Hey fellow hikers! My name is Linnea and in this guide I will be sharing my experiences up South Sister Summit in Oregon. I grew up in Portland, Oregon and have lived in Oregon my whole life. Long before social media, I loved clothing and photography. I originally started my Instagram with the intention of sharing my outfits and inspiring other fashion-lovers.
My focus on travel came a few years later as I started to travel more and it has been fun to share videos and photos from the places I have visited. I originally got the idea to summit South Sister during the spring of 2020. Things had started to open more with Covid and I kept seeing a ton of my peers doing this summit. I was able to convince three of my friends to do it with me and we set the original date of our climb to September 20, 2020.
Unfortunately, nature had other plans – that was one of the weekends of the wildfires in Oregon. After canceling, we decided to do it the following year in August. After over a year of planning and intermittent training, we completed the summit on August 7, 2021. During this time of year, most of the snow has melted and the temperatures were mild. We also got lucky and only experienced some wildfire smoke near the end of our hike.
Sensational Feeling Arriving at the South Sister Summit
We started on the Moraine Lake Trail at 4:30am and ended at the same trailhead a little before 5pm, which included several long breaks. Since we started before the sun had risen, the first two miles were in complete darkness. By the time the sun was up, the next two miles were relatively flat through the meadow and then we began the steep climb up the summit.
The last two miles were steep and started out with larger rocks before turning into pebbles. There was no solid ground anywhere underneath so as you would take a step, the small rocks would give under the weight and pressure of your foot causing them to roll out from under you.
Due to this, it was also difficult to figure out where the correct trail was, however there were groups in front of us that we tried to follow along the way. This is the part of the hike where hiking poles were a lifesaver!
This summit had been on my bucket list for over a year and the feeling of finally getting to the top was amazing. There is nothing better than making a goal, working hard to complete it and then finally doing it! While I was relieved and happy to have reached the top, the journey down the mountain was personally more daunting for me.
A Fantastic Beginner/Intermediate Summit Trail
In the summers I’m an avid hiker but this was the first summit I had ever done. I had heard a mix of reviews ranging from hikers waking up one day and doing the summit on a whim to other hikers training for weeks before doing it. Due to the range of feedback, I wasn’t sure what to expect and figured I would train just in case it was as challenging as some people said. AllTrails marks the trail at 11.6 miles, however our devices all tracked over 16 miles.
Leading up to the summit I would run, go on hilly walks and hike almost every day. I believe the best way to train for an extensive hike is to do a lot of similar hikes beforehand for practice. Some other PNW hikes I did to prepare were Dog Mountain, Oyster Dome and Saddle Mountain that are all rated on AllTrails as being the same difficulty level as South Sister.
Overall, I would say this is a good summit for beginners or intermediate hikers. I don’t think you need to be extremely fit to do it however having regular cardio in your workout and doing some practice hikes beforehand is a good way to set yourself up for success.
Reference to “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac
Before doing the hike, we had read through all of the recent reviews on AllTrails. The most recent review was from a woman who described the hike with the song “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac: “I took my love and I took it down, I climbed a mountain and I turned around. And I saw my reflection in the snow-covered hills, until the landslide brought me down”.
At the time, we didn’t understand the reference but as we got to the last few miles where the small rocks kept tumbling out from underneath our feet, we finally understood the lyrics and thought it was a perfectly fitting analogy. These lighthearted moments helped act as distractions from the hike since there were parts where it was miserable or challenging.
Where to Stay near South Sister Summit
Several people I knew who had done the hike had driven straight to the trailhead from Portland and then straight home after. Personally, this sounded exhausting so when we planned our trip, we decided to give ourselves plenty of time before and after. We drove down after work on a Friday, woke up Saturday morning, spent the day on the mountain and then rested another night before driving back up to Portland on Sunday.
Last year we had booked an Airbnb but this year most Airbnbs were already booked or were very expensive. We ended up staying at the La Quinta in Bend which had a pool and hot tub. While it’s cheaper to drive down for the summit and drive back up afterwards, I would recommend spending the night in Bend before and after. We knew we would be exhausted, and it was nice being able to hot tub and go to bed early after finishing the hike.
Tips for Hiking South Sister Summit
Some tips I have for South Sister Summit would be to carpool and always bring any trash back with you. There were four of us in total who did the summit and we made sure to only take one car with us. With a longer hike like this, it’s also important to consider and plan ahead in case you need to go to the bathroom and make sure to bring any needed supplies for that.
For the hike, they have now started to require permits that you can buy at recreation.gov. You will want to buy the “Devils Lake/Wickiup Trailhead (South Sister Summit) option and it only costs a dollar per person. Only a certain number of people are allowed to do the hike each day and you must buy your pass two weeks before the day you plan on doing the hike.
We got dropped off at the trailhead however if you are planning on leaving your car at the trailhead, you will also need a parking pass and the lot fills up fast! I would also recommend hiking poles, sunglasses, bug spray, a headlamp (if you are planning to start before sunrise), and then enough food and water for the hike.
I have some friends who did the hike when it was really windy and cold and they recommended gloves, altitude sickness medicine and a face covering to protect from the wind but I didn’t end up needing any of those. For water, I was worried about not having enough and ended up bringing four liters of liquid with me. It wasn’t extremely hot the day we did the summit and I didn’t sweat at all, but I did end up drinking all of the water I brought.
For food, I brought electrolyte chews, beef jerky, fruit, nuts and a sandwich. The most important thing though is to check the conditions before you go. If you summit during August you probably won’t have much snow but in recent years there has been more smoke, so that is just another thing to be aware of. Thanks for reading and enjoy your hike up South Sister Summit!