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Looking to go somewhere with spectacular landscapes and loads of activities—yet still removed from the bustle of urban life? Central Oregon is the place for you. In Sisters and nearby Bend, you’ll find a bonanza of outdoor activities, mountain splendor, star-gazing skies and central Oregon charm.
The small town of Sisters charms pretty much any newcomer. Set in the intersection of the high desert and the Cascade Mountain range, its setting is unique. Sisters offers a jaw-dropping base for exploration due to the Three Sisters peaks surrounding the area, along with Mt. Washington, Three Finger Jack and Mt. Jefferson on the horizon.
Looking for hiking trails? Biking options? Streams and rivers to fish? Mountain climbing? Golf? Scenic byway drives? Unique small businesses and eateries? Annual festivals with national and worldwide acclaim? Sisters OR has all of this plus the travel X factor that’s irreplaceable: unforgettable character and energy! A quick glimpse at the Sisters Oregon video footage for visitors will give you a taste of the year-round magic that awaits.
Where is Sisters?
Under four hours from Portland, a couple hours from the Willamette Valley and a 30 minute drive from Bend and Redmond, Sisters is close enough to get to from a major airport while also being far enough away to feel like another world. It’s definitely one of the best places to visit in Oregon.
Things To Do In and Around Sisters
The city of Sisters is small but mighty. You’ll find enough to do to last a lifetime, so feel free to choose the attractions and activities which most suit your travel desires of the moment and the vibe of your group.
Need an active getaway and want to recharge with some nature-gazing and outdoor exploration? Want a leisurely weekend of window shopping, delicious food and great coffee? Hoping to burrow indoors with a loved one and enjoy a quiet weekend with stupendous views and self-care treats? Sisters can deliver all of that, and more!
The biggest star of central Oregon is its natural beauty. Urbanites from Portland (and California!) have been flocking to the Sisters and Bend areas in large numbers over the past few decades due to the phenomenal outdoor riches of the region. Whether you prefer to explore via a scenic drive—or like to get up close and personal with nature by hitting the hiking trails—the area surrounding Sisters is a natural wonderland.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Looking to make the most of your summer budget while maximizing the fun? With a wide range of deals on local activities, dining, and experiences, Groupon helps you stretch your budget by offering discounted options near you.
A Hike for All
Looking for an accessible nature-rich walk for the whole group? Try the local favorite Metolius River walk. This easy hike was highlighted to me by locals as a great entry point to the fabulous hiking around Sisters Country. [Take Highway 20 west and look for the turnoff to Camp Sherman. Then follow Forest Service road 14, bearing right at a fork and continuing almost 8 miles to parking. Signage throughout.] Hiking your thing? Check out the great overview here, with hikes organized by level of difficulty and super handy PDFs.
SheBuysTravel Tip: In order to help preserve the wilderness and access points for locals and visitors alike, the Forest Service has adopted a permit system for the surrounding Central Cascade backcountry areas. If heading to one of the hiking areas requiring a permit, don’t skimp on getting one—it’s one of the best ways to support the effort to manage Sisters Country in a sustainable way. Reservations for permits in high-traffic areas can be made by calling 1-877-444-6777 or in person at the Deschutes National Forest and Willamette National Forest offices.
Explore the Great Outdoors
Want to explore a nearby geological extravaganza, with tons of hiking and mountain climbing options? Check out regional climbing mecca Smith Rock State Park.
Waterfall enthusiast? Check out the loop waterfall drive via National Scenic Byway Highway 126 (just off Highway 20). This loop drive will let you disembark to visit Sahalie Falls viewing area and Proxy Falls. Then, from Highway 126 hop onto Highway 242 to loop back to Sisters, adding a stop at the spectacular Dee Wright Observatory on the way (note: seasonal attraction; check before visiting).
Looking for a lake setting? Try nearby Suttle Lake just off Highway 20, about 20 minutes from Sisters.
Want a must-see overlook that is handicap-accessible and close to town? Try the Whychus Creek Overlook. Head south on Three Creek Lake Road/Elm Street from town for about five miles. Look for signed turnout near the summit of Peterson Ridge on the right.
