With plenty of Western flair, Sisters invites your family to explore all that Central Oregon has to offer.
On the eastern flank of the Cascade Mountain range, you’ll find one of my favorite Central Oregon destinations: Sisters. The mountains here not only define the landscape but also give the town her name. The three prominent peaks are collectively known as the “Three Sisters;” individually, the peaks are Faith, Hope, and Charity. Sisters is high desert country and an absolute paradise for outdoor enthusiasts with abundant hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, and skiing.
But there’s a more sophisticated side to Sisters, as well. This town embraces its Western roots in an upscale, rustic sort of way. The main street is lined with Old West facades and wooden posts with hanging lanterns; even the trash cans are made from repurposed wine barrels topped with metal silhouettes of bucking broncos, cowboys, and native wildlife. Simply put, Sisters has an irresistible charm that will have you and your family coming back again and again.
What to do?
Start with a stroll down the main street, known as Cascade Avenue, as well as the parallel street to the south, Hood Avenue. Each is lined with galleries showcasing Western and Native American art, unique shops, and restaurants. Typically, I don’t like to shop on vacation, but I have to say that the quaint boutiques here are tempting. If you want to look the part, mosey - yes, I said mosey - into one of several stores selling Western wear, complete with cowboy hats and boots. Sisters also has an inordinate number of shops with Western and lodge-style home décor.
If you get a chance to slip away from the kids - or should I say “sip” - head to Hop Spa (371 W. Cascade Ave.) which claims to be American’s first beer spa. Yes, you actually soak in a cedar tub filled with craft brew-inspired ingredients, minerals, and proprietary additives with a promise to detox, improve your skin tone, and reduce stress. All the while, you can enjoy a pint from Deschutes Brewery. Follow your soak with a full massage. Or opt for the hoppy foot soak and massage. These microbrew treatments can be enjoyed alone or as a couple.
The region boasts dozens of family-friendly hikes. My favorites are each about a 40- minute drive outside Sisters. Southwest of Sisters, you’ll find the trailhead for Proxy Falls right off Highway 242. It’s an easy 1-1/4-mile loop to see one of the most photographed waterfalls in Oregon. Or head northwest along Highway 20 to jump on the moderate, 3-mile McKenzie River Waterfalls Loop Trail with spectacular views of Sahalie and Koosah Falls. For an easy hike along the incredibly scenic Metolius River, head toward Camp Sherman and then to the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery parking area.
If you’re looking for more exertion, hike the moderately strenuous, 3.8-mile trail to Black Butte Lookout. You’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views of Sisters Country. Or head north of Redmond for a day at Smith Rock State Park. In addition to hiking, Smith Rock is the most popular spot in the state for rock climbing. Take a family course with the guides from Smith Rock Climbing School.
KidTripster Tip: If you’re hiking any of the mountains surrounding Sisters during the summer, start early in the day. You’ll find that south-facing slopes really heat up in the afternoon.
If biking is more your speed, you can rent from Blazin Saddles (413 W. Hood Ave.). The staff here can direct you to either road or mountain biking routes to fit your family’s skill level. If you’re a serious mountain biker, don’t miss the chance to ride the 23-mile McKenzie River Trail, considered one of the best trails in the USA.
Or if you’re looking to sit a different kind of saddle, head over to Black Butte Ranch about 9 miles outside of town. The stables are located just inside the entrance and behind the General Store. Here you and your kids (7 and older) can sign up for a guided, one-hour trail ride for beginners or a half- or full-day ride for more advanced riders. Wear long pants and sturdy boots or shoes; helmets are provided. Cost: Beginner/1-hour ride $50; Intermediate/2-hour ride $60 to $70; Advanced/half- or full-day ride $145 to $225 (includes lunch). To learn about more activities at Black Butte Ranch, click here.
If you’re visiting during the winter, the nearest ski area is Hoodoo, located 20 miles northwest of downtown.
Where to eat?
Dining in Sisters is a breeze. Restaurants are casual and inviting; most offer outdoor seating where fidgety kids can burn off some energy while waiting for their grub.
Let’s start with breakfast. Head over to The Cottonwood Cafe (403 E. Hood Ave), housed in a quaint cottage with a shaded backyard that’s welcoming to well-behaved, four-legged diners. My husband and I had the hearty Farmers’ Scramble, but both of us stole a piece of French toast from our son’s plate! The portions are large here, so you may want to consider sharing. The space, on the other hand, is on the smaller side, so call ahead for reservations or be prepared to wait on weekend mornings.
Oregonians do love their coffee, so it’s no surprise that there’s a number of coffee spots in Sisters. Big on Oregonian ambience, I’d recommend a stop at Sisters Coffee Company (273 W. Hood Ave.) Get your coffee and freshly baked scone to savor at one of the large communal tables in front of the stone fireplace. Don’t have that kind of time? Well, you can always hit the drive-thru at favorite Dutch Bros. Coffee (442 E. Hood Ave.).
Speaking of perennial favorites, many families wouldn’t consider a visit to Sisters without a stop at Sno Cap Drive-in, home to the best burgers and ice cream in town. Seriously, order a milkshake - I’d recommend Oregon marionberry - or a cone.
And for the full Western experience, you must have dinner at Slick’s Que Co. (442 E. Hood Ave.), serving authentic pit barbeque. Bring your appetite! The super friendly staff at the counter is happy to expel the virtues of their 16-hour, smoked-on-site meat and tasty selection of sauces. My whole family opted for the melt-in-your-mouth pulled pork sandwich served with a side of slaw, baked beans (get the beans!), watermelon, and orange slice. And the gal at the counter easily talked me into the frozen margarita which was like a lemonade slushy - with a kick!
KidTripster Tip: Look for the hand-washing station in the dining room. The kids will be amused, trust me.
Where to stay?
If you’re looking for a modern yet rustic vibe, consider Five Pine Lodge just on the outskirts of downtown Sisters. This resort offers both impeccably-decorated cabins and townhouse suites to accommodate families; three cabins also accommodate pets for an additional $25/night. Amenities include complimentary nightly wine and beer reception, access to Sisters Athletic Club, outdoor heated pool, complimentary cruiser bikes, and free WiFi. There’s also a spa, brewpub, and four-screen movie house on site. Rates start at $149/night.
If you're looking for a full-on resort experience with golf and plenty of on-site activities, head to Black Butte Ranch, just outside of Sisters. Read our full review here.
There are plenty of tent and RV campgrounds in the area, but you can’t beat the location of city-run Creekside Campground. Less than a five-minute walk to restaurants and shops, Creekside sits adjacent to a city park that often hosts community events. Know that the campground’s website doesn’t do this place justice! Cost: Tent/No Hook-up RV site $20/night; Full hook-up RV site $40-45/night.
KidTripster Tip: If you’re looking to avoid crowds and inflated lodging rates, avoid the weekend of Sisters Annual Lacrosse Invitational (SALI) in May, the Sisters Rodeo in June, Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show in July, and Sisters Folk Festival in September.
Sisters in located in Central Oregon about a 30-minute drive northwest of Bend and 3-1/2-hour drive southeast of Portland.
Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah lives with her husband and two sons in Portland, Oregon. She can’t stop thinking about the turquoise cowboy boots that she should have bought in Sisters.