Oregon Cascades 101, All In A Day: Sisters OR
The adventure begins with a good night’s sleep at a bargain price at the foot of the Oregon Cascades.
To Creekside Campground in Sisters, Oregon. Ignore the possibility that you will set up cheek-by-jowl with fellow adventurers, unless you want to fork out 4 times as much for the nearest Oregon State Park campground (at Tumalo), which is less attractively congested.
Alternatively you could make a beeline for a National Forest spot “up” the Metolius River, which pretty much requires a reservation or an a.m. arrival these days, and camping is not as picturesque as it used to be because everyone “knows about it”. And then there was the massive fire which zipped through the area some years back…
In addition to the Metolius area, there are two other National Forest campgrounds—Indian Ford and Cold Springs—within easy driving range of Sisters, but trust Muddy Boots: these are a last-resort option, even though you are an NPS card-carrying 62 plusser and will get the standard 50% discount.
See for details on alternative camping:
Anyway, the folks at Sisters Creekside Campground are cheerful, reservations can be made in advance, and the campground is right in town: close enough for you to wander over to Sisters’ main drag, shops, restaurants, and attractions, without having to hustle for a parking spot.
Plan to spend at least 2 nights in Sisters.
Before you leave for your Oregon Cascades excursion
Check the internet fire advisories for the Willamette and Deschutes National Forests, especially the Three Sisters and Mount Washington Wildernesses. Sisters’ Village Green City Park has free internet service, so if you’re SOL on a connection, sit in your car or at a picnic table and jump on.
Fill up with gas in Sisters before you go anywhere resembling a wilderness.
Thinking of picnics, croissants are calling, so you embellish your vittles supply with a sidetrip to Sisters’ Bakery on the main drag. Maybe a caffeine fix?
There’ll be no All In A Day outing quite like this one for exercise and awe.
Footwork first, right?
That’s the Muddy Boots tradition? Time to get going: there’s a lengthy dawdle to the hike-spot.
From Sisters, you want the Old MacKenzie Highway, Route 242. Wave at the sheriff who luuuurves to settle his panda car at the junction with Route 42.
You’ll poke along heading westish from town. On the fringes of Sisters, you will note the llama farm on the left, rangeland, and peaks behind. Muddy Boots hopes you have been graced with clear weather, since wonderful can quickly become spectacular on this historic highway.
Several miles in
Observe that dilly dallying is a necessity since “scenic” evidently means “narrow and curvy”. Indeed, fair warning is given that there are vehicle length limitations (35′) and no trailers are permitted.
Muddy Boots will back off the Jiminy Cricket role for 45 minutes or so while you soak in the wonderment around every bend: no chirpy play-by-play needed.
Excellent. You’ve been laid back and slow, correct? Time to do some more plodding, again with purpose, but this time on a trail and by foot, so you can feel the scenic marvels in your bones.
‘Cos you’re still gawking
Drive slowly beyond Dee Wright Observatory. Between Mile Markers 72 and 73, there’s a pullout on the left side of the road (the Three Sisters side). The trailhead you want is on the right side of the road (the Mount Washington side), and is marked “Hand Lake”.
If it’s July, look longingly at what might have been and turn around. NOW. Every little lingering minute in the Hand Lake area will be met with enthusiasm by swarms of mosquitoes. These craven critters take wing at snow melt (that would be June) and have a month of pleasuring themselves (July) before mortality sets in. By August, you’re good to go.
Poles in hand, water and day pack secure,
Start towards Hand Lake. Stroll along an easy trail with no discernible elevation change. Right away, you are in wilderness. This trail is all about the meadows, the wildflowers, the lake, the lava, Mt. Washington, a historic shelter. It is quintessential Central Oregon.
When you’ve had your fill—you can get back in half an hour or 90 minutes, depending on how long you’d like to explore—it’s time to set off again, returning in the direction of Sisters.
Following the map—shortcuts not especially recommended lest they devolve into bushwacks—get yourself on Route 42 so you can go “up the Metolius” to Camp Sherman. You will be driving through a forest of red-trunked Ponderosa pine, with the lower stories regenerating from a colossal forest fire.
Play the tourist here.
Pop in to the Camp Sherman store, check out the fish hatchery, and get a look at the headwaters of the Metolius. The options are clearly marked. Above all, enjoy the lushness of the vegetation, the spectacular rush of crystal clear water, and the marvelous feel of the air.
Your afternoon is winding up. Oregon Cascades in a micro-nutshell.
Opa! You wanna go to Brothers NOW? You’re kidding right? Relax already!
Return to the campground, put your feet up, wallow in the wonder of it all, and start planning your next adventure.
Oregon Cascades photo credits. Featured image, 3 Sisters from the air, Triple Mountain Gets!: CC BY-SA 2.0 by Paul Smith via Wikimedia. Ranch, horses, mountains: CC BY-SA 2.0 by Francesco Veronesi. Mount Washington & Mount Jefferson: CC BY-SA 2.0 by Kirt Edblom. MacKenzie Loop Highway and Ponderosas: CC BY-SA 2.0 by Don Graham. North and Middle Sisters: CC BY 2.0 by Bruce Fingerhood. Metolius River: CC BY-SA 2.0 by Doug Kerr. Brothers: CC BY 2.0 by Richard Bauer.