This is an intermediate 56-mile fastpacking loop that crosses through the Three Sistsers Wilderness area, but doesn't require pre-purchasing a permit ahead of time. On day 2, you'll need to fill out a free self-issued permit from a kiosk at a trail junction.
This is a 2-night loop and both campsites are situated just outside the wilderness area to avoid the need for an overnight permit.
- Map: 3SW No-Permit Loop - CalTopo (all mileages given on this page reference this map)
- Distance: 56 miles, with a lot of options
- Elevation gain: 7700 feet
- Generai terrain: Smooth, well-travelled dirt trails, rocky in places. Long hills but not steep. A few creek crossings, but none require wet feet.
- Permit: As mapped, this route does not require pre-purchasing a wilderness permit. To camp in the wilderness you need a Central Cascades Wilderness Overnight Permit. See How to book a permit for the Three Sisters Wilderness.
- Warning: The Flagline Trail is closed until August 15 every year for elk calving in the earlier part of the summer. To do this route before August 15, you'll need to use another route back to the start/finish on day 3.
- Tumalo Falls - Mile 3
- Little Three Creek Lake - Mile 16
- Park Meadow - Mile 22
- Green Lakes Pass - Mile 24
- Green lakes - Mile 25
- Moraine Lake - Mile 30
- Quinn Springs - Mile 36
I like this as a 3-day route, appropriate for a fastpack trip with relatively low mileage. For the first day, start at Skyliners Sno Park and camp at Little Three Creek Lake. On the second day, cross through the Three Sisters Wilderness and camp at Quinn Springs, the headwaters of Quinn Creek. On the third day, loop around back to the start.
The first day is 16 miles, and begins with a long, consistent uphill to mile 9.5 along the Metolius-Windigo Trail. After this, descend to the road crossing at Three Creek Meadow. Proceed through the horse camp, following Metolius-Windigo Trail, until you get to a trail intersection leading to Little Three Creek Lake. At this intersection, you can fill out a wilderness permit for Day 2. Make sure to date it correctly. Follow the trail uphill and find a good campsite somewhere near the lake.
Day 2 is approximately 20 miles as mapped. Leave Little Three Creek Lake, and if you didn't get your day permit yet, go down to the Metolius-Windigo interesection to fill it out. Otherwise, you can turn left at the first intersection heading into the Three Sisters Wilderness and toward Park Meadow. From Park Meadow you will climb up and over Green Lakes Pass, down to Green Lakes, then down and up again to Moraine Lake. Then you'll jump onto the South Sister climbers trail, descend to Devil's Lake, and continue southward to Quinn Springs, an interesting area where you can set up camp #2.
Day 3 is approximately 20 miles. The first half of the day is gradual uphill as you climb the Metolius-Windigo trail on your way to Flagline. Then you'll descend Flagline Trail and South Fork Trail back to Tumalo Creek Trail, which will return you to your start.
- From the Green Lakes area, you can do an out-and-back to (almost) summit Brokentop. Or you can summit South Sister, then take the main climbers trail down to Devils Lake.
- The first 7 miles of the route contain frequent access to Tumalo creek and its tributaries, until you leave Happy Valley. Clean water, reliable year round.
- Mile 8.8 - Bottle Creek is marked as intermittent on most maps, but at this spot it reliably contains water year-round as there is a spring nearby. Fill up here.
- Mile 14.6 - Get water from this creek near the Metolius-Windigo / Little Three Creek Lake / Park Meadow intersection.
- Mile 16 - Outflow creek from Little Three Creek Lake
- Mile 19.2 - Snow Creek runs reliably and clear.
- Mile 20.6 - Whychus Creek. Usually silty, but a small reliable tributary feeds into it here. Cross Whychus and find the tributary to your left as you proceed along the trail.
- Mile 21.8 - Park Creek, reliable and clear. Lots of mosquitos here through August.
- At camp, you can get water from the outlet or inlet creeks to Golden Lake, or the lake itself.
- Mile 24.9 - Creek between two of the Green Lakes, reliable
- Mile 27.8 - Cross Fall Creek. Get water for the next stretch, particularly if you don't like getting lake water.
- Mile 29.7 - Moraine Lake
- Mile 32 - Creeks around Devils Lake
- Mile 35 or so - Quinn Springs. Get water for the next stretch
- Mile 42 - Cross Todd Creek near the horse camp. Carry plenty of water.
- Mile 50.9 - From this switchback on South Fork Trail, you can hike a short distance into the woods to get water from South Fork Tumalo Creek. Water is more clearly accessible from a lower switchback if you can wait.
- Mile 53.4 - Last easily accessible water, less than 3 miles to finish.
- 0 - Starting at Skyliners Sno Park, take the Tumalo Creek Trail 3 miles to Tumalo Falls.
- 3 - Take the North Fork Trail past the falls to Happy Valley.
- 6.6 - Cross the bridge, taking the Metolius Windigo Trail northbound.
- 7.7 - Continue on Metolius Windigo trail by crossing the road intersection.
- 14.2 - Cross gravel road and head into the horse camp. Watch for sign for Metolius-Windigo Trail, which you'll continue on for a short distance.
- 14.7 - After the creek crossing, grab a permit for day 2 at the kiosk. Turn left at the trail intersection to head up to Little Three Creek Lake.
- 15.4 - Proceed straight through the intersection. Tomorrow, this is where you'll turn toward Park Meadow.
- 16 - Arrive at Little Three Creek Lake. Find a campsite.
- 16.4 (cumulative) Turn left toward Park Meadow.
- 18.9 - Left on Park Meadow Trail
- 21.8 - After crossing Park Creek, Left on Green Lakes Trail
- 26 - Proceed downhill on Green Lakes Trail
- 28.2 - Right on Moraine Lake Trail
- 30.5 - Left on South Sister Climbers Trail
- 32.4 - Devils Lake Trailhead. Continue straight through and find trailhead on the south side, leading south on the Katsuk Pond Trail.
- 35.5 - Right toward Quinn Springs / Headwaters. Find a suitable campsite.
- 36 - Left on Appaloosa Trail
- 37.6 - Left on Metolius-Windigo Trail
- 42 - at Todd Horse Camp, turn Right to cross the creek and continue on Metolius-Windigo Trail
- 44.5 - Right on Flagline Trail
- 50 - Left on Swampy Loop
- 50.1 - Left on South Fork
- 53.4 - Rioght on Tumalo Creek Trail