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Sisters Country on foot: Hit the hiking trails

Photo by Troy McMullin | Pacific Crest Satock

There is simply no better way to enjoy the beauty of the Sisters Country than to lace up your boots and hit the trail. Hiking opportunities abound, from easy strolls to back country adventures.

Sisters Tie Trail:
If you're looking for a nice back country walk, take the Sisters Tie Trail. The trail makes a great hiking tune-up. It runs for a little over six miles from the north end of Pine Street to Indian Ford Campground along Highway 20, west of town. It's not spectacular, but it's a nice, easy jaunt in the woods.

Black Butte Lookout:
This is a hike that every visitor should make at least once. It's not too tough if you're in decent shape, with 1,556 feet of elevation gain. The summit affords spectacular views of the entire Sisters area.

It's a moderately strenuous 3.8-mile hike from the trailhead to the lookout tower and back. However, most of the trail is on the south-facing slope and it gets hot in the summertime. Bring plenty of water. The breeze at the top will cool you off.

To get there, drive west on Highway 20 from Sisters to Forest Road 11 (Green Ridge Road). Turn right and pass Indian Ford Campground. Turn left at graveled Road 1110 and follow it to the trailhead.

Metolius River:
If you're looking for an easy hike that still takes you into some of the region's most beautiful country, visit the Metolius River in Camp Sherman.

With trees clinging to mossy rocks along the riverbank, the Metolius River trail has the feel of the real Pacific Northwest.

To get there, take Highway 20 west to the Camp Sherman turnoff. Follow Road 14 to a fork in the road and bear right. Continue on approximately 7.5 miles and turn left at the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery signs and cross the bridge to the fish hatchery parking area.

Trails run up and downstream from the hatchery bridge. Upstream the river is roiling and wild and the trail is a little rougher, with some slippery rocks. Downstream, the river is more placid and the footing is better. Either way you go, beauty abounds.

Jack Creek:
Jack Creek is nowhere near as famous as the nearby Metolius River, but in its quiet way it is every bit as fascinating a wonder of nature.

The headwaters burble up right from the ground, fed by underground springs. Sunlight filters through tall trees, casting lovely (and sometimes eerie) light on the forest floor.

A profusion of fallen logs, some lying over and in the creek are habitat for gorgeous wildflowers.
The area, which was miraculously spared in the 2003 B&B Complex Fire is flat and easy terrain that encourages simply poking about and enjoying the beauty of the area.

To get there, take Highway 20 west to Forest Road 12 (about 15 miles). Turn north (right) on FS 12 for 1.5 miles, then left on FS 1232. Drive a mile to the trailhead. The trail loops through the headwaters springs.

Black Crater:
If you are after a magnificent Alpine experience without doing any technical climbing, Black Crater is the hike for you.

It's a strenuous seven-mile round trip with some steep climbs; trekking poles can be a real plus. The reward is an unparalleled 360-degree panorama of the Three Sisters, the lava flows on the McKenzie Pass and a view that on a clear day stretches north all along the spine of the Cascade Range.

Bring plenty of water and dress in layers. It can be cold and windy on the summit even at the height of summer.

Take Highway 242 west about 10 or 11 miles to a spot in between mileposts 81 and 80 with a sign for the Black Crater Trailhead. The parking lot is not marked, so keep a sharp eye out.

McKenzie River Waterfalls Loop Trail:
If you’re looking for a family hike in magnificent forests, with views of spectacular waterfalls, the McKenzie River Waterfalls Loop Trail will fill the bill in spades.

Located just a half-hour drive west of Sisters, the trail offers views of Sahalie and Koosah Falls, amid towering fir trees. This highly-accessible three-mile loop is quite popular and heavily used.

The loop is accessible at several points; the parking area of Sahalie Falls is convenient and offers restroom facilities and a viewing platform for the falls.

For detailed information and a map, visit the website:

Sahalie Falls is 34 miles west of Sisters; take a left at Santiam “Y,” then Highway 126 west toward Eugene.

Suttle Lake Trail:
Suttle Lake offers an easy family hike around one of Sisters Country’s favorite recreation sites. Starting on the north shore of the lake, the 3.2-mile trail skirts the waters as it winds through the forest. There are many nice spots to stop for a picnic or a bit of fishing (make sure you have a fishing license). The trail then circles through the developed campgrounds around the lake to return to the Suttle Lake Resort area.

With virtually no elevation change, this is an easy hike for people of various fitness levels.

To get there take Highway 20 west from Sisters about 14 miles to the entrance to the Suttle Lake Campgrounds. The trail is easily accessed from several points, including Cinder Beach near Suttle Lake Resort.

Proxy Falls:
This easy loop trail of 1-1/4 miles is a perfect hike for the kids. Hikers are rewarded with vistas of two beautiful waterfalls nestled in a forest that evokes ancient myth.

Proxy Falls is one of the most-photographed spots in Oregon, but you'll want your own, so don't forget the camera.

Take Highway 242 over the McKenzie Pass, or take Highway 126 to the junction with 242. The trailhead lies about seven miles from the Highway 126/242

The Sisters Ranger District has a handout listing many hikes in the Sisters Country and William Sullivan's "100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades" is a wonderful resource. Take a map and compass, even if you have a GPS. People get lost on the "simplest" hikes. Take your cell phone, but don't count on being able to communicate with the outside world. Bring along a first aid kit, an emergency blanket and sufficient food and water. Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return.

Chush Falls:
The falls on Whychus Creek are a local wonder indeed – but you have to undertake a little adventure getting there.

There are actually several falls and cascades in the immediate area, but Upper Chush Falls are the largest with about 225 feet of descent. The falls skip and plunge on lava rock, making them particularly picturesque.
To get there, it’s best to take a four-wheel drive vehicle with good clearance. You’re likely to get some scratches from encroaching brush.

Take Elm Street south from Sisters toward Three Creek Lake. Drive about seven miles and turn right (west) on Forest Road 1514. Drive five miles to F.R. 1514-600 (this is where it gets rough) and follow it two miles to a T. Bear left to the Chush Falls Trail and it’s an easy hike to the canyon rim.

Hiking Essentials:
Sisters Country is a natural playground – but the forests and mountains need to be taken seriously. Even on a short day hike, you should be prepared with some hiking essentials.
• Dress in layers. Even in the summertime, evening temperatures are chilly. You should dress in a way that accommodates temperature swings, in case you are delayed. All it takes is a twisted ankle or a wrong turn...
• Bring plenty of water and some high-energy rations, even on a short hike. You never know when you might want them.
• Pack an emergency blanket. A heat-reflecting emergency blanket can fit in a pocket and make a big difference in your comfort and safety should you get stranded.
• Bring a GPS and a map and compass. Know where you are and where you are going.
• You can mute your cell phone, but don't leave it behind. Even in the backcountry it can be a life-saving communication tool if you get in trouble.
• Tote a first aid kit, including a blister kit.
• Carry an emergency whistle in case you get lost or separated from your party. The sound carries much further than your voice. Let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return. Be safe and have fun!

Hikes at a glance
Hike Distance Difficulty
Sisters Tie Trail 7 miles one way Easy
Black Butte Lookout 4 miles Moderately strenuous
Metolius River 2.5 miles Easy
Jack Creek Variable Easy
Black Crater 7 miles Strenuous
McKenzie River Waterfalls Loop Trai
3 miles Easy/moderate
Suttle Lake Trail
3 miles Easy
Proxy Falls 2-mile loop Easy
Chush Falls 5 miles to overlook Moderate
Note: Difficulty rating based on healthy, reasonably fit adult.

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