GPS: 44°17'N 121°32'W
Sisters is often chalked up as just a small cow-town. But set as it is against the 4,817-foot (1,468-meter) Santiam Pass, in the fertile Willamette Valley, surrounded by peaks, rivers, and forests, we see Sisters for what it really is: a mecca of hiking, rafting, road-cycling, and mountain-biking in the summer and skiing in the winter.
In the summer, take on the Class III rapids of the McKenzie River. The Wild and Scenic waterway starts at over 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) in elevation, before drifting through the Cascade Range, and then plummeting through the pine-lined banks of the Three Sisters Wilderness ($73 for a one-day trip; www.suncountrytours.com). Just outside of Sisters is the famed Black Butte, a hikable extinct volcano that offers views of the Three Sisters mountains, Three Finger Jack, and Mount Washington. For the avid climber, Smith Rock State Park—known as the birthplace of American sport climbing—is a 45-minute drive northeast and offers over 2,000 different routes, as well as year-round hiking, mountain biking, trail running, and horse-back riding (www.oregonstateparks.org). If you visit during the winter months, Mount Bachelor, a 45-minute drive southwest, offers up some of the best runs in the west, on 3,683 acres (1,490 hectares) of skiable terrain ($49 for a one-day lift ticket; www.mtbachelor.com).
Cool down in Sister’s desert heat (summer temperatures can stay at 100° for days at a time) at the town’s roadside staple, Sno Cap Ice Cream (+1 541 549 6151). For heartier (and a bit pricier) fare, the creative, southern French menu at The Cottonwood Cafe is hard to beat (http://www.cottonwoodinsisters.com/).
FivePine Lodge, located at the base of the Three Sisters Mountains, is gorgeously constructed from natural wood and river rock, around existing trees (doubles from $149; www.fivepinelodge.com).