Moraine Lake sits at the southern base of the South Sister. photo by Craig Eisenbeis
Moraine Lake sits at the southern base of the South Sister. photo by Craig Eisenbeis

You've probably heard the hackneyed old tale of the answer to a confused traveler's query for directions, "You can't get there from here." Actually, it usually sounds more like, "You cain't get they-ah from hee-yah," and is most often attributed to old codgers in Maine.

Moraine Lake is nothing like that; there are lots of ways to get there.

Moraine Lake can be reached from Devil's Lake, the Green Lakes Trailhead, the Mirror Lake Trailhead, the Wickiup Plain Trail, and - if you're feeling really adventurous - from the Obsidian Trail off the McKenzie Highway.

Situated at an elevation of 6,450 feet, precisely at the southern base of the South Sister, Moraine Lake is nearly surrounded on three sides by - you probably guessed this - a gigantic moraine. Only the eastern edge of its glacial basin falls away to allow Goose Creek to find a way out and eventually the several miles and a thousand feet of elevation down to Sparks Lake on the Cascade Lakes Highway.

For this hike, we decided to use two of the shorter routes and a car drop to do a one-way partial loop of about 7.5 miles. We left a car at Devil's Lake and started our hike from the Green Lakes Trailhead about two miles to the east. The Green Lakes Basin is one of the most popular destinations in all of the Three Sisters Wilderness, so you can expect lots of foot and horse traffic. I've reached Green Lakes both from this trailhead and, in a much more tortuous route, from the Obsidian Trail to the north. This time, however, we planned to turn off to the west less than half way to the lakes themselves.

The Green Lakes Trail follows the course of Fall Creek due north for about a mile and a half. The predominantly pine forest offers a mix of sun and shade along one of the most traveled foot paths in the region. When the trail bends left to lead almost due west, it's less than a quarter mile to the junction of the Moraine Lake Trail. Take that fork to the left, and it's only about 1.2 miles to Moraine Lake.

The entire thousand feet of elevation gain is evenly distributed over the three miles or so and is a very pleasant walk. The only complaint I heard on this trip was at the lake from a hiker in another party who groused about the attire, or rather the lack thereof, of a couple on the far side of the lake. He vented his disapproval while carefully studying the problem through binoculars. At this point, the lake is nearly a quarter mile across, and the people in question were hardly visible to the naked eye.

The lake itself sits at what was once the snout of a now long-gone glacier at the foot of the South Sister, which rises in all its splendor from unimpeded viewpoints all along the lake's shoreline. The south-side climber's trail is clearly visible as it winds its way toward the summit. This is a great place to stop for lunch and just enjoy the closeness to the mountain, and it's hard to take your eyes off the peak.

To complete our one-way circuit, we headed southwest up the moraine on the well-used trail. This took us to the highest point of our hike; and this was the steepest portion, as well. There is no need to hurry up the slope, so be sure to stop every so often to look back and enjoy the sweeping views of the lake, the mountain, and the surrounding wilderness.

Only a half mile from the lake, we encountered the principal South Sister climber's trail. At this point, the hiker can choose to take the shortest route back to the highway by following the climber's trail south along Hell Creek to Devil's Lake. Completing the trip this way results in a shorter hike of about five miles.

Instead, we chose a longer option by hiking to the Wickiup Plain Trail and following it back to Devil's Lake for a total of about 7.5 miles. This is an interesting route that skirts around the base of Kaleetan Butte, although the main reason we chose to go that way was simply because five miles didn't seem like a long enough hike that day.

The last half mile to the highway was through an area that, at times, was a bit chopped up from heavy foot and horse traffic - and erosion. The final feature of the hike was passage through a large steel culvert beneath the highway. From there, it was a couple of hundred yards back to the Devil's Lake parking lot.

To reach these trailheads, take Highway 20 east to Highway 97 in Bend and take the Century Drive exit to reach the Cascade Lakes Highway. At Mt. Bachelor Ski Area, stay right for another five miles to the Green Lakes Trailhead and another two miles to the Devil's Lake parking area. These are

fee-use areas.