My very first hike up South Sister was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Since that first climb several years ago I have gone on to climb this mountain literally dozens of times.
So, how long is the hike up South Sister mountain? The hike up South Sister mountain from Devil’s Lake is 6 miles to the summit. This is an extremely strenuous 6 miles and depending on your fitness level could take anywhere from 3 to 6 hours making the total hike time between 6 and 12 hours for the full round-trip depending on your fitness level.
If you take 5 hours to reach the summit. Then it should take you about 3.5 to 4 hours to get back down. But this all depends on how many rest/food stops you take along the way. Just make sure to plan for a very long and full day of hiking. Especially if this is your first time and newer to this type of exertion.
What Is The Best Place To Start Hiking From?
I recommend that you start from Devil’s Lake. Trail head location: Google Maps
The start of the trail is just above 5,000 feet of elevation and quickly climbs to a high plateau with the first of many epic views. After another mile or two of easier rolling terrain, you start the the steepest hiking of the route with a continuous climb all the way to the summit at an elevation of 10,358 ft.
The final scramble up the red volcanic cinder is the stuff of dreams. I felt like I was on mars with it’s thin air, cold temps and a barren red wasteland. The reward and feeling of accomplishment once you reach the summit is worth all the struggle!
Can You Do This Hike With Very Little Fitness?
Yes. But I don’t recommend it. You’ll enjoy your time on the mountain so much more if you just put in a bit of conditioning leading up to the big day.
I’d recommend about two months out that you begin hiking anything you can find with a strong amount of vertical climb and descent. Start shorter in distance and gradually build your mileage until you are doing enough to feel confident and strong.
I had been doing a bit of hiking and running before attempting this hike but I was nowhere close enough to being in shape to fully enjoy the entirety of the experience. The climb to the summit was great but it was on the way down that things started to fall apart.
After the first mile of descent my quads and IT bands gradually began to get more and more sore until every step of downhill was shooting pain. And it makes sense. I had done basically zero downhill training. A bit of rolling hill running and hiking was not enough. I needed specificity in my preparation.
View of South Sister from Sparks lake (photo www.fs.usda.gov)
View from roughly halfway to top. photo: flickr/mountainamoeba
Looking north from the summit – Middle Sister and North Sister rounding out the trio. photo: flickr/leeco
South Sister’s summit crater is home to Teardrop pool. photo: flickr/leeco
This hike could take you a solid 8 to 9 hours to complete. So, be prepared to carry a lot of water and snacks to keep you going all day. The more you practice wearing the same type/loaded pack, the better your experience will be. Have fun!
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David Parnell is the founder and lead editor at Trail and Summit, who enjoys writing on a wide range of topics from travel trailers to trail running. He’s an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.
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