Ochoco Mountains Day Hikes June 2023

Four days and nights to day hike the Ochoco Mountains and Mill Creek Wilderness in early June. Both were new hiking areas for me, and neither disappointed. The weather was in 70s and a couple of nights the temps dropped to mid 30s. No rain, a bit on the windy side, and other humans were far and few between. Over the 4 days hiking, I encountered 5 other hikers and none of them >1 mile from car. Campgrounds were not full, people were friendly, flowers were blooming and the wildlife was amazing. I fell in love with the Ochocos – especially the area around Lookout Mountain. I also found the folks in Prineville supportive and helpful for visitors – as long as you don’t want to make Prineville into a ‘Bend’.

Any time you want to go hike Lookout Mountain, drop me a line …

The Hikes

  • Round Mountain (recorded track) – Round Mountain trail (All Trails) from Walton Lake over summit and then down to FS road 150. The trail between Walton Lake and the summit has a fair share of blow-downs but nothing too bad – the top is a cell tower with a gravel road; the views are great but … A good hike to start an Ochoco Mountain adventure, and can be hiked right from Walton Lake cg.
  • Lookout Mountain (recorded track) – Lookout Mountain th is just down the hill from Walton Lake. This was the ‘magic’ hike in the Ochocos. The trail is in excellent condition, flowers blooming, and the horses absolutely amazing – they ‘own’ this mountain, especially the north side. The top of Lookout Mountain is extensive and while I tried to make over to ‘Line Butte’ that trail was unusable after a bit. If one has to pick 1 trail to day hike in the Ochocos – based on my trip, this is the one, and I’d go back w/out hesitation.
  • Belknap and Wildcat Trails (recorded track) – Belknap Tr connects Wildcat and Twin Pillars. While Belknap was in just lesser condition that Twin Pillars, Wildcat Trail had little traffic and really needed maintenance – I chose not to further this hike and returned to Twin Pillars. Belknap and Wildcat could be avoided unless needed for a loop hike – or maybe better later in season w/ more hikers.
  • Twin Pillars (recorded track) – Oddly, the Twin Pillars and Steins Pillar are the most notable hikes in guides about the Ochocos. While I found Twin Pillars hike worth the time and effort the real magic was in the recovering forests from those devastating fires. The ecosystem is much like 3 Jack side of Santiam Pass, but the fire recovery 5-10 years ahead around Twin Pillars.

Getting there and camping once there

I drove straight to Walton Lake that being the furthest point east for this adventure. The plan was to then progressively move westward camping in Forest Service campgrounds. Here’s the view as I crested the Cascade spine heading east.

Once thru the rat-race Sisters and Redmond have become, it was on to the calmer cowboy days of Prineville, OR. For the first two nights, I camped at Walton Lake. It’s really two campgrounds with the closest to the paved forest road best for larger ‘pull thrus’ and on the far side of the lake, (my side), sites are best for tents with a very short walk-down from the road. I learned later that the lake was man-made from a bog to help fight forest fires – the lake gets heavy day use fishing.

The second 2 nights was at Wild cat Campground – a small, first come first serve campground on Mill Creek – right at the trailhead of Twin Pillars – this campsite is rad, and the host, Darrell, a gem. For the four days of hiking, three were done from campground – no driving – and the fourth was a 5 mile drive from Walton to Lookout Mt.

Looking out over Ochocos

From Round and Lookout Mountains, the Ochocos and the cascades to the west are magical vistas.

Flowers just a-popping

All the way up Round Mt and the top of Lookout Mt were covered in flowers. The open grass-covered forests of the lower elevations were also just filled with flowers. Almost like walking thru a manicured park. Note the flowers growing on the vertical rock wall.

The bald eagle, the mother duck, ducklings and a very brave red-wing blackbird

While at Walton Lake, a bald eagle nesting there just had a terrible time. The first night, an osprey sent it packing off to another lake. The second night a set of young ducklings were on the menu but the mother duck just wouldn’t let it happen. Then, a red-wing blackbird joined the fight and chased the eagle completely away from the lake … it came back and perched, pouted and watched.

Wild Horses

The wild horses of Lookout Mountain made the trip remarkable. Absolutely remarkable. I had read in an earlier trip report about a hiker’s dog chasing the horses, but I never imagined it like this …

First, all the way up the north side of the mountain are these huge piles – huge! – of horse poop – I think they are territory markers. This pile was over 2-ft tall and probably built over at least 2-3 years

All the way up the mountain, I heard and saw nothing … then, on the way down at a locally made spring water trough, the herd was there. Over 20 horses with 2 very small colts and all looking healthy and magnificent. I watched for a time and then remembered my camera … by then, they caught my scent and took off. Just magical.

Walton Lake

Sometimes, the light, the water, the air and a camera is all that matters …

Twin Pillars

Where these rocks came from or why they are this way … who knows, but they mark this section of the Ochocos.

Open Range and those darned gates. Yea, one could encounter stock grazing around Twin Pillars and every trail has gates and some are in the weirdest places – there are also fences left from mining and ranching decades ago in places one can’t figure out why.

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