Best known for its 1880s-style façades and view of the trio of towering mountains it’s named after, Sisters is downright adorable but has probably always been a pit stop on your journeys—never the destination.
After all, you can gaze at the Three Sisters from Bend, a much larger city 30 minutes east that’s packed with breweries, bike trails and boutiques. Over the past few decades, it’s grown into Oregon’s ultimate destination for outdoor adventure. Sisters, meanwhile, developed a sleepier reputation as a hub for quilt-loving grandmas (the town hosts the world’s largest outdoor quilt show) who would also be delighted by the sight of a Bi-Mart that looks like a Wild West mercantile, and public trash cans made of wooden barrels.
But that’s all changing.
Thanks to the opening of a variety of new businesses, this town of approximately 3,000 has started to attract a livelier crowd. Last year alone saw the launch of a ski chalet-themed taphouse-hotel in the heart of downtown, an off-the-main-drag brewery specializing in wild-fermented ales, and an indoor-outdoor food cart pod anchored by a bar that looks like a rustic sanctuary. That’s not to mention the area’s abundance of trails, shimmering lakes and rivers stocked with kokanee, whitefish and trout, as well as ranches where you can play cowboy by hopping on a horse and riding through ponderosa forests.
Better yet: You’re not in Bend, so you’ll rarely end up lingering in a line, and there’s always an open picnic table or barstool. So when Central Oregon calls to you this summer, break tradition and embrace Sisters’ Old West charm.
Sleep Above a Ski Lodge-Themed Taphouse
Unless you once called Sisters home, you’ve probably never heard of the Ski Inn (310 E Cascade Ave., sisterstaphousehotel.com). The breakfast-and-burger cafe had been adored by locals since 1971, but it never achieved the status of tourist destination. However, with the Ski Inn’s relaunch, the out-of-towners are calling. There is no direct tie between the boutique hotel and taproom, which opened in June 2021, and the original diner, which was wiped out by a massive pine that toppled over in a windstorm. But Ski Inn owner and Bend-based builder Jim Yozamp did keep the name as a tribute.
Though only a year old, the reclaimed brick, rustic wood and distressed steel details authentically age the first-floor bar—an ambience Yozamp was aiming for. “When people ask me if this was an old mechanic shop,” he explains, “I couldn’t be more proud.” Of course, your ultra-modern room upstairs gives away the ruse. It’s still somewhat rare to find a bar-and-bed combo, but Yozamp says adding a second floor for overnight accommodations was the plan from the outset. We’re just happy it all penciled out, giving Sisters its only lodging option in the center of the community and beer-loving visitors an easy route to stagger back to their rooms.
Eat All the Smoked Meats
After your lobbyless check-in (door codes are emailed), there’s no need to travel far for dinner, particularly after a three-hour drive. Head downstairs to the Taphouse, where the menu centers on an industrial-sized smoker out back. When available, order the smoke shack sampler and be prepared to share. The massive platter of brisket, ribs, dry-rubbed wings, sweet potato wedges, and chips with queso is a substantial roundup of the pub’s meats and snacks. Though that would mean missing out on the campfire-tinged, beer-braised pulled pork, which does wonders to a burrito smothered in cheese and verde gravy as well as a nacho plate. Vow to return and order more, then take a beer from one of the 16 taps up to your balcony, accessible to overnight guests only. Sink into one of the Adirondack chairs assembled out of actual skis and enjoy the impressive view of the mountains in the distance and Highway 20 traffic below you.
Journey Into the Wild Blue Yonder
Distance: 5.4 miles Difficulty Level: Moderate Start Point: West Metolius Trailhead in the Lower Canyon Creek Campground Elevation Gain: 100 ft
Travelers drawn to water are always searching for the perfect blue, whether that’s the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, Iceland’s sapphire lagoons, or the cobalt-colored lakes of the U.S. mountain ranges. Somehow, the Metolius River dazzles in each of those shades and more, making it perhaps the most stunning of all the state’s waterways.
Emerging near the base of Black Butte, the Metolius is one of the largest spring-fed rivers in the country, and the best route to follow a portion of its 29-mile path begins at a small campground 30 minutes northwest of Sisters. The trail never veers from the water, which is, at times, placid and teal, then moments later you’ll be strolling by a section of indigo-hued thundering rapids. The Metolius’ fickle nature attracts both fly fishers hoping to snag a kokanee or trout as well as turbulence-seeking kayakers.
About 2 miles in, the whitewater is split by a chain of small islands covered in wildflowers like lupine and Peck’s penstemon, which grows only in the Sisters area. Soon, the trail climbs higher, placing you above the river instead of right next to it. You’ll then reach the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery (7500 Forest Service Road 14, Camp Sherman, 541-595-6611), which raises spring Chinook and summer steelhead that end up in tributaries across the Deschutes River Basin. Since the 35-acre state-run site is open to the public, you’re free to wander the grounds. Don’t forget to bring quarters—25 cents gets you a handful of pellets from a candy dispensing-style machine. Watch in glee as the fish whip themselves into a whirlpool as they race to get to the food.