Love a great loop drive with spectacular viewpoints? Enjoy a day on the McKenzie Highway for the most scenic drive in the area. Note: seasonal opening/weather permitting given elevation of the McKenzie pass-Santiam Pass area.
Stargazer? Check out these options for taking advantage of the largest remaining dark sky area in the United States. You’ve never seen the Milky Way unless you’ve seen it from a dark sky region. A must-add to the bucket list. Worth the excursion: Sunriver Observatory in the summer months offers the largest public collection of telescopes in the country!
Explore Downtown Sisters
Sisters’ walkable downtown offers plenty of unique and locally-owned businesses for a morning or afternoon of window-shopping and memento gathering. Even if you’re not in the market for souvenirs, perusing the local shops is a great way to talk with locals and get a feel for the stories which make Sisters special.
First stop: In 1989, Sisters Coffee became the first central Oregon roaster and has been family-owned and operated ever since. Stop by its flagship cafe at 273 W Hood Ave, in a marvelous barn-like building with plenty of outdoor seating. Great coffee, great swag to take home too.
On the corner opposite from Sisters Coffee is longstanding Clearwater Gallery (soon to be renamed The Rickards Gallery). Known for great ambience and distinctive art, an hour spent at this art gallery is a great way to connect with Sisters’ locals.
Paulina Springs Books
Before heading out to Cascade Ave (the main drag in town), hop into Paulina Springs Books, right across from Sisters Coffee. One step inside and you’ll know you’ve hit the indie-bookstore jackpot. With well-curated displays and plenty of selection, you’ll find just what you need to cozy up with a great read or to guide you as you explore the area.
Out on Cascade Avenue (the main drag through town), the wide storefront sidewalks and “Old West” styling keep the Sisters’ downtown vibe alive. Head towards Ear Expressions jewelry store. This second-generation, locally-owned shop is a treasure-trove of both artisan-quality jewelry and less expensive gifts for everyone on your list. I found my “celebrate 50” wrist cuff here—a bronze, hawk-emblazoned bracelet that could only have come from Sisters. Stop by and hear their amazing story of longevity from owner and Sisters’ resident Jennifer.
Missing real vintage stores, the way they used to make them? Then you’re in luck. Tucked away behind Cascade Avenue on Main Street you’ll find Gypsy Junk—the “one special place” I was told by a local I had to see before I left town. Owner Tamra Asbell has created a feast of color for the eyes and oodles of style for a shopper who’s looking for something distinctive. With apparel, jewelry, home goods and lots of small treasures in-between, Gypsy Junk is long on gypsy-magic and short on junk. If you’re lucky, catch storefront band practice on Saturday afternoons!
Where to Eat in Sisters, Oregon
Need down time after shopping, or want to eat before heading out to the trails? Check out Angeline’s Bakery in town for a gluten-free and vegan bakery extravaganza. Owner Angeline Rhett has been in business for 26 years in Sisters. Soups, salads and lunch entrées available as well. Did you know that color has been shown to be related to feeling joy? Check out Angeline’s décor, smoothies and baked goodies to run your own test!
Dumplings for a Cause
Craving homestyle, perfectly made dumplings or noodles? And a craft beer or cider on the side? High Camp Taphouse at the eastern end of town (on Cascade Ave/Highway 20) is a must-visit during your Sisters’ jaunt. Owners Pema and Nurbu gained local fame for their Nepalese cuisine food truck and then opened this brick-and-mortar restaurant in order to serve the growing demand for their dishes.
Owner Pema Sherpa moved to the U.S. decades ago in order to gain skills and education that could benefit her community. (She’s from the Himalayan village that Edmund Hillary made famous; her father was an Everest trekker) . A dental hygienist during the day, she helps run the restaurant with Nurbu at night and on weekends.
Together, they have founded a small NGO that raises funds to aid young people in Nepal who face caste-based discrimination. Pema has also provided dental care there for underserved populations. A portion of your food and beverage purchases goes toward funding these humanitarian projects! You may ask yourself: “Do I really need dumplings with my curry or noodle entrée?” And I can assure you: Yes, you do.
