Scene: Central Oregon, near Sisters (northwest of Bend).
Setting: Early autumn; early on what will be a nice sunny day.
Objective: Find a worthwhile half-day hike that offers good morning views and a hint of challenge.
Where I turned for guidance: 100 Classic Hikes in Oregon (from The Mountaineers Books) by Douglas Lorain, among my favorite guidebook authors. I hiked with him years ago for a feature published in The Seattle Times. He’s a good guy who knows his stuff.
Lorain is an inquisitive fellow who does not mind wandering off-trail in pursuit of great views, a trait that I admire, and this trip is an 8-mile loop that involves some cross-country route-finding.
While the off-trail section is not too hard—this trip is within the reach of most hikers—those who lack off-trail experience may feel insecure walking where no trails exist.
Morning view of Three Fingered Jack from Canyon Creek Meadow. (T.D. Wood photo)
Stick-to-the-trail hikers can simply walk to the first major viewpoint of imposing Three Fingered Jack (a meadow about 3 miles into the hike), turn around and return via a clear trail to the parking lot.
The path even offers an alternate return route that creates a nice loop back to the lot. In the flower season (typically late July through August), when most hikers flock to this trail, the Forest Service requests that people travel one-way on the marked loop to keep trail traffic moving smoothly.
All of this is easy. So casual hikers can enjoy a modified version of this trip.
I’ll defer to Lorain’s description for the details on hiking this route. He describes an off-trail route that begins at a rocky pass close to the base of 7,841-foot Three Fingered Jack, 3.5 miles from the trailhead.
A panorama of Three Fingered Jack from the pass at its base. (T.D. Wood photo)
I accepted the modest off-trail challenge and enjoyed it, though no one should attempt it unless you or someone in your group has experience navigating trailless terrain.
Looking north from the rocky pass toward Mount Jefferson. (T.D. Wood photo)
Pass view (south) toward Mount Washington and Three Sisters Wilderness. Smoke from the now-contained Pole Creek Fire drifts around the peaks. (T.D. Wood photo)
One challenge: locating the Square Lake Trail for the left turn and return trip to the parking lot. It took longer than I anticipated, and the dusty path appears to have received little maintenance in recent years, so it’s a little tough to spot (depending where you intersect it on your off-trail ramble).
It passes through an area still scarred by a 2003 fire (the trees are standing snags), and the path does not stand out as vividly as you might expect. But backcountry-savvy eyes should not have too much trouble spotting it.
(Additional challenge: Autumn snow has fallen in the region since I returned from my hike. I spoke to a local ranger today. He tells me he has no recent report on he trail, but believes some snow may be encountered on the trail as of the moment, though would not expect it to be as heavy as the amounts accumulated on slopes in western Oregon. Call the Sisters ranger office for the latest info: 541-549-7700.)
Black Butte in the haze caused by this year's Pole Creek Fire. (T.D. Wood photo)
If you can’t visit this fall, pencil it in for wildflower season next season. Apparently the place is gorged with blossoms (chiefly lupine) in peak season.
Aim to hike it in morning light. If you prefer a hike in the area better suited to afternoon light, consider Lorain’s Grizzly Peak description, just a few pages away from the Canyon Creek outline offered here.
The Mountaineers Books also makes 2 other trips found in 100 Classic Hikes Oregon available for free, part of the company’s “freemium” download program. The destinations: Horse Rock Ridge, a dayhike, and Ice Lake, a backpacking trip. Scroll down on the page to locate the links.