Have Lunch at a Butcher Block
This artisanal butchery is known for its top-quality cold case cuts, wide variety of brats, as well as an impressive lineup of smoked sausages and cheeses, all made in house. Some of those cured products can be placed between two slices of bread and eaten right then and there at Sisters Meat and Smokehouse (110 S Spruce St., 541-719-1186, sistersmeat.com), and since everybody knows sandwiches always taste better when somebody else makes them, refuel at the big red barn across from Ski Inn. Turkey shavings are piled high and barely held together by airy white bread slathered in mayo. Those craving red meat should order the tri-tip, which is covered in barbecue sauce and tucked into a toasted French roll. Each sandwich comes with a bag of chips and a warm cookie that is best enjoyed with draft beer on the covered patio or open lawn.
Look Rodeo Ready
If you want to go all in on the Western theme, you’ll need the right duds. Dixie’s (100 E Cascade Ave., 541-549-6451, dixies.com), downtown’s apparel destination named after the owner’s mother, can have you looking like an authentic ranch hand or a gussied-up rodeo queen in a matter of minutes. The shelves are piled high with denim, there are rows and rows of boots (both practical and flamboyant), and Stetsons are stocked in colors other than traditional black and white. Even if you’re not in the market for a dude ranch makeover, the store is still a handy place to pick up the hiking socks you forgot to pack.
Take an Ice Cream Break
While licking your ice cream scoop outside Sno Cap Drive In (380 W Cascade Ave., 541-549-6151), you half expect Guy Fieri to roll up in his bright red convertible, film crew in tow. The simple yet charming 1952 cinder-block building advertising “old-fashioned hamburgers” looks exactly like the kind of greasy spoon that would attract the mayor of Flavortown during his unending American road trip. The griddles and fryers are always hard at work, but the goodies you came here for are of the frozen variety. While most ice cream parlors commit to either hard pack or soft serve, Sno Cap has both. On top of that, there’s a menu of 30 milkshake flavors. As of spring, the compact dining room remained closed, but there’s something pleasantly nostalgic about ordering from a walk-up window and then racing against the sun to finish your cone on the patio.
Sample Experimental IPAs
Any beer nerd who takes Highway 20 to Bend has made Three Creeks Brewing (721 S Desperado Court, 541-549-1963, threecreeksbrewing.com) a mandatory stop. Now that you’re staying in town, there’s time to linger, so sip your way through the Brewer’s Choice IPA Series—three experimental beers whose recipes will be continually tweaked until a winner is selected. Dankness on the Edge of Town lives up to its name thanks to a resinous West Coast-style, pine-sap flavor. There’s also the fruitier Gold Digger IPA that gushes with lemons and lychee. If you’re eating dinner without kids, take a seat in the bar behind the Old West-style swinging doors. The room offers a peek into the brewhouse through windows on one wall and a view of Three Creeks’ trophy cases, which by now should be displaying the brewery’s most recent plaque from the 2022 World Beer Cup.
Watch Blockbusters in a Barn
Right across the parking lot from Three Creeks is a theater like no other in Oregon. Modeled after the high desert’s many brick-red barns, Sisters Movie House (720 S Desperado Court, 541-549-8800, sistersmoviehouse.com) is one of the more conspicuous buildings lining the town’s main arterial. Inside, the old-fashioned farm theme continues with decorative touches in the form of pitchforks, shovels and cast-iron tractor seats. However, the four screens with stadium-style auditoriums are quite modern. Like many Portland theaters, this one has an on-site cafe with a menu of burgers, pizza and wraps as well as $5 pints. And if you need help deciding what to see, the sandwich board out front includes not only movie titles and showtimes, but also their Rotten Tomatoes ratings.
Dig Into a Farm-Fresh Brunch
Since we live in one of the most agriculturally diverse and bountiful areas of the country, Oregonians are blessed with an abundance of restaurants and markets that source ingredients within a few miles radius of their location. Rainshadow Organics (72190 Holmes Road, 541-977-6746, rainshadoworganics.com) may just hold the record for shortest kitchen commute—its food travels only a quarter mile from farm to plate. Take a quick trip yourself 15 minutes northeast of Sisters for a three-course brunch highlighting the Certified Organic produce that’s pulled from the dirt you can see from your seat on the farm store’s sheltered porch.
Rainshadow originally added a commercial kitchen in 2016 to preserve its harvests by preparing sauces and fermented foods. However, it has been slowly ramping up the events side of the business by hosting weddings, leisurely midmorning weekend meals, and long-table dinners in the field. Should you happen to visit on a day without a meal on the calendar, stock up at the market, which sells homey, hand-labeled jars of jams, relishes and pickled vegetables all the colors of the rainbow.
Take the Reins
The first thing you’ll notice as you approach the corral at Black Butte Ranch (13899 Bishops Cap, 541-595-2061, blackbutteranch.com) are, of course, the dozens of majestic horses. The second thing you’ll notice are the signs warning about injury and death. “No horse, mule or pony is a completely safe animal,” one reads. “Horses, mules and ponies are 20 to 40 times more powerful than a human.” The view of the gentle-looking giants doesn’t really square with the notices urging caution, at least not until you’re on the back of one, 6 feet off the ground. At that point, you realize you’re behind the wheel of a car you (in my case) haven’t driven for years, the route is all off road, and the “car” has a mind of its own.
Fortunately, my horse—a brown-and-white pinto named Lennie—was like an oversized dog. He was well trained, starting and stopping every time our guide did—no prompting required—and affectionate; every time our dude string paused, Lennie would nuzzle my boot.
Black Butte Ranch offers a variety of guided horseback tours—from easy Lil Buckaroo Corral Rides to advanced daylong treks through Central Oregon’s backcountry. Since I last sat in a saddle a few years ago, I signed up for the Big Loop Ride, a 3.3-mile jaunt through a forest of red-trunk ponderosas and spindly, white alders. The route gives you the opportunity to take your horse down a shallow incline and up a hill. There are also several long, flat stretches, where you’ll shift into a higher gear and give trotting a try. Since I’d forgotten how to post, or rhythmically rise in and out my seat for a smoother ride, I felt like a paddle ball, at one point convinced I was going to bounce out of my saddle. Somehow, I clung on, and neither Lennie nor I seemed worse for the wear by the end.
Tackle a Mountain Bike Trail
If you’re looking for a little more trail time, switch up your saddle and rent a bike from Eurosports (223 E Hood Ave., 541-549-2471, eurosports.us). A fleet of cycles beckons outside, which can be borrowed for a day or an entire week. From there, you’re just blocks from the Peterson Ridge Trail, an extensive network of paths more than 20 miles long. Designed as a ladder system, riders can choose multiple rungs along the way when they’re ready to head back. Once you’ve returned to Eurosports, hydrate with one of the six beers or ciders on tap, then park your weary buns at a picnic table. Three food carts serving tacos, Thai noodles and Nashville-style hot chicken have turned the shop’s courtyard into a bustling pod that attracts cyclists and stationary customers alike.
Bring in da Funk
When Funky Fauna Artisan Ales (211 Sun Ranch Drive, #101, 720-341-7480, funkyfaunabeer.com) opened in December 2021, it doubled the brewery population in Sisters. Three Creeks has long been the only game in town, and in general, it’s welcome news for all beer producers when new ones launch nearby—drinkers like to pub hop, and in many cities, that trend has spun off entirely new tourism pitches (see the neighboring Bend Ale Trail). It also helps that Funky Fauna sets itself apart by focusing on wild ales, which are fermented with foraged yeast, and then served in a sleek, modern taproom with black matte tile, vibrant green foliage, and oak barrels that double as a decorative barrier. The brewery leaves room on its tap list for Pilsners and IPAs, but the heart, soul and flavor of this business lies in the saisons, like An Ocean Warmed by the Sun, hopped with Oregon-grown Strata that tastes more like a peach than the actual fruit.
Eat Like a Barnyard Piggy
By now, you’ve noticed that barns abound in Sisters, but this one may just be the most handsome. Opened in late 2021, The Barn (171 E Main Ave., 541-904-4343, thebarninsisters.com) is a 10,000-square-foot lot with four food trucks and a centerpiece bar that, given its soaring steeple and stained glass, looks more like a church than a shelter for farming equipment. Outside, the scenery is dominated by a giant dirt clod that attracts children despite the rope and “keep off” signs. Until whatever has been planted there grows in, turn your attention to the fire pit zones, whoever’s playing on stage, and the food.
Time Travel in an Century-Old Bar
Most of the buildings in downtown Sisters are modern-day replicas of old-fashioned exteriors, but not Sisters Saloon (190 E Cascade Ave., 541-549-7427, sisterssaloon.net). The former hotel was built in 1912 and is said to be one of the most photographed properties in Central Oregon. That makes sense. You could easily imagine a quick-draw shootout taking place in the street out front. The restored bar is where you’ll want to hunker down if you like your ceilings covered in stamped copper and walls adorned with taxidermy.
Boat Across a Glacier-Fed Lake
A Central Oregon trip wouldn’t be complete without a visit to one of the sparkling, glacier-fed pools that are scattered across the Cascade Range. Suttle Lake (fs.usda.gov) is a crystal-clear, 253-acre beauty that’s only about 18 minutes west of Sisters and on your way home along Highway 20. Stretch your legs before the long drive with an easy 3.6-mile shoreline loop hike, or get out on the water if you’ve brought a kayak. Suttle Lake Lodge (13300 Highway 20, 541-638-7001, thesuttlelodge.com) offers seasonal paddle board and canoe rentals, or for those who prefer to end a weekend getaway on a mellow note, the Boathouse bar and restaurant has gourmet coffee, cocktails and craft beer—any of which are the perfect accompaniment to the magnificent views of the blue basin.