Three Sisters Loop (Lava Beds Wilderness) 31-May-2019

These are not the Three Sisters in Oregon you are seeking. Rather these are three small cinder cones a few miles north of the visitor center in Lava Beds National Monument. The loop past these Three Sisters got added to our hikes list after it appeared in the November 2018 issue of Backpacker magazine (yes, how quaint, printed material). The trick was to find a time that was optimal re: the weather – not too hot, not too cold. Now seemed like that time, what with snow still blocking trails in the high country and thunderstorms keeping the desert cool. With The LovedOne mired in running the library’s quarterly book sale, I made the two hour drive to the monument alone. 😦

Because of concerns about White-Nose Syndrome (a disease fatal to bats), you’ll need a cave permit even if you are just hiking and don’t plan on entering any of the monument’s caves. Obtain this permit (free) at the entrance station or the visitor center.

This 10-mile loop – mostly through the Lava Beds Wilderness – winds its way along all or parts of the Lyons, Three Sisters, Bunchgrass, and Missing Link Trails. There is a trailhead in Loop A of the campground but I couldn’t find anywhere to park there that didn’t look like it wasn’t part of a campsite. Instead, I parked at at Skull Cave and started the loop on the Lyons Trail from there. So, north to an unsigned junction with the Three Sisters Trail, then a big “U” out and back on that trail to the campground. A short paved walk through the campground was required to reach the Bunchgrass Trail, which starts from the group campsite on the west side of Loop B. A short stroll down the Bunchgrass brought me to the Missing Link Trail and that one took me back to Skull Cave – just in time for a school bus parked nearby to disgorge 40 kids on a field trip to the cave.

Unlike the caves, which are the main attraction at this monument, this loop hike is all about big views in all directions. I passed some inaccessible lava tubes but mostly just gazed out over sagebrush and through junipers to watch Schonchin Butte first recede and then gain on the horizon. Watching the thunderheads build steadily all around me added a certain electrifying frisson to the hike. But no rain was shed or bolts flung until after I’d made it back to the parking lot. Otherwise the hiking weather was perfect, with sunshine 😎 and a cooling breeze on an easy trail. Too bad The LovedOne missed it. 😦 But the book sale went real well, so I suppose literacy is a fair trade for a hike. 🙂

Schonchin Butte from the Lyons Trail
Looking west along the Lyons Trail
Threadleaf Phacelia
Looking west from the Three Sisters Trail
The Three Sisters
The Three Sisters
Clouds over Schonchin Butte
Looking west from the Three Sisters Trail
The Three Sisters Trail turns to the south
Then it turns to the west, toward the campground
Schoncin Butte (again) from the west-bound Three Sisters Trail
Schoncin Butte (yet again) from nearer the campground
One of the caves (collapsed lava tubes) along the Three Sisters Trail
Along the Missing Link Trail
A last look at Schonchin Butte from the Missing Link Trail
The Three Sisters Loop

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