The central Oregon town of Sisters takes its name from the Three Sisters, a trio of volcanic Cascade Mountains known as Faith, Hope, and Charity that peek above the tree line on the southwest horizon. Surely, one of the three should have been named Outdoor Recreation.
For those drawn, as I am, to towns where the elevation exceeds the population, Sisters provides a ratio of almost three to one: 1,080 lucky souls live here at an elevation of 3,200 feet on the drier eastern slope of the Cascades. The surrounding rivers, old-growth forests, mountain peaks, and sage-scented high desert lure folks out of doors for such activities as hiking, biking, rafting, fishing, golfing, and spotting critters. "We're surrounded by three wilderness areas," says local biologist Sue Tank. "Deer, elk, and bobcat are a fairly constant presence."
Sisters has enough Old West architecture to be mistaken for a film set, as well as a collection of cool galleries, the excellent Sisters Bakery (try the cheese bread), and one of the West's best small bookstores (Paulina Springs Book Company). But this is not a place to spend time inside.
Hikers can choose from a tasty mix of trails. In nearby Camp Sherman, the East Metolius River Trail makes for a nice waterside outing, as does the three-mile out-and-back trip to Little Three Creek Lake. More adventurous soles might take on the Tam McArthur Rim, a five-miler that ascends 1,200 feet to a cliff-edge viewpoint. The Black Crater Trail offers a seven-mile sampler plate, traversing meadows, thick forests, and wide-open cinder fields.
Mountain bikers have more than 50 miles of pine trails and steep single track to either cruise with the kids or test their medical insurance on. The six-mile Eagle Rock Loop, which weaves through juniper and sage, is among the easiest routes.
For those drawn to the water, fishing and rafting opportunities abound. The stretch of the wild and scenic McKenzie River between Paradise and Delta campgrounds gushes with perky nonstop Class II and III rapids for a day's trip amid old-growth forests. The section from Ollalie campground to Paradise offers more-caffeinated Class III and IV white water and should be attempted only by experienced paddlers or with a professional guide. The Deschutes River is also eminently raftable on trips lasting from three hours to three days.
And the Deschutes is one of several world-class fishing streams within reach of Sisters. Angle for 18-inch rainbow trout or summer steelhead in its cool green waters. The Metolius River, Suttle Lake, Sparks Lake, and Little Three Creek Lake all hide lively trout.
If you prefer hooks of a different sort, choose from two golf courses lined with throngs of cheering ponderosa pines at Black Butte Ranch, a residential resort community eight miles from Sisters. Nearby Aspen Lakes golf course provides a wild yet contemplative tour through pines, junipers, lakes, wildflowers, and tricky bunkers filled with red cinders.
Special events this summer include a series of craft shows and July's Outdoor Quilt Show. As with most of the action in Sisters, the emphasis here is on outdoor.
Photography by Larry Ulrich
This article was first published in September 2004. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
Local phone numbers are area code 541. Pick up AAA's Oregon & Washington TourBook and map. For more information, contact the Central Oregon Visitors Association: (888) 545-7442 or www.sistersoregonguide.com.
SLEEPS Black Butte Ranch home and condo rentals, $90–$350, (800) 452-7455. Blue Spruce Bed and Breakfast, $125, (888) 328-9644. Metolius River Resort, $195, (800) 818-7688.
EATS Bronco Billy's Ranch Grill and Saloon, in the Hotel Sisters, 549-7427. The Lodge Restaurant at Black Butte Ranch, 595-1260.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO Biking: Rent bikes at Eurosports, 549-2471. Fishing: The Fly Fisher's Place, 549-3474, www.theflyfishersplace.com. Golfing: Aspen Lakes, 549-4653, www.aspenlakes.com. Black Butte Ranch, (800) 399-2322, 595-1500, www.blackbutteranch.com. Hiking: Obtain permits (required July 1-Oct. 1) at the Sisters Ranger District, 549-7700. Rafting: McKenzie River Adventures, (800) 832-5858.