Three Sisters Loop: Obsidian Zone to Mesa 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 fourth 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 1: Devils Lake Trailhead to Green Lakes (7.7 miles)

Day 2: Green Lakes to Alder Creek (12.5 miles)

Day 3: Alder Creek to the southern border of the Obsidian Limited Entry Zone (12.2 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 Obsidian Zone to Mesa Creek

Map of the Three Sisters Wilderness from the Obsidian Limited Entry Area to Mesa Creek
Elevation profile for the Three Sisters Wilderness hike from the Obsidian Limited Entry Area to Mesa Creek


Three Sisters Backpacking Trail Guide: Day 4

We woke up and enjoyed a leisurely morning at camp. Today we only had to hike 8.2 miles, and since it was relatively flat we didn’t feel the need to rush.

We made our way back to the trail from our campsite high above the valley and headed South on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). The trail followed the rolling hills and passed through meadows filled with wildflowers and bare hills of dark brown lava-like sand.

A bare hill with dark brown lava sand and the mountains in the distance.

To the west we were treated to our first glimpse of The Husband from across Linton Meadows, while the stunning views of Middle Sister and South Sister continued on the East side of the trail.

We passed Reese Lake, but chose to wait until Separation Creek to filter water. Separation Creek was quite the meeting place and we took a break in the shade of a large pine tree and chatted with some PCT hikers heading north.

Wildflowers in the Three Sisters Wilderness as we approached Separation Creek

Slowly after passing Separation Creek we entered another burn area. The Nash Fire burned 6,159 acres and the Separation Fire burned 15,772 acres. Both fires were caused by lightning and were part of the August 2017 Horse Creek Complex fire that ended up burning over 28,000 acres of the Willamette National Forest.

The burn zone between Hinton Creek and Mesa Creek along the PCT in Three Sisters Wilderness

Even though it had been 2 years since the fires, the burn zone still looked fresh. The trail was extremely dusty, and if you happened to brush up against any trees you would be covered in black soot. The burn zone lasted for about three-miles and just as I was beginning to wonder what Mesa Creek was going to look like the lush green valley of Mesa Creek appeared in front of us.

There are several large campsites hidden around Mesa Creek. We set-up camp, ate lunch, and dipped our toes in the icy creek. We spent the afternoon taking in the views, playing games, and reminiscing about our favorite parts of the trail- trying to savor every last moment, knowing that the last few miles would come much too soon!

Mesa Creek in the Three Sisters Wilderness at sunset

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.

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The Trailhead

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.

The Route

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.

Other Details

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!

Get your Three Sisters Trail Sticker

Our hiking stickers are available on Etsy or under the Shop tab on our website.

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