5 day ramble in Ochoco Mