When temperatures soar, the Three Sisters Wilderness area provides us desert dwellers a multitude of quick opportunities to get away and cool down. The 20-mile Six Lakes/Pacific Crest Trail/Mink Lake Loop can be done as an overnighter, but spreading it out over two allows time enough to truly take in the pristine clarity of the dozen or so glacial lakes along the way. This hike doesn't offer the jaw-dropping Cascade views found in many other area treks, but the deeply treed landscape makes for moderate summer temperatures, and the crystal clear lakes put on their own show. You haven't lived until you've seen the night sky and its full complement of stars reflected on the glassy surface of a Cascade lake. An added bonus: the terrain is pretty mellow with no severe gains in elevation so it's as accessible to first-timers and their four legged friends as it is enjoyable for the more experienced backpacker looking for an easy-going expedition.
From Bend head west 35 miles on Cascade Lakes Highway two miles beyond Elk Lake to the Six Lakes trailhead. From the trailhead hike west 3.4 miles past Blow and Doris lakes and take a right at the junction onto Trail #3526, take this until reaching the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) at mile 5.4. Continue west on #3526 for an additional 3.4 miles, passing Vera, Goose, and Porky Lakes until you reach Mink Lake; make camp here. In the morning, follow the shoreline southeasterly to Trail #3525, 1.2 miles to S lake. Junction with the PCT here and take a left following it north to Cliff Lake, passing Lakes Mac and Horseshoe. Cliff Lake is a good place to bed down for night two. Complete the trip by carrying on the PCT until it rejoins Trail #3526, leaving the same way you came in, back past Doris and Blow Lakes on the Six Lakes trail.
If you go, make sure you have a Northwest Forest pass to park and pick up a free wilderness permit at the trailhead. Bring your dog but don't forget the leash; fines for off-leash dogs begin at $200. As August approaches mosquitos wane but they are still a force to be reckoned with on these trails, don't forget the bug spray. While these lakes are crystal clear, the water must be purified before drinking.