Breathtaking Scenery through the Cascades to a Tourist Town
A driving tour through the Oregon Cascades reveals great views of mountains, rivers, and waterfalls.
The State of Oregon is blessed with great scenery. Moving eastward from the magnificent Pacific Coast, the ocean gives way to the Coastal Mountain Range, through the sparkling Willamette Valley until the countryside is filled with the mighty Cascade Range of Rocky Mountains.
From Eugene Oregon, Highway 126 follows the McKenzie River through valleys and forests. A driving tour headed east from Eugene provides great views of mountains, waterfalls, and rivers.
Route 20 from Corvallis and Albany curves through the Willamette Forest. The roads intersect on the path to the small town of Sisters, Oregon, a population of 1,706.
Scenic Mountain Driving
Highway 126 follows the McKenzie River, with magnificent views of the raging river at every turn. The highway is accessible almost all year. Winter snows may render the roads impassable, or chains may be required during a large part of the year when in the high mountain passes.
After the town of Belknap Springs, the road turns north and passes Sahalie Falls and Koosah Falls, which are located just off the road. Parking lots for the falls and trailheads on the way are dirt and are often muddy.
The altitude increases in this area and the sides of the road are covered in deep snow most of the year. Every attempt is made to keep the road itself clear.
There are high mountain roads, particularly route 242, which are only passable in summer, if even then. Under no circumstances should a traveler attempt to bypass a locked gate to travel on a road deemed impassable.
The Oregon Cascades
After the falls, highway 126 meets up with Route 20 and continues through the highest stretch, with the most spectacular scenery. The mountains in this area are clearly visible and are snowcapped all year.
Signs with the names Mount Washington, Mount Jefferson, and Three Fingered Jack have arrows pointing into the distance. These are actually pointing in the direction of some of the larger mountains in view.
It is in this area that chains are needed, and there are areas for vehicles to pull over to attach the chains. The road in this area is named the Oregon Scenic Byway and crosses the Cascades via the McKenzie and Santiam Passes. The Hoodoo ski resort is this area, along with many places designated as winter recreation areas. In this altitude and latitude, winter stretches out for a long time.
Coming down from the mountains, the small town of Sisters welcomes visitors with a quaint tourist area and a great view of three large mountains known as The Sisters. North, Middle, and South, the Sisters are all over 10,000 feet and dominate the skyline to the South of the town.
In the town are the expected restaurants and gift shops that a traveler will find in most towns. Souvenirs are cheap and plentiful, and the town has parks and free parking along the main drag, which is few blocks long an easy walk.
Whether you continue to the east to the lovely city of Bend or retrace your steps to Eugene, Springfield, or Corvallis, the road back to civilization will be just as breathtaking as the ride into the Oregon Cascades.
In any season, vacationers will find that Sisters, Oregon, nestled at the foot of the Cascade Mountains, has an abundance of exciting sights and activities.
There is never a “best” vacation time in Sisters, Oregon. No matter the time of year, there will be something exciting occurring. From the Hoo-Doo/Sisters Winter Carnival in February to Rodeo weekend in June to the internationally famous Outdoor Quilt Show in July, to Jazz and Folk Festivals in September, the activities are endless.
Sisters, Oregon, sits at the foot of the Cascade Mountains under the towering, magnificent, snowcapped Three Sisters Mountains, named Faith, Hope, and Charity. Formerly a small logging community, this town is now a major tourist attraction. Highway 20 traverses through this little enclave which is located approximately eighteen miles west of the “metropolis” of Bend, Oregon. Surrounded by National Forest and BLM lands, the area is blessed with snowy winters and sunny summers. Visitors arrive by plane (which land in nearby Redmond, Oregon) car, and sometimes mule, horse and bicycle.
Hiking in Sisters Area
Hiking in this area is superb. Peterson Ridge, on the outskirts of Sisters off Road 16, and the spectacular walks at Three Creek, about ten miles further up the same road, have unforgettable treks.
Despite the fact that Tam McArthur Rim at Three Creek is almost all uphill, the incredible panoramic views at the top make the uphill journey well worth the effort. Broken Top Mountain can be accessed from there also. Dedicated hikers take on the Three Sisters mountains themselves, especially the South Sister. Hikers are advised to be well conditioned for this climb and to watch the weather no matter the time of year.
Peterson Ridge has hiked through Ponderosa Pine forests with spectacular snow-capped vistas. Black Butte is another hike that offers remarkable views. Countless treks in the area lead to high mountain lakes, accessible only by foot or horseback.
Only an hour away is Smith Rock, a premier hiking and climbing area, and the wildly popular Cascade Lakes Highway, a stunning stretch of road winding through dense forests of pine an hour east of town, is liberally dotted with lakes, campgrounds, and hiking trails.
Snow Sports in Central Oregon
Alpine and Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling are all popular winter activities. Hoo-Doo Ski facility just west of town, and Bachelor Butte, to the east, are both highly popular winter recreation areas. One does not need to go to a resort to recreate, however, as the surrounding forests are also available for outings.
While there is no fishing in town, Suttle Lake and the Metolius River are just minutes away, as are both lakes at Three Creek. Camping is also available in these and other locations. An hour away is the stupendous Lake Billy Chinook where houseboats can be rented by the week.
Black Butte Ranch and Aspen Lakes Golf Course, both minutes from town, are open to the public. Bend is rife with courses, and there are a few available in Redmond also.
This is horse country. Horse camps abound in Central Oregon, and Sisters has several. Hikers and riders often share the same trails, with Three Creek and Sheep Springs being popular spots. There are several beautifully maintained horse camps along the Cascade Lakes Highway also.
There are plenty of accommodations available in this Wild West setting. The Sisters Chamber of Commerce can be contacted for up-to-date referrals, and the Sisters Ranger District (541-549-7700) has maps available for those wishing to hike or ride in the Three Sisters Wilderness Areas, along with general camping and horse camp information.