with agreeable weather. It is indeed very windy, but if conditions are right the sunset views are totally worth it.
Posted Nov 12, 2005 5:43 am
Dave McLaughlinAlternative Route

Dave McLaughlin

Hasn't voted

A group of us were planning on climbing South and Middle week of May 11-14 2015 but I see the Cascade Lakes Highway may still be closed (as well as the Devils Lake Parking area & others)...plus NO roadside parking. Suggestions would be MUCH appreciated.
Posted Feb 5, 2015 6:14 pm
Hannah from SeattleSouth Route

Hannah from Seattle

Hasn't voted

We started this climb at 4am in the morning on a Saturday from Devils Lake. A great time to ascend with cooler conditions and minimal direct sunlight. The summit sits a little above 10,000ft so most people will feel a little altitude - shortness of breath, tight head.

Absolutely spectacular views at the top of the volcanoes looking north. We saw all the way to Mt Rainier. We were the second climbers to the summit that day shortly followed by a few others - saw the crowds on our way down so suggest going early!

We took crampons and ice axe. Only needed an ice axe for glissading though. Most of the walk is on crumby volcanic rock along the ridge-line with only a few patches of snow to cross. Definitely take jackets and warm weather gear as conditions can change quickly on the mountain.

Rock shelters to camp at the summit. Would also be a cool mountain to ascend via skiing/snowboarding.

Posted Jul 12, 2016 5:21 pm
stephanie.mvsSummiting South Sister 07/30/2016


Hasn't voted

I’ll be honest. This was the hardest hike that I’ve ever done. The elevation gain was killer with the short miles. The miles were not short BUT it was completely worth it. Every sweaty, hard, and lack of oxygen moment. The hike is about 5-6.25 miles to the summit, 10-12 miles round trip.

My first tip to all is leave very early and arrive early at the trailhead. The parking lot was almost full at 7am.

The first 1.5-2 miles are hard and goes through the forest. It goes steadily uphill with switchbacks. If you’ve done some of the more intense Columbia gorge hikes you should be fine on this section.

Once you emerge from the forest, you’ll come to a 4 way intersection. Straight forward is towards South Sister. Left is Wikiup Plain. Our group went to the right, towards Moraine Lake. This was about mile. This went through a plain/meadow. We choose to backpack in and stay overnight. We unloaded our backpacks and set up camp. Then had an early lunch and started back out of Moraine Lake towards a pathway to South Sister.

The following mile was pleasant since it’s a sandy plain and flat. This portion of the hike was my favorite as a novice mountain climber. After this portion, it is ALL uphill.

After the sandy plain, the incline to reach the lake and the Lewis Glacier is hard. You think you’re getting close to the summit and you are but not quite yet. It’s about a mile hike to this point but it is all boulders, loose gravel, and switchbacks. What got me through this entire hike was all the resting rocks as I got closer to the top. The elevation was getting to me at this point too. I had to take lots of pausing breaks to catch my breath.

But I did make it to the lake. I took a nice and decent pause at this point. The surrounding view was stunning and scary at the same time. I kept looking up thinking one more mile. One More Mile!

The final mile was soooooooo hard. For every step that I took in the loose red gavel, cinder, sand, scree; I slid back two. I was so frustrated at this point of the hike and had to take breaks where I could since the resting rocks seemed fewer and fewer. What got me through was all the hikers coming down encouraging saying it was only a “little bit more to go”, “You got this”, and “it’s so worth it”. I made a mental note to myself to do the same when I came down.

I really pushed myself to get to the top and I made it. It wasn’t the summit point yet but it was the top. To reach the summit, you need to follow along the right side of the rocky ridge. It was so clear the day we went but windy and cold.

My girlfriends and I made it to the top at 10,358ft. We were able to see Middle Sister, and North Sister as well as Mt. Washington, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Hood, and Mt. St. Helens. My pictures don’t do it justice with what we saw. It was simply stunning. It was one of the hardest hikes that I’ve ever done but so worth the sweat, blood, and near tears.

I swore to myself that I’d write a review for all the various hiking websites since I read them avidly before my hike. Thank you to all who post their advice and experiences. Hopefully someone find this helpful. #hike4wine

Oh and coming down on that red scree was just awful. I brought gators but decided not to use them. I wish I would have. Also looking back now, gloves for the rocks would be a good idea. However going down was a piece a cake for me versus going up.

Posted Aug 2, 2016 1:37 pm

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