Project to improve overlook


Last updated 11/21/2023 at 10:20am

Photo by Bill Bartlett

A forthcoming project will make Whychus Overlook views more accessible to those in wheelchairs.

The highly popular Whychus Creek Scenic Overlook Trail, just 5.5 miles from town, is getting a new look thanks to a grant of $37,152 from Visit Central Oregon. Sisters Trails Alliance (STA) is adding cash and in-kind donations of $16,104 for a project total of $53,256.

The work, originally hoped for completion by fall, is now anticipated to be finished this winter in time for the busy spring and summer tourist season. The one-mile circular trek to the viewpoint is renowned for its stunning views of the Three Sisters and surrounding Cascades, as well as the canyon below.

It is a barrier-free trail and in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, while the trail is wheeled-chair friendly, upon reaching the walled viewpoint if one cannot stand and must remain in their chair, they can see only the mountains but not the steep canyon with flowing water cascading over rocky riffles.

Thanks to the aspirations of the STA Board and its cadre of volunteers, this problem will be solved by notching the wall as shown in the accompanying rendering. The Project has moral support from the City of Sisters, the Forest Service, Explore Sisters, Oregon Adaptive Sports, SPRD, and Sisters High School Life Skills and Transition Program.

At the trailhead and along the route, visitors find a detailed, interpretive kiosk and illustrative signs. Whychus Creek was once officially a river, home to abundant steelhead. As homesteaders began settling Sisters, water was lost to irrigation withdrawals, the river became a trickle of a creek, and the steelhead population died out. Today the creek is federally protected as a Wild and Scenic River and is coming back to life, with steelhead having been reintroduced into the creek.

Users have often asked that the trail be outfitted with picnic tables. There are already three hand- hewn resting benches for gazing and meditation.

"Adding picnic areas or any other similar amenities would not match the characteristics of the trail," said Scott Penzarella, STA executive director. "It is designated wild and scenic and we want to respect and preserve that, keeping it wild while at the same time making sure that all users can enjoy it fully."

Likewise, Penzarella said that the trail will not be paved, remaining as a compacted aggregate on which wheelchairs and infant and child strollers can manage. The trail is off limits to bikes and horses.

While most users respect the trail's routing - counterclockwise - trail ambassadors and volunteers frequently have to remind users of the need to follow the correct direction.The direction is established to allow for a more serene, tranquil experience.

The STA hopes that locals will set the example to tourists for proper trail etiquette.

Photo provided

Project will "notch" wall at the Whychus Overlook.

Users frequently cite the need for improved and/or expanded parking at the trailhead, which can accommodate about 15 cars. It is not uncommon during summer weekends for as many as 30-40 cars to try and squeeze in, forcing many onto the sides of FS Road 16 (Three Creek Road).

"If Sisters continues with its current growth pattern and popularity with tourists, parking will become a bigger and potentially more hazardous situation," Penzarella warned.

Ian Reid, Sisters' District ranger, told The Nugget that while there are no scheduled plans to change the configuration of the parking lot, there will be work along the Road 16 corridor, including repaving. That will give the Forest Service an opportunity to assess the situation.

Reid said that the original size of the parking area was designed in keeping with the wild and scenic ethos of the trail.


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