Running the Three Sisters Loop

I haven't heard of too many folks doing this loop but this is a spectacular run. It is also a very long day. You'll have slow going through the sand sections and over a couple of passes but you will be rewarded with breathtaking scenery and a wide variety of trail conditions. Put this run on your calendar.

Meadow near Moraine Lake south of South Sister

When To Do This Run

Much of the trail around sisters is at 6000 feet and it seem to retain snow longer than other places in Oregon. The season is probably from Mid July through September. I'd suggest checking with a ranger before heading out to get the latest conditions. If you run in September you better be real fast or bring a good flashlight.

General Route Information

This loop is 43.7 miles long. The starting point for this run is north of North Sister at Lava Camp Lake trailhead off of HWY 242. From there you run down 2.6 miles to Scott pass and take a left on Scott trail (trail 4068). After a few miles you take a right and head down the east side of the Sisters all the Way to Green Lakes. From there you head south and west, crossing the climbing route for South Sister and then head up North west to connect with the PCT. You then head north on the PCT until you get back to your car.

I'm providing directions for running this loop clockwise. There are two reasons for this. First the east side, while scenic, isn't quite as scenic as the west side and I'd rather cover that when I'm strong. Hopefully the beautiful scenery on the west side will distract you when you are tired. Secondly, if you run CW then somewhere after green lakes you pick up the PCT and stay on the that trail for 19 miles to the finish. When I get tired (or when it is dark) I'd prefer to just stick with one trail and not deal with route finding.

For the most part, this run is pretty straight-forward. Of course you need to bring a map but most of the trail intersections are clearly marked and route finding isn't terribly difficult. Water supplies are adequate as well. You can generally expect to find a creek every 10 miles or less. On the east side a few of the streams are silty but there are more streams to choose from.

The trail itself is in good condition. A few sections are sandy and you'll have trouble running through that but most of the trail is in excellent conditions. The trail is generally rolling with two big climbs. One on the south side just before Green Lakes and one on the west side at Dilldock pass I haven't done this run with an altimeter watch but I'd put the cumulative elevation gain at under 6000 feet.

Maps and Reference Information

Equipment
This is going to be a long day. Make sure you bring your 10 Essentials along.

Maps
You need to bring a map for this run. Unfortunately, Green Trails hasn't come out with a map for this area yet. Instead you'll need to take along the Three Sisters Wilderness Map. This is a great map with all the trails clearly marked, the only disadvantage is that it is somewhat bulky. This map is available at REI.

In addition to the above map there are couple of books with good descriptions for this route. Backpacking OREGON has a good description of this route with background information and a number of alternative side trips listed. I also used Hiking Oregon's Central Cascades from FalconGuide for some of the milage information (this book also has a rough contour map for the route).

Weather
At times this run can be fairly exposed and you are certainly going to be out for a long day. I'd suggest checking the weather.com link for Sisters or the National Weather Service Northwest forecast.

Ranger
It's a good idea to check with the ranger before heading up to find out if there are any trail closures or other info. The McKenzie Ranger Station appears to be the best bet 541.822.3381. You may also want to check out the Deschutes National Forest at 541.383.5300

Mileage Splits and Time Estimate

Rough outline of route. Map from Hiking Oregon's Central Cascades from FalconGuide.

The table below gives split distances for the run.

Sisters Loop Mileage
Trail   Distance   Total Dist  
Landmark  
Elev.
 
Next
Trail 
Notes  
PCT
2.5
2.5
Scott Pass and Trail Jnctn
6080
Scott (4068)
 
Scott- 4068
1.8
4.3
Jnctn Trail 4070
5400
4070
Head East towards Scott Trailhead  
4070
2.3
6.6
Cross Alder Creek
5750
4070
Stay on this trail all the way to Green Lakes - 13.9 miles  
4070
3.4
10
Jnctn Pole Creek trail
5900
4070
 
4070
0.5
10.5
Jnctn Chambers Lakes trail
5760
4070
 
4070
3.8
14.3
Park Meadow & trail jnctn
6050
4070
 
4070
3.8
18.2
Green Lakes
6500
17
High point of loop, pass at 7040 ft  
17
2
20.1
Jnctn Moraine Lake trail
5900
Moraine Lake
Careful route finding as you exit Green Lakes  
Moraine Lake
1.4
21.5
Moraine Lake
6500
Moraine Lake
Nice scenery through rock pass  
Moraine Lake
1.7
23.2
Trail Jnctn PCT cutoff
6040
PCT Shortcut
Cross over S Sister Climbing route  
PCT Shortcut
1.6
24.8
Wickiup Plain
6100
PCT
Enjoy open expanse of Wickiup Plain  
PCT
1.9
26.7
Mesa Creek
5650
PCT
Nice forested sections  
PCT
0.3
27
Jnctn Linton Meadow trail
5700
PCT
Stay on PCT all the way to the end]  
PCT
5.2
32.2
Jnctn Linton Meadow trail
6400
PCT
 
PCT
1.8
34
Obsidian Way Trail
6400
PCT
Much obsidian on the trail  
PCT
3.6
37.6
Opie Dilldock Pass
6880
PCT
 
PCT
1.4
39
Jnctn Scott Trail (west)
6200
PCT
 
PCT
2.2
41.2
Scott Pass
6000
PCT
Scenic section with Yapoah crater  
PCT
2.5
43.7
Lava Camp Trailhead
5400
PCT
Finished!!  

This run is going to take a while, I'd plan on being out for 12-14 hours (much much longer if you are not an experienced ultrarunner).

Driving Directions


Take HWY 5 South out of Portland.
At Eugene, take HWY 126 East
Stay on 126 through Blue River and McKenzie Bridge
After McKenzie Bridge take a right onto HWY 242 (Old McKenzie Hwy)
Stay on Hwy 242 for 21 miles as you wind your way up to McKenzie pass
The Lava Lakes Trailhead is on the right a few miles beyond the Obsidian trailhead.

This may not be the fastest way to the trailhead but it works. From Portland plan on driving about 3.5 hours. To park at the Trailhead you must have a Northwest Forest Pass.

Pictures

I haven't done this run as a one day run but I did do it as a fastpack in August of 2003. Listed below are the photos from that rip.

For each picture, you can click on the picture to bring up a large full resolution shot (but this may take a while to load).


NOTE: This page contains running information for experienced ultra runners. Experience ultra runners are people who have already completed 50K, 50Mile or longer ultramarathons. The advice on this page is not directed towards hikers or typical 10k recreational runners. No guarantee is made about the accuracy of maps or information on this page. This page is only intended as a starting point for your own research on places to run. Always check route information yourself and be prepared.


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