.... there are the Chambers Lakes. Just west of Sisters off OR 242 - the McKenzie Pass highway - there is a road going off to Pole Creek Trailhead - Forest Highway 15. From the trailhead it is almost 7 miles to the first of the Chambers Lakes, Camp Lake. These lakes are a small group that lie in between South and the Middle-North Sister group. Camp Lake is accessible by trail and is a popular destination. It is directly at the foot of the north face of the South Sister and is a glorious destination. There are a number of campsites scattered about - no campfires allowed. You can simply sit for hours and look up at the vulcanism and glaciology that makes up the largest of the Three Sisters. The age of the volcanoes is oldest north to south - South Sister being the 'baby' of the trio. Camp Lake is the most accessible of the lakes and the best lake to make camp.
Trail distance from the trailhead is about 7 miles and 1500 feet gain.
Another 500 feet of gain to the west side of where the way trail up Little Belknap takes off from the Pacific Crest Trail, is the cross country route taking you to the top of Belknap Crater - 6872 feet high. This is a larger and suprisingly newer crater than Little Belknap - Little Belknap is about a thousand years older. Unlike with Little Belknap, Belknap Crater is prety much only a cinder cone. The views are a little better from up here, but you have a lot more cinder to waddle over to reach the top. It is easiest to wander up the northern slope which is not quite as steep and loose as the south side.
Four-In-One-Cone combines several interesting features into one fairly short walk. Historically, the route follows an old wagon route - the first across McKenzie Pass - which was established in 1862 by Captain Felix Scott. Walking through the rugged lava landscape, you can get a quick idea why the route never really caught on with the general pioneering community. Geologically, you wander -on the Scott trail- around and through large lava flows that date back almost three thousand years. The literal highpoint is the amazing Four-In-One-Cone itself, which you can ascend by taking a short way trail off the Scott trail. Four small cinder cones grew together in a line in southwest to northeast direction. You can see that all the cones were breached on their northwest sides by magma flows which contributed greatly to the moonscape of the McKenzie Pass countryside. You have a bird’s eye view over the Pass and the lavas capes, with more volcanoes popping up to the north as far as you can see.
OR 242 is the most scenic highway in Oregon. It takes you from the depths of the McKenzie River valley up high across the lava landscapes below the north faces of the North and Middle Sister. The road is a slow one, twisting and turning on its west side to gain elevation, twisting and turning within the lava fields in an attempt to squeeze through the flows. There are a couple of very popular trails that take off from the highway - Scott trail, Obsidian trail, trail to Hand Shelter, Proxy Falls, Linnton Lake and the Pacific Crest trail also crosses up high. Most travelers will drive across and stop at the little lava observatory built at the pass - the Dee Wright Observatory, atop which a identifying marker points out all of the local cones and mountains. Here, you are surrounded by seas of lava set down well over two thousand years ago, most of the lava here having been extruded from Little Belknap Crater to the north and the Yaopah Crater to the south. Unimproved camping can be found at Lava Lake on the east side of the lava fields and Scott Lake on the west. Mosquitoes also like to camp up here. The highway is closed in October until the Fourth of July making this a very popular backcountry ski destination.
Another very popular trail near McKenzie Pass is the Obsidian Trail. This trail leaves OR 242 6.2 miles west of the Pass from the Frog Camp/Obsidian trailhead, just a little further west than where the Scott trail heads east. This trail takes the hiker up into the flower-filled alpine wild gardens known as Sunshine. Because of the heavy use the trail gets, special permits are required to be obtained from the ranger station way back in McKenzie Bridge on OR 126, many miles to the west towards Eugene. Call 541-822-3381 for information. The Obsidian Trail is also heavily used by would-be climbers who are bound for either the North or Middle Sister - the main routes which go up to the col between the two volcanoes out from Sunshine.
The hike into Sunshine is about five miles one-way. From Sunshine it is possible to make an even more beautiful 15 mile loop trip following north on the PCT past the glorious viewpoint on Collier Cone - a close up of Collier Glacier and the Sisters above - and then looping back to the west on the Scott Trail past Four-
The Pacific Crest trail extends from the Mexican border to the Canadian border, through California, Oregon and Washington. The trail will take you to some of the most amazing natural wonders. The trail, in its entirety, is an extremely serious undertaking and will take you from March-April through September to finish. A few thousand people normally can be found undertaking the Appalachian Trail each year. That number is considerably smaller for the PCT, due to the much more uncompromising nature of the trail. But to enjoy the PCT and its many wonders, you do not have to be one of the compulsive few who aspire to walk its every mile. You can be like me and the mountain corgi and cherry pick the highlights. This stretch of the PCT through McKenzie Pass is definitely one of the highlights of the trail within Oregon. With a full pack on and the usual south-to-north backpacking direction, the potential PCTer should contemplate on camping the night at Lava Lake on the east side of the Pass and then getting a very early start to miss the heat of the day when hiking up over the lava fields of Little Belknap Crater, thus making for a more enjoyable trudge. The whole section of along the west side of the Three Sisters, up over McKenzie Pass and north past Mt Washington, Three Finger Jack and on to Mt Jefferson is the finest extended section of the PCT within Oregon.
To the north, off of either Belknap Crater or Little Belknap, Mt Washington is the next volcano in line, but Three Finger Jack, Mt Jefferson and even Mt Hood are not too far behind. The PCT which you walked up from the Pass below wanders around the base of all of these peaks. To say the view is amazing is quite the understatement.
A short five mile roundtrip hike takes you from the PCT trailhead, just west of the Dee Wright Observatory, to the top of Little Belknap Crater, the origin of much of the lava flows occupying the landscape on the north side of OR 242. You start off wandering around two tree islands that were spared from lava inundation but by one mile, you are solidly into nothing but lava fields. It can get very hot up in here during the summer and the best time of the day to hike is early - or late in the day if you want good pictures of the Sisters to the south. Walking through the fields of lava is quite amazing and as you ascend, your views over the Pass’ lava fields and south to the Sisters, ever expands. At about five miles, you reach a pass - Mt Washington is the spiky volcano straight ahead - and there is a short side trail that takes you to the top of the Little Belknap Crater. Several small lava caves can be found near the top where you can find shelter from the sun.
One of the best places to photograph the two Sisters who share the closest affinity to one another - North and Middle - is from atop Four-In-One-Cone. The vast Collier Glacier fills the valley between the two Sisters - Collier is Oregon’s largest glacier. Closer views do exist for hikers. You can gain a nice viewpoint on the side of Collier Cone - which you can see on the left hand side at the base of North Sister - which is just off the Pacific Crest trail, a few miles further on from Four-In-One-Cone, but for pictures, here, you are a little too close for the whole massif.
Since you are looking to the south-southeast, the best time for pictures of the Sisters from atop Four-In-One-Cone are in the late afternoon.
South Sister takes your breath away from the north shores of Camp Lake, but if you move around the lake, you will see the other Sisters poking their heads up too. Camp Lake is a common starting point for climbs of both South and Middle Sister. On the hike into Camp Lake, other routes veer off - not clearly visible to the hiker - towards Hayden Glacier, the large glacier on the east side of Middle Sister. From here, climbers can go to either the Middle or North Sister.
Main Street has restaurants, delis, a nice bakery and several shops. Main Street is US 20 and at times, the traffic can get a bit hectic. Townspeople know to take side streets. During a summer weekend, traffic can get ridiculous. Be careful of the Quilt Show weekend when thousands come to town. You won't be moving through Sisters quickly on those days.
The two northerly sisters stand close together, a bit away from their taller sibling. The three volcanoes - along with their older easterly lying cousin, Broken Top, make up the centerpiece of the vast Three Sisters Wilderness Area - a region as impressive as any National Park but without all of the hoopla. Middle and South Sister are fairly easy climbs - though more difficult options do exist. North Sister is more difficult. Rotten rock protects its upper reaches. One main couloir, the Bowling Alley, is son-named for a very good reason. More than one climber has died trying to scale Hope.
The Three Sisters were named for three 19th Century sisters by an ardent admirer. The sisters' names were: Charity, Faith and Hope and so it was the name for each of the mountains as well. Charity - or South Sister - sits off by herself to the south a bit from the others. At 10354 feet high, she is about 300 feet taller than her northerly siblings. Seven glaciers glisten on her flanks. For a TL on climbing Charity - see my Bend pages.
Above the Broken Hand, the 9175 feet high Broken Top looms. There is no sound but the wind up here. If you are climbing Broken Top from this direction, I would think winter or spring to be the best option when the rotten rock is frozen. That would mean a long entry on skis - probably from the direction of Mt Bachelor to the south, for the road to Three Creek Lake is closed in the winter far down from the lake. Plus, the best descent routes are off other ridges - like the southwest.
But to stop at the rim is to miss out on what lies ahead. A boot path continues through alpine meadows, dwarfed trees and ever increasing views of Broken Top and the Three Sisters. About halfway - maybe a mile - you come to a big red cinder cone, from atop which, the views are really starting to add up. You are atop a subsidiary ridge coming off the northeast side of Broken Top. Continue on the path up through a small knoll where the way becomes faint through the rocks and stunted trees. A good eye will locate the path ahead. Come to an end at the base of the Broken Hand - about 8200 feet. You could continue around the Hand - north side would have been more problematic, on this day, than swinging around the south side, because of snow. There is a glacial cirque lake on the southwest side of the Hand, but in all reality, the views at the base of the Hand make a good stopping point - especially with a little snow and a small four legged friend along;-\