When the Sun Goes Down
After a day of outdoor exploring, downtown strolling and eating, you might be in the mood for some music. Check out the calendar at local music venue, The Belfry. A converted 100+ year-old church in downtown Sisters, The Belfry is one of the most distinctive music venues in the Pacific Northwest.
Winter Sports in Central Oregon
Ok, if you’re like me, and can find skiing and ski resorts intimidating, then I’ve got a real treat for you: Hoodoo Ski Area. Just outside Sisters (and accessible from Bend too), Hoodoo is a winter wonderland which won’t overwhelm children or newbies in your traveling crew. There’s something at Hoodoo for every level of winter sports enthusiast or curiosity-seeker.
With ski runs for every level of skier and non-crazy lift lines, Hoodoo is great way for a group of mixed levels to all get out and have some snow fun. Whether you prefer downhill skiing, Nordic skiing or want to jump on your snowboard, Hoodoo offers a great day in the snow. Its family-friendly area and lessons offer the ideal entry-level experience for young ones. Prefer tubing? Hoodoo has that too!
Want something especially memorable? Be sure to check out their calendar for special events, like night skiing under the spectacular dark-sky stars!
Fair Weather Sports
The Sisters and Bend area is a mecca in the Pacific Northwest for outdoor enthusiasts for good reason; pretty much any sport you care to enjoy or try is available here, nearly year-round.
Given the bounty of national forest and wilderness areas in the Sisters’ region, it’s no surprise this is a hiker’s paradise. From difficult hikes to gentle, non-steep walks, there’s something here for every level of hiker. Be sure to check out the Sisters Trail Alliance for how to support local efforts to keep hiking accessible and sustainable for all! Prefer to run your trails? Run Sisters Run will keep you posted on local events!
If you’re a cycling enthusiast, casual biker or mountain biker, you’ve also come to the right place. Pristine road cycling through jaw-dropping scenery is around every bend and mountain pass in the road. But there’s also plenty of options for more casual bikers as well, who don’t want to be on two-lane highways quite yet. Stop by local Blazin Saddles for local expert input on where to ride.
With the Metolius and Deschutes Rivers in the area, Sisters has many options for anglers to cast their lines in majestic settings. Stop in at The Fly Fishers Place and talk to owner Jeff Perin to get recommendations for where to start or to set up a guided trip.
Looking for a great outdoor excursion for your group? River-rafting is a great way to experience the water-meets-mountain terrain of central Oregon. Check out trip offerings from Bend-based Sun Country Tours or for a great day or multi-day Deschutes experience with family-owned Deschutes River Adventures out of Maupin, OR.
Attend an Annual Festival or Rodeo
Looking for an unforgettable event to anchor your Sisters’ trip? Three annual festivals put Sisters on the global map: The Sisters Folk Festival in the end of September, the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show in mid-July and the Sisters Rodeo in the second week of June.
The annual quilt week & show is a globally renowned event—expect the numbers of visitors that week to reflect the popularity of this annual pilgrimage event. Curious to see an annual festival, with less crowd factor? The Sisters Folk Festival is a great option—with multiple stages the fall dates, you can enjoy the riches of the music without too much crowding. Billed “The Biggest Little Show in the World,” the Sisters Rodeo has been thrilling crowds since 1940. The Three Sisters peak backdrop makes it arguably the most scenic rodeo on the West Coast, if not the entire U.S.
Day Trip—or Date Night!—in Bend
You may not have heard of Sisters, but you’ve likely heard of its neighbor, Bend. Only 30 minutes from Sisters, Bend is a great day or night trip option to add into your central Oregon travel.
Looking for a Whole Foods to restock camping provisions? Bend has that, as well as other major retail stores. Looking for local shops and more unique offerings? Stroll through its downtown and stop in at Clementine Urban Mercantile, Scout and Pine, Lone Crow Bungalow or The Feather’s Edge.
