Three Sisters Loop: Green Lakes to Alder Creek
The Three Sisters Wilderness loop is an epic 50-mile trek through the diverse landscape of the Cascade Range in central Oregon. The trail loops around three of Oregon’s prettiest peaks (South Sister, Middle Sister, and North Sister), and features incredibly scenic landscapes of lava rock, glaciers, volcanoes, lakes, and meadows filled with wildflowers.
This post details our second day of our five day backpacking trip on the Three Sisters Loop. Check out the links below for detailed information on the other sections of the trail. If you want to hike this trail yourself, check out our ultimate planning guide to backpacking the Three Sisters Loop for info on permits, wilderness regulations, and sample itineraries.
Day 2: Green Lakes to Alder Creek (12.5 miles)
Day 4: Obsidian Zone to Mesa Creek (8.2 miles)
Day 5: Mesa Creek to Devils Lake Trailhead (6.3 miles)
Map and Elevation Profile for Green Lakes to Alder Creek
Three Sisters Backpacking Trail Guide: Day 2
We woke up at sunrise and hiked out of camp while the sun was spotlighting South Sister. We thought that we had great views of South Sister and Broken Top at camp, but the views as we hiked the first few miles of the morning were absolutely incredible.
South Sister seemed to glow, and with each bend in the trail the face of the mountain changed color from burgundy to pink, and from gray to green-blue. We walked through meadows of lupine and alternated views of Broken Top and South Sister. Slowly, Middle Sister revealed herself as well and we could see the ancient glaciers that give her the constant white peaks (for now at least because the glaciers are shrinking.) Meadows filled with blooming lupine gave the air a sweet smell. Soak up the views and don’t hurry through this section, because soon you’ll enter the Pole Creek Burn Area.
The Pole Creek fire started on September 9, 2012 when a bolt of lightning caused the forest to quickly go up in flames. The fire charred 41 square miles, and it was one of the largest fires in Central Oregon. The area is very dry, and the ground is made up of a thick volcanic sand. This has made it very difficult for any of the vegetation to grow back.
Walking through 11-miles of dead lodgepole pines and firs was extremely sad. I couldn’t believe the destruction; the burn extends as far as the eye can see. All of the trees are charred, there is no shade, and very little water along this stretch. Before we reached the Pole Creek burn area another hiker described the stretch of trail as similar to walking on the moon, and the whole scene is pretty other worldly.
Many people make a left at the junction with the Camp Lake trail and hike 4 miles to Demaris Lake or 4.7 miles to Camp Lake so that they can avoid camping in the burn zone. We decided to hike on and camp along Alder Creek. We spoke to a few people along the way who had told us that Alder Creek was beautiful and refreshing. If anyone tells you this, don’t believe them- they are lying! Alder Creek is in the burn zone and it is full of downed trees!
By the time we made it to Alder Creek we were beat. It was a long day of walking through sand with zero shades and temperatures nearing 90 degrees. I have a fear of falling trees so we tried to pick the least dangerous campsite. Technically, I think that camping within the burn zone is illegal, but there were some other campers in the area and we found a site that was cleared of fallen trees.
Some people choose to enter at the Pole Creek Trailhead to split up the time in the burn zone, but I personally would prefer to camp one night in the burn rather than start and end my trip on the least scenic section of the trail. (You can read about alternate trailheads and other logistics in our Three Sisters planning guide.)
Podcast about Backpacking Three Sisters Wilderness
I was honored to talk with Jeremy from the Trails Worth Hiking podcast about my Three Sisters backpacking trip. Check out the podcast for a deep dive into the history and geology of the trail as well as a day-by-day discussion of what to expect on the trail.
From Bend, Oregon the Devil's Lake trailhead is approximately 29 miles west on Cascade Lakes Highway (46). Turn left at the sign for Devil's Lake trailhead. Parking at the Devils Lake trailhead costs $5 per day. Forest Passes and interagency passes are accepted as well. Check out this USFS guide for a detailed list of costs and accepted parking permits.
Pick-up the trail behind the bathrooms and walk a short distance before crossing a road and meeting up with the South Sister Climber Trail No. 36. Follow the trail for two miles and make a right at the junction with Moraine Lake to start your counter-clockwise adventure around the Three Sisters.
After you pass Moraine lake, follow signs for the Green Lakes trailhead. When you reach a junction with Soda Creek make a left to continue toward Green Lakes. Stay on the Green Lakes Trail for 21.5 miles.
Make a left at the junction with the Scott Pass Trail and follow Scott Pass for 2 miles until you reach the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail). Make a left to take the PCT south and stay on the PCT for 17.8 miles.
Make a left onto the Leconte Crater Trail. Stay on the Leconte Crater Trail for 1.3 miles.
If you would like to summit South Sister follow signs for the Moraine Lakes Trail and follow the trail for 1.6 miles until you reach the South Sister Climber Trail (make a left to summit, and make a right to return to the trailhead).
If you aren't summiting South Sister, continue on the Leconte Crater Trail until you reach the Wickiup Plains Trail. Make a left at the junction and follow the Wickiup Plains Trail for 2 miles back to the trailhead.
Dogs allowed on leash. But the volcanic rock can be very hard on paws, please think twice before bringing your dog on this entire loop.
Pit toilets are available at the Devils Lake Trailhead. No other services are available.
Trailhead parking fills up quickly. Arrive early if you want a parking spot.
Like all outdoor pursuits, hiking can be dangerous. It is up to you to assess your fitness level and education yourself about any potential dangers. While I try to regularly update these hiking guides, you should always research trail conditions before heading out.
Being prepared means arriving at the trailhead with water and some basic provisions. Each and every time I hit the trail I bring a backpack with more water than I think I need, a small first aid kit, and a snack. I also share my itinerary and plans with friends or family and I carry an InReach so I can summon help if needed. If you want to know what I carry in my pack during day hikes check out my blog post about essential gear for day hikers.
Stay safe, enjoy the trail, and soak up the magic of nature!
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