Tails of the Three Sisters

Sound RIDER! logo


Yamaha Motorcycles Street Event - Cbarn


The The The Tails of the Three Sisters

Oregon's twisty, scenic and eerie ride

Here's a late season ride that has it's share of scenic, technical and eerie qualities. At 237 miles the Tails of the Three Sisters ride will take you all the way around Oregon's scenic mountain trio, past alpine lakes, along one of the twistiest roads in the state and finally across a young lava flow all in a single day.

Photo: Along the road at Mt. Bachelor looking northward to the
Three Sisters and Broken Top.

The ride begins in Sun River Oregon just a few miles north of La Pine off US97. At Sun River you'll find several eateries open early enough for breakfast. Our favorite, Sintra right at the gateway to the village area has a good bakery, several breakfast dishes and good coffee. A great place to review the route before you head out.

Depart Sun River along Spring River Road and follow the signs for Mount Bachelor. During the routing of this ride in August 2006 there was almost no traffic in this area. It's a popular route to the ski area in winter, but lightly traveled in summer. Take a right onto road 45 and follow it until it ends at the junction of SR46. Turn left and make your way to Mt. Bachelor. Here you'll find a nice spot to pull out at the ski resort, ascend the parking area and get a good look at two of the Three Sisters looking northward.

Exit the parking area continuing north. You are now riding the first of three tails during today's ride. Soon the road will swing 180 degrees and you'll descend into a valley loaded with lakes and reservoirs. The road here is called the Cascade Lakes Highway and sweeps you from one body of water to another. Along the way you'll find interpretive pullouts and scenic vista points for photos. Eventually the road ends at SR61. Turn right here and head toward SR58 which will take you to our next tail.

To reach the next tail ride SR58 west 40 miles past Oakridge and Willamette, then turn right onto Old Willamette Highway and follow it in about a mile to the old covered bridge at Westfir. This is the start of the second tail – The Aufderheide, a series of three forest roads that were stitched together in the 1980's to create FR19. The name given to this stretch was to memorialize Robert Aufderheide who ran the USFS Willamette Forest division from 1954 to 1959.

For motorcyclists the road is heaven. The 58 miles challenges your corning skills, serves up rhythmic twisties and sweepers and provides a Northwest roller coaster ride few other roads can rival. Pavement can vary along the length ranging from just paved to 'hey – it's time to pave this part too!' but all in all it's maintained fairly well. Several decreasing radius turns sneak up on you, in particular the one beyond mile post 12, a righty which will easily place you on the wrong side of the road if you don't pay attention.

Photo: The sign along McKenzie Pass means plenty of twisties ahead

The road was romanticized for motorcyclists as part of the series of Lines The Movie: Episode 3 – The Aufderheide . In the DVD Ducati rider, Adrenaline, takes you along the route sharing six camera angles you can switch between if you and your remote are so inclined.

As for scenery? Tree canopy, tree canopy and more tree canopy until you reach Cougar Reservoir when the sky finally opens. Basically because of the repetitive nature of what's around you, you're not so inclined to glare off the road and it's easy to stay focused on the reason you're here – dialing into your riding skills. Again on a weekday in mid summer we passed less than three vehicles along the 58 mile route.

OnceOnce you're dumped onto SR126 head east and get some lunch and fuel in nearby McKenzie Bridge.

The final tail we have yet to ride is both technical and eerie. Follow SR126 east to the turnoff for SR242 - The McKenzie Highway, a road which is not exactly a highway. The sign a few miles up from the start of the road says it all. 'Vehicles over 35 feet use turn around ahead.' Now this is the kind of sign east coasters wish they would find on the Tail of the Dragon at Deal's Gap in North Carolina – a road notorious for 18 wheeler boo boos leading to lousy riding experiences on an otherwise nice motorcycle road. But not the case here as the road is regulated and includes a detector that sets off a series of lights if someone in an extended vehicle attempts to enter.

Photo: A view along the lava plateau near McKenzie Pass >

FromFrom this point on the turns are challenging, tight and often blind. As you continue to ascend you eventually find yourself running along a forested plateau which eventually opens up to young lava fields. These are the fields of the Three Sisters burbled so recently nothing has grown here yet.

Eventually you'll come upon the Dee Wright Observatory which provides information about the lava flows and some great panoramic views of the area including the North and Middle Sister. The observatory itself is built from basaltic lava stones and includes several sighting ports from inside so you know what you're looking at. You could easily shoot a hundred photos from here and still want to take more.

Photo: Dee Wright Observatory built entirely from lava rocks. Creepy and awesome all in one breath. >

Be aware that because of the elevation of 5,300 feet, this road is only open from early June to late October on average. Consult Oregon DOT for closure information.

Descend to the town of Sisters where this ride officially ends. Sisters features a small town vibe and several motorcycle shops. Relax and revel in the memories of riding the Tails of the Three Sisters then start making plans for your next visit.

TM/Summer 06

Use the map below to assist with charting your course


We've worked hard to upgrade this site. Click here to notify us of any problems we need to correct.


Subscription has its privileges - Each month Sound RIDER! publishes new features on rides, clubs, dealers and events. Don't miss out on these informative stories.

Sign up today for your FREE subscription and you'll get notification each month when the new issue comes on line. You'll also be the first to find out about special Sound RIDER! events. From time to time, we also provide valuable coupons that can save you hundreds of dollars on motorcycle services. What are you waiting for? Click here to sign up now!