Backpacking the Three Sisters Loop showcases the incredible beauty of the picturesque peaks of the Cascade Mountain Range in Central Oregon.
Chris & Mac
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Length: 49.22 mile loop
Trailhead: Devils Lake
Elevation Gain: 6,963’
Trail Type: Loop
Dogs: Allowed/ Some Trails Require Leash July 15-Sept 15
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Permit Required? Yes (Follow link under “Additional Information” after Overview)
- $5 Daily Parking Fee or Valid Recreation Pass
- Central Cascades Wilderness Permit Daily Entry Quota System – $6 Permit Required for all Overnight Stays in the Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Washington, and Three Sisters Wilderness areas.
Considerations: Popular Trailhead/Parking; Snow at Elevation
Season: Summer to Fall
Backpacking the Three Sisters Loop showcases the best of the picturesque peaks of Central Oregon’s Cascade Mountains. This backpacking trip is truly a bucket list adventure.
Backpacking the Three Sisters Loop
Time and Distance
Although the actual Three Sisters Loop is approximately 46 miles, backpackers will add more distance to the hike depending on which trailhead is chosen for the start. Why? Because one must hike TO the Three Sisters Loop, and it is accessible from multiple trailheads. For example, starting from the Lava Camp Trailhead adds 6 miles, the Devils Lake Trailhead adds 3 miles, and access from the Green Lakes Trailhead adds 4 miles to the trip. As such, plan on total mileage closer to 50 miles when backpacking the Three Sisters Loop. Also, although some may cover this loop in as little as 3 days, taking another day or two is recommended.
Backpackers covering 50 miles in 3 days will average nearly 17 miles each day. While this is entirely possible for some, this pace is not likely comfortable or desirable for most backpackers. Therefore, allowing another day drops the average daily mileage to 12.5 miles whereas adding 2 days, (making it a 5 day adventure) drops the daily average to roughly 10 miles. Slowing down also means more time to appreciate the sights and sounds along the way.
How difficult is backpacking the Three Sisters loop? Well, it depends on the individual backpacker as well as the chosen route.
When Backpacking the Three Sisters Loop, hikers have options for side trips. In other words, the 50 mile loop is just the opening offer. Taking any side trips (say, to scale South Sister), will add distance, time, and elevation gains/losses to the roughly 50 miles and 6,000-7,000 foot overall gain of the basic loop. As such, side trips automatically increase the “difficulty” factor.
The Three Sisters Loop also has some steeper sections of trail. That typically means they are more strenuous. The perceived level of difficulty when navigating steep trails really depends on the individual. Overall, however, this trail has a lot of “up and down” to its profile, so expect quite a lot of elevation gain and loss daily. Our elevation changes and distances are summarized below.
Next, there are technical sections of the loop that have a lot (or are made up entirely) of volcanic rock. In such areas footing can be tricky, and rocks can move underfoot which can make them a little more difficult to hike through.
Finally, early season adventurers may find trails still covered in snow or find high/fast water crossings, and late season backpackers may encounter dried up water sources. Consequently, plan and equip for contingencies! For example, we planned to camp at Alder Creek. Upon arrival we discovered the creek was dry. Our 9.8 mile day with 995 feet of elevation gain turned into a 14.3 mile day with 1,600 feet of elevation gain. Lack of water at our planned campsite required us to make this and adjust where we stayed the next night.
Weather in the Cascade Mountains
The Central Oregon Cascades can and do get snowfall well into June and as early as mid September. During these times, any precipitation that falls may well be snow in the mountains.
During mid summer new snowfall is not likely, but depending on the snowpack there may still be some lingering snow at elevation. Rain can happen, but it tends to move through fairly quickly. Temperatures tend to be ideal, however the fair weather of the summer brings mean bugs. When backpacking the Three Sisters Loop in July/August be prepared because the mosquitos are fierce.
It can and does get cold at elevation in the Cascade Mountains of Central Oregon. Even in the summer, plan for cooler/cold overnight temperatures.
Spring & Fall
Snow is possible. Freezing rain is possible. Varying weather during the day and very cold nights. These are the essential weather facts that should inform everyone backpacking the Three Sisters Loop either early or late in the season.
What About Wildlife?
These mountains have critters of all sorts. Some are predators, others are prey. Bears are present, however, they are typically not likely to be seen. The same is true of the cougars, wolves, and coyotes that call these mountains home.
Although there are no food storage requirements here there are plenty of chipmunks, squirrels, and other rodents that will snack on your trail mix if given the chance! Proper backcountry food storage is recommended.
Devils Lake Trailhead
The Devils Lake Trailhead sits just off the Cascade Lakes Highway and has ample parking. However, the trailheads near Bend, Oregon are definitely busy (they fill up quickly each day) once the snow has melted. As such, an early arrival from mid June to mid October is advised. An overnight permit does NOT guarantee a parking spot at the trailhead. For those needing a pre or post backpacking campsite, there is a small campground with a vault toilet. It is a walk-in campground accessible from the trailhead, however the campsites are not reservable.
Daily Statistics – Early/Mid October
Devils Lake to Park Meadow – Day 1
- Distance: 11.03 Miles
- Elevation Gain: 2,327′
- Elevation Loss: 1,621′
- Weather: Pleasant and cool; lots of clouds; no precipitation
Park Meadow to Scott Pass – Day 2
- Distance: 14.28 Miles
- Elevation Gain: 1,607′
- Elevation Loss: 1,714′
- Weather: Pleasant and cool; mostly sunny turned very cold and rainy late afternoon; snow overnight
Scott Pass to Linton Meadow – Day 3
- Distance: 11.75 Miles
- Elevation Gain: 1,799′
- Elevation Loss: 1,899′
- Weather: Started very cold with no precipitation; changed to rain and snow; cleared late afternoon; everything froze overnight.
Linton Meadow to Devils Lake – Day 4
- Distance: 12.16 Miles
- Elevation Gain: 1,230′
- Elevation Loss: 1,753′
- Weather: Started very cold; cool but sunny day; no precipitation
Scroll down to learn about the GEAR WE USE and OTHER OUTVENTURES in this area.
Additional Information (Click below to follow links.)
Three Sisters Loop Slideshow
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