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The Three Sisters, a trio of mighty volcanoes borne from the molten heart of the earth, tower over central Oregon and usually demand my attention. But come midsummer, it’s hard to look up: Vast meadows of wildflowers sprawl across the ridgetops and valley bottoms, draping the Sisters with colorful robes of blooms and making the view at boot level downright stunning.
Blue lupines, fiery red Indian paintbrush, pink rhododendrons, and orange tiger lilies weave a rich tapestry of color through the wilderness. Depending on the vagaries of snowmelt and sunshine, you might find slopes awash in glacier lilies, marsh marigolds, shooting stars, lady slippers, monkey flowers, columbine, phlox, cats’ ears, wild sunflowers, and many other blooms.
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) traverses the Three Sisters Wilderness for 75 flower-filled miles, rolling north to south between McKenzie and Willamette passes, and skirting a number of small lakes and meadows along the way. For a short loop hike, start at McKenzie Pass and link the PCT with Horse Lake Trail and Separation Creek Trail, rejoining the PCT at the base of Middle Sister (about 45 miles total). Along the way, remember to look up from the flowers and admire the Three Sisters in all their splendor.
From Eugene, drive 55 miles east
on OR 126 to the OR 242 junction. Continue east on OR 242 to McKenzie Pass and the PCT trailhead.
Pacific Northwest Hiking: The Complete Guide to 1,000 of the Best Hikes in Washington and Oregon, by Ron C. Judd and Dan A. Nelson (Foghorn Press, 800-788-3123; $20.95). National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers: Western Region (Knopf, 800-733-3000; $19).
McKenzie Ranger District, Willamette National Forest, (541) 822-3381. Sisters Ranger District, Deschutes National Forest, (541) 549-2111.