Need some caffeine and a good book-browse? Don’t miss unique Dudley’s Bookshop Cafe, with staff-curated book picks and plenty of local guidebooks.
Fun Things to Do in Bend
Want some great water-play options for the whole family? Check out Bend Whitewater Park and McKay Park for tubing, kayaking, paddleboarding and surfing options. Their website can help you locate which water features are suitable for different ages and skill levels.
Heard that Bend is basically the mecca for all-things-craft-beer? Spend some time on the Bend Ale Trail while you’re in town.
Need a break from the sun, or like to dig into learning about the local landscape and historical context? The High Desert Museum is well worth a visit.
Where to Eat in Bend
If you’re in Bend for the day and would love a leisurely lunch with Mediterranean-inspired food (and fabulous gluten-free baked goods!) make a stop at Blissful Spoon in downtown Bend. With mile-high ceilings, minimalist-cafe decor with art-pops for color, owners Kamal and Miki Bekkari have opened an eatery rooted in their passion for food and family.
Inspired to create a menu which offered plenty of options for anyone needing gluten-free options, Miki and Kamal have pulled off a great culinary feat: You’d never know the menu is almost entirely gluten-free (or has gluten-free options) because they’ve normalized dietary needs within a diverse array of Mediterranean flavors and offerings, drawing upon their backgrounds in Morocco and Beirut. Their talents with food are multiple—pick up one of their celebrated grain-free granolas for the road. And stay posted for the opening of their underground, evening speakeasy for a special night out!
Speaking of a night out — Bend is a great destination if you’re camping in the area or staying in Sisters and want a night on the town. Head to the Old Mill District for a sunset stroll along the Deschutes River or pop into some of the shops in the converted mill. Catch a concert at the amphitheater adjacent to the Old Mill District and dance your hiking shoes off.
A Feast for the Eyes and Mouth
Want a special, celebratory meal for you and your friends, or a special occasion with a loved one? Look no further than the eye-catching Ladybird Cultural Society in the Old Mill District (reservations recommended; larger parties inquire about the separate “chinoiserie parlor”!). Chef John Gurnee and his wife Amanda have created a lush dining room experience that complements the spare beauty of the high desert.
With bold tiles, black and white base tones, and flourishes of pink and gold in all the right places (don’t miss the eye-popping experience of the women’s bathroom!), Ladybird is a truly celebratory place with food and cocktails to match. (Oh, and the dinnerware! And, the glasses! No detail has been overlooked here.)
With onsite dry-aged meats, wood-fired pizzas and prohibition-era (perfectly concocted) cocktails, Ladybird offers that rare kind of meal out: Where you relish every aspect of the experience—the perfect blend of atmospheric levity and serious food—while losing all track of time.
And—such a great story to boot! The bird motif throughout is a nod to owners’ John and Amanda’s love of all things birds. Their two young children are also bird enthusiasts, so Amanda kept her “flock” in mind when she created décor with both grand and delicate avian motifs.
With its block-color décor—and huge, impactful bird images placed just-so on the walls—Ladybird will leave you gazing back and forth from the surroundings to your table to savor the food, the drinks and the company.
Bend Craft Beers
Wrap up your night out in Bend at The Hopservatory at Worthy Brewing. Yes, craft beer and stars. It doesn’t get more Bend than that! They’re open Wednesday-Saturday, but check their calendar before you show up. Sadly, on my trip, The Hopservatory was closed for cleaning—bird poop removal!
Where To Stay in Sisters
Sisters isn’t huge, so lodging options aren’t extensive (which is a good thing). The Sisters Best Western has a great location and is a high-value option for staying in town. Check out Ski Inn Tap House Hotel for a lodging option with a local feel. If you’re looking for a couple’s getaway in town, Five Pine Lodge is your best bet. Obviously, in central Oregon, the options for camping and boondocking are tremendous, in order to get close to the dark sky views.
In my case, I was lucky enough to stay at local legend: Black Butte Ranch. For over 50 years, families in the Pacific Northwest have been making Black Butte their annual getaway tradition. After one visit, especially in the quiet heart of winter, I was definitely hooked.
Black Butte Ranch
With awesome views of Three Sisters Mountains plus Three-Fingered Jack, Mount Washington and Mount Jefferson AND wide-open fields and miles of walking paths, Black Butte Lodge lets you roll out your door right into the magic of the Sisters Country landscape and skyline. Millions of years of geologic events shaped this land and you’ll feel immediately dwarfed by nature, in a good way. Initially the site of a cattle ranch (with various operators since the 1880s), Black Butte Ranch was officially converted and developed as a residential resort in 1970. People have been creating memories here ever since, with a high number of annual repeat visits and a core group of home owners who live here year-round.
Set up as a residential ranch—where individual people own homes or condos with a wide array of sizes—Black Butte books stays for guests at these properties while not in use by owners. You’ll never know the place you’re staying is “owned” by another; maybe except for the fact that your unit will be well-cared for and certainly have a cozy, non-hotel feel and atmosphere.
A Serene Setting
The sprawling, well-planned property lets you relax in your home or condo with a sense of seclusion from others. Homes are grouped in sections throughout thousands of acres, and standardized building styles means all structures intersect with the natural landscape without a jarring effect.
Miles of bike and walking paths throughout the ranch give you unending options for exploring the stunning views right out the door. Indoor/outdoor pools and hot tubs (at 2 different well-designed aquatic and fitness centers), golf courses, tennis courts, playgrounds and horseback riding center mean you’ll never have a shortage of other outdoor activities.
Food and Fun at Black Butte Ranch
Multiple onsite dining options let you stay and play with even more convenience. Robert’s Pub offers casual fare and great drinks with fantastic views of the peaks from its windows. The Lakeside Bistro serves café-style baked goods and breakfast/lunch fare with a lively seating area by the main meadow’s large pond. The newly renovated (and re-opening in 2023!) Lodge Restaurant and Aspen Lounge will continue to offer memorable dining with fabulous views.
Fitness centers and an extensive spa service menu round out the offerings on the ranch, making it truly the case you’d never have to leave if you just wanted to stay on-site and explore.
Traveling with kids? Many places say it, but here it is truly the case—families return year after year and kids grow up here knowing Black Butte as their “summer place.” Look here to get an idea of the amazing experience awaiting your little ones.
Traveling with a friend group? For a special occasion? To reconnect with yourself, with nature, with your bestie or loved one? The spaciousness of the property and its setting at the foot of Three Sisters Mountains creates a one-of-a-kind location for getting present with those you love.
Feel at Home at Black Butte Ranch
The landscape and mountain views at Black Butte are stunning, and instantly transport the viewer. What struck me as equally powerful while visiting were the conversations I had with staff (who didn’t initially know the purpose of my stay as a travel writer!).
I’m always trying to get a feel for the vibe of a place, and employee attitude and responses usually tell me a lot. From the front desk at check-in, to the host and waiter at Bob’s Pub, to the staff at Lakeside Bistro and other employees I encountered in my weekend at the ranch, people offered suggestions and stories with genuine interest. They wanted me to create my own special experience at the ranch, and talked with me not simply as paid employees, but as stewards of a place they knew to be special.
Whether offering a tip about a secluded stream walk, or an overview of the peaks on view, or a personal story of how they grew up on the ranch, each person added to the overall atmosphere of Black Butte Ranch. Of course, the ranch operates as a business. But it also is a unique place where people come together and make some magic, with The Three Sisters peaks looking on.
SheBuysTravel Tip: The number of visitors at Black Butte changes wildly depending on the season. Looking for solitude? Head here in the off-season (and still gorgeous) months of late fall, post-holiday winter and early spring. Want there to be a ton of others around for your kids to play with, with a more bustling community atmosphere? June, July and August are very popular with large crowds.
A writer, educator and mama living in Walla Walla, Washington, Jennifer has spent the past decade living in the shrub-steppe deserts of California, Colorado and Washington. But she's really most at home in the tropical forests of Indonesia and coastal Washington. Check out recent nonfiction at The Threepenny Review and www.jenniferruthkeller.com.