Central Oregon’s hip/artsy/outdoorsy vibe is best conveyed by the town of Sisters (3,180’ elev.)—a friendly destination to pursue a wide array of outdoor recreation. It’s the third point of a triangle that includes the larger cities of Bend, to the southeast, and Redmond, to the east.
Bordering the 1.6 million acre Deschutes National Forest, the average October temperature in Sisters, Oregon, is 46 degrees, with an average high of about 63 degrees, according to Weatherbase.com. And averaging less than an inch of precipitation during October, mountain biking, hiking, backpacking, trail running and fly-fishing can be comfortably pursued during the fall. Western Deschutes County also provides opportunities for mountain climbing, Nordic skiing, snowshoeing and downhill skiing.
The town’s storefronts are characterized by an 1880’s Western theme, and the downtown area provides enough modern amenities (except an urgent care clinic) to make it useful without feeling too busy. Highway 20/Cascade Avenue is the main drag. One must-visit business is Sisters Coffee Company to enjoy the locally roasted gourmet coffee.
The Sisters Trail Alliance (sisterstrails.com) is a valuable resource for getting to know the extensive trail system in the area, which is popular and well loved by both locals and visitors. Mountain bikers, runners, dog walkers and all-terrain baby strollers all amicably share the trails. According to the Alliance’s website, “The Sisters Community Trail System is a community-wide, non-motorized trail system serving to connect downtown Sisters, local schools, neighborhoods and the regional trails within the Deschutes National Forest. The trail system is intended for recreation, commuting, and access in and around the greater Sisters area.” Be aware that horseback riders also use these trails – and have the right-of-way.
The Peterson Ridge Trail, also known as the Sisters Mountain Bike Trail, is one of the most popular and is easily accessible from downtown Sisters. It’s approximately 25 miles of dirt single track, plus some old Forest Service road. The Alliance website details all trails and PDFs of maps are available. Maps are also available to pick up at the Sisters Chamber of Commerce, Sisters Ranger District Office and the two local bike shops, Blazin’ Saddles and Eurosports.
October 1-3 is the Sisters Mountain Bike Festival for adults and youth (age 7-17), and features a 20-Mile Advanced Ride, a 35- Mile Mid-Epic Ride, and a 50- Mile Epic Ride. Another special event in October is the Bend Film Festival, which has events at the Sisters Movie House during the second weekend.
As far as hiking goes, there are so many options within the Three Sisters Wilderness area; it may be hard to choose. One option is Black Butte—a constant moderate two-mile ascent (1,535’ elevation gain) to a U.S. Forest Service lookout tower. (For directions to this trailhead and others in the area, go to www.sistersoregonguide.com/recreation-hiking.html).
Views that are even more spectacular can be achieved by hiking to the Tam McArthur Rim (7,732’ elev). This four-mile round trip trail is steep, rocky in some places, has some snow patches (at least still in late July), and has a great view of Mt. Bachelor along the way. The Rim’s vista includes a glacial cirque that is now Three Creek Lake and the peaks of the South, Middle, and North Sister Mountains, Broken Top, Mt. Washington, Mt. Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Adams, and even Mt. Rainier on a very clear day.
To get to the Rim trailhead from Sisters, drive south on Highway 20 to Elm Street (Road #16) and follow signs to Three Creek Lake. After 15 miles, the pavement ends. Pass the Three Creek Meadow and Three Creek Lake campgrounds, and continue until you reach Driftwood Campground, then turn right. (All three campgrounds are considered “primitive” by the Forest Service and are only open July-September.) Trailhead parking is on the right just before the campground. Walk across the main dirt road to reach the trailhead.
Through October 31, day and overnight use within the Three Sisters Wilderness Area, as well as on Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Washington, require a Wilderness Permit. These are free and self-issued at trailheads. Mountain biking is prohibited in designated Wilderness.
According to the Deschutes National Forest webpage, summer winds have brought down trees onto some trails making it difficult to find important junctions. And a September trail conditions report states that it is currently bow hunting season, as well as rifle season for bear and cougar.
Camping options include the city’s Three Sisters Overnight Park (available through Oct. 15) and a KOA Campground off Highway 20 between Sisters and Bend. Resort accommodations near Sisters include Black Butte Ranch, The Lodge at Suttle Lake, and FivePine Lodge & Conference Center. There is also the Best Western Ponderosa Lodge, Long Hollow Ranch, and Blue Spruce Bed & Breakfast.
WHEN YOU GO:
Drive takes 6-7 hours and is about 390 miles from Spokane. Take I-90 West to Hwy 395 South (exit 220) toward Pasco. Stay on 395 (consult a map beforehand because it gets a little confusing through the Tri-Cities), and then take I-82 E/US-395 S towards Pendleton/Umatilla and cross into Oregon. Take US-730 West (exit 1), to I-84 West, which continues along the Columbia River. Then take US-97 South towards Redmond and Bend, then go west on Hwy 126 to Sisters, OR.