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South Sister Hike: A Complete Guide

South Sister Hiking Tips

South Sister (also known as Charity) is Oregon’s third-tallest mountain and has a trail to the top. Admittedly, the trail up the 10,358-foot South Sister is exceedingly steep, long and rugged, but the rewards are amazing making the South Sister hike one of the most popular in the Central Oregon area. From the summit, which is a broad, snowy crater with a small lake, you can see half the state. It’s truly breathtaking.

We woke up at 4 a.m., our bags packed, our gear checked and double checked, feeling incredibly excited about this cool thing we were going to accomplish. I stumbled back to my car 12 hours later, fell into the backseat where I promptly passed out. I was wrecked. You see it wasn’t a mountain I wanted to conquer, it’s always about conquering myself.  Conquering mental and physical challenges played out in some of the most beautiful places on our planet. Overcoming those challenges, feeling a sense of accomplishment, and learning a little more about myself is tremendously rewarding.

South Sister hike,

Each and every hike is an opportunity to explore my limits. My South Sister Hike most certainly tested my limits.

The extremely difficult trail to the summit of South Sister gains a staggering 4,900 feet of elevation in 6 miles. A hike with that kind of elevation gain brings with it difficulty in breathing, however that wasn’t what was the hardest part for me, the most trying thing while hiking South Sister was the incredibly difficult terrain. With every step, the ground beneath me moved. A mixture of rock and sand made the pathway so challenging. Picture loose soft sand mixed with rocks of all sizes, from tennis balls to gum balls. Then massive boulders haphazardly placed that could fall down with the slightest push or the wrong step. Meanwhile, this is all set on a very steep mountain. With every few steps up the mountain, you slide back one. It really starts to take a toll.

So why? Why did I want to climb up this mountain? For me, nature isn’t a place I visit, nature is where my soul feels most at home. The strangest things happens when I climb a mountain, somewhere between the trail head and summit, the mystery as to why I feel like I must climb it is always solved. Each time I hike a mountain, I learn more about patience, persistence, gratitude, and myself. I also learned more about the trail. The following are 15 hacks to hiking South Sister:

15 Tips for Hiking South Sister

1. Pick awesome people to do this hike with. It’s grueling and intense, you don’t want a cry baby/Debby downer, and you also don’t want someone who is going to get frustrated with your pace.

2. Bring poles. Hiking poles are inexpensive and absolutely worth their weight in gold on this steep insane trek.

3. Take precautions to avoid blisters. On this hike and ounce of prevention is a pound of cure. Buy the stupid toe sock liners to wear under your wool hiking socks in your appropriately sized, supportive, already broken-in hiking boots.

4. Wear pants. Even in the summer. Trust me

5. Know that there is a nasty false summit where you really think, “Ok, I’ve finally made it” and you definitely haven’t. But don’t give up at this point, keep going, I promise it’s worth it!

6. Bring a baseball cap, beanie, and jacket.

7. This trip can be done in a day, like we decided to do it, or can be done as an overnight. Either way make sure you prepare appropriately. The wind is intense the higher you climb, so proper gear is super imperative.

8. Bring as much water as you can comfortably carry. The more the better, I drank 4 liters.

9. Next year South Sister (as well as a few other popular Cascade Mountain range hikes) will require a paid permit. Currently you can fill out a free day permit at the trailhead. Make sure to fill it out and carry it with you, rangers will check for them and ticket those without them.

10. Download ALLTRAILS before going and leave it open and running in the background so you can reference where you are on the trail and it will tell you about the terrain.

11. Keep in mind that going down hurts too. I guess I was thinking it should be a relief but it’s such an intense slope that your toes will slam into the top of your shoes the whole way down. Walk sideways when you can to save your toes.

12. I packed WAY too much food and it just weighed my pack down, so be realistic about what you’re packing to eat.

13. Don’t take a dog. I think it’s rude to them. The shale cuts up their feet and it’s hard for them to get traction and so they run in place and the rocks just slips under them.

14. Start EARLY. As early as possible. This is not a hike that you want to finish in the dark.

15. Strategize gear. Ask different people to bring different things. One person brings sunscreen, another person the bug spray and another the first aid kit. Try to make your pack as light as possible.

Additional Popular Nearby Hikes

Weather you live in or are visiting Bend, Oregon , there are an abundance of hikes for you to check out. The following are some of the most popular trails in the area.

Moraine Lake Trail: enjoy venturing through the forest and traversing a crystalline lake on the 5.1 mile trail.

Three Sisters Loop Trails: Three Sisters Loop spans nearly 50 miles and takes three to four days to complete. Along the way you’ll enjoy stunning views of The Three Sisters, Broken Top, Mount Bachelor and more.

Broken Top Summit Trail: This out and back trail is a 14-mile adventure. It’s a very difficult hike with an elevation of 1400 ft and stunning views at the summit.

Deschutes River Trail: This 22 mile trail takes you along the river, through blooming fields, an stunning High Desert Forest.


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Kelli Davis
Kelli Davis
She Explores Life Co-Managing Editor, newly single mother of two, educator by trade, lover of words, and self discovering junkie on a mission to find a new normal.
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