“A spectacular but nontechnical climb up Oregon’s third highest summit.
— Matthew Storm
Lake · River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife
There are no quotas on this trail. However, a self-issued permit is required. The permit is free, but there is a $5 fee for parking at the Devil’s Lake Trailhead. Passes such as the Interagency Pass can be used for parking.
Need to Know
There is a $5 charge to park at the Devil’s Lake Trailhead. Alternately, any of several types of passes can be used for parking. Also, remember to take plenty of snacks and water for the run. And be aware of the weather. This run features about 5000 feet of elevation gain, so conditions on the summit can be very different from the trailhead. It can be quite chilly at the summit even when it is quite warm at the trailhead.
While the lower parts of the trail can easily be run, the upper parts of the trail are probably too steep and gravely to be safely run.
This trail climbs to the summit of South Sister, which is Oregon’s third highest summit. It is the highest summit in Oregon that can be reached by a nontechnical trail. But make no mistake, this trail is definitely strenuous. It gains about 5,000 feet of altitude over approximately six miles. The last part of the trail is particularly steep. This is not a hike to be taken lightly, but it is definitely very rewarding.
After parking at the Devil’s Lake Trailhead, the trail proceeds through the woods and crosses a stream as it leads to the Cascade Lakes Highway. Just past the highway, there is a permit kiosk. Stop here and fill out a free permit for your hike.
Beyond the permit kiosk, the trail starts to wind up through the forest as it gains the ridge which approaches the peak. There are a few spots in this section with views to the south. But most of the excitement lies ahead. You'll know that you are near the top of this section when you pass a large rock on your right at a switchback. Things start to open up shortly.
Once you gain the ridge, the trees open up and you get your first good view of South Sister. This is a very nice section of trail in a park-like area with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. If you look to the right in the middle of this section, you can see Moraine Lake below. There are side trails that will take you there if you wish. Otherwise, stick to the main trail. In this section, the trail is very wide and mostly level. But as you get closer to the peak itself, the REAL climbing begins.
As you start climbing, the trail gets steeper and steeper, and the trees become more sparse. Views to the south get more spectacular as you gain elevation. The trail eventually starts to get even steeper as it climbs up to a false summit at the base of the Lewis Glacier.
At 8,800 feet in elevation, the base of the Lewis Glacier is a popular spot to stop to take a break on this climb. Sit here for a while and admire the glacier and the greenish tarn that sits at the bottom. But there is still a ways to go from here to the summit. When you are ready, continue up the trail on the ridge to the left of the Lewis Glacier (the trail to the right leads to Green Lake).
This last section of trail is VERY steep with loose rocks. But keep at it and you'll reach the crater rim. At this point, you can hike around the rim or across the snowfield to the true summit. You’ve made it! Enjoy the spectacular views for a while before going back.
Flora & Fauna
The trail starts out in a rather dense forest of fir and hemlock. As you climb, this forest starts to open up. Wildflowers become more prominent. As you climb higher, whitebark pines are the only trees that can survive. But at around 8500 feet, the trees disappear altogether.
At the higher elevations, you might (depending on the time of year) encounter lots of butterflies. You might also see ground squirrels even at the summit.