Back to our usual adventures this weekend! My Dad flew out from Michigan on Friday for our annual camping trip. The tradition started as a Father’s Day gift in 2006, when we decided to take him camping with us (since my Mom would never, ever be down for that ), and we’ve done it every year since. Up until this year though, it’s been car camping every time. Since we’ve come to love backpacking so much we decided to bring pops along for a new kind of experience.
We went back and forth a hundred times on where to go for the weekend, as the weather was not looking great anywhere near Portland. Mt. Hood, St. Helens and Adams all had forecasts of clouds and cold temps… not what I was looking for! We decided to make the extended drive out to Central Oregon to hike into Green Lakes, situated in Three Sisters Wilderness right between our old friends South Sister and Broken Top. This part of the state is considered high desert, so it’s almost guaranteed to be sunny (and it was definitely sunny in the daytime hours, but it surprised us all how cold it got that night). Still a good time had by all.
Three Sisters Wilderness, OR
Elevation: ~6,500 feet
Total hike distance: 9.46 miles (this can vary depending on where you camp)
Total elevation gain: 1,746 feet (also varies depending on campsite)
Click image for full GPS data
We took off early on Saturday and made it to the trailhead around 10:30am, and were greeted by about a hundred other cars. Oy. Luckily most of these seemed to be day hikers, but it was still a pretty busy area this weekend. While picking up our wilderness permit at the trailhead, we saw that there was a campfire ban where we were headed. Bummer! We’ve camped without a fire before, but I was most disappointed for my Dad because I know he loves campfires. Sorry Dad!!
It’s about a 4.1 mile hike to the Green Lakes, but not too much elevation gain, which made for a very pleasant hike. The trail follows the appropriately named Fall Creek for the first couple of miles, which is just lousy with waterfalls.
One of the many falls along the way
After the trail parts ways with Fall Creek, it follows a smaller creek the rest of the way to Green Lakes. This part of the trail is very cool, with rock slopes full of shiny Obsidian glinting in the sun, stream crossings and tons of wildflowers.
You can see Broken Top peeking out between the trees
One of the many little stream crossings
Bright and colorful flowers everywhere
A short time later we arrived at Green Lakes! The area consists of the main Green Lake, and the smaller North and South Green lakes on either side. Next task was to find our campsite. The process of finding a site here was different than anywhere we’ve been. It’s kind of organized, but also not. There are a number of designated campsites around the lakes (I think about 28 in all), which are numbered and have corresponding post markers at each site. A map of the area with the numbered campsites is available at the trailhead. But, there aren’t necessarily trails leading to all the sites; rather, they give you the GPS coordinates for each of the numbered sites, and you have to find your way there. Some of them are fairly obvious as they are close to the trail, but most of them take some wayfinding. It was early afternoon by the time we arrived in the area, so of course most of the sites that were relatively easy to find were already taken. Rather than all three of us wandering around trying to find a campsite, Paul took the map and GPS and set off to find our home for the night. With the GPS, he was able to find an available site (site #14 to be exact, near South Green Lake), hooray! This was one of the sites with no designated trail leading to it, and happened to be perched way up on a ridge. So, we climbed… straight up a fairly steep slope a good 100 vertical feet or so (and at that elevation, my Dad and I were huffin’ and puffin’ to get up there). Despite it not being the easiest site to get to, it actually was quite a nice spot. There weren’t any other sites within view which made it feel more secluded, and we still had a view of South Sister through the trees.
We got to work setting up camp, us in our tent and Dad in Paul’s brand new bivy sack. I think sleeping in a bivy sack makes Dad a more hardcore camper than myself… it’s basically a sleeping-bag-shaped tent with just a little head room on one end. Not for the claustrophobic.
Taking a little nap after setting up his sleeping quarters
ZZZZzzzzzzz… sorry Dad, had to post it
That’s some nice handiwork to keep this thing stable
Buckley’s already a very tired pup
After having a little Mountain House lunch (natch), we headed out to explore a bit more. Heading down the back of the ridge that we were camped on, there was a giant meadow sprawled out before Broken Top. Lots of cute little flowers (we were careful not to trample them), a creek, and amazing views to enjoy.
All the little plants and flowers made the ground look pink
The wide angle view: Mt. Bachelor waaaayy in the distance on the left, South Sister, and just the peaks of Middle and North Sister on the right
On the way back down
Back at camp, we downed a few more beers/glasses of wine/pulls of whiskey with dinner. When the sun started setting, it started getting cold. We all added as many layers as we could to keep warm… and the effing campfire ban didn’t help things! We did see a couple deer running our site after dark though, which was pretty cool. At about 9pm (maybe it was 10pm? who really knows) it was time to turn in, as it was just getting way too cold. We anticipated it would get down to maybe the upper 40s but damn… it was f-f-freezing. Luckily we all had several layers, so we were all just about warm enough overnight, but a few degrees cooler and we might have had some issues.
Usually once the sun starts to come up, it instantly warms up in the tent and I can sleep a couple more hours in peace. Not this time… I swear when the sun came up, it got colder. None of us wanted to get out of our sleeping bags until it was tolerable, so we ended up sleeping in until like 8:30am! That’s late, for us. Even then, when we got out of our tents we were greeted with frost on the outside. Frost! Luckily after that point it warmed up very quickly, and we were comfortable in no time.
We decided to gather our food and cookset and have breakfast down by the water. It was just beautiful… sunshine, blue skies, and crystal clear views of the mountains. That morning made up for the entire frigid night.
Good morning, South Sister
The panoramic view over South Green lake
Paul bringing us our morning coffee
After a (very) leisurely breakfast, we slowly started packing up to head out. It was quite a pleasant hike out, very flat but the creeks and falls made up for it.
My brand new 64-liter pack (so exciting!!), before shoving everything in it
A trailhead beer to celebrate the close of a great trip
After heading back through Bend for lunch (at the Bend Brewing Co.), we stopped at Smith Rock briefly just to show my Dad. Still an awesome place… maybe one day we’ll be good enough at rock climbing to scale some of these walls!
Despite the freezing cold and campfire ban, we had a great annual camping trip with Dad. Hopefully he thinks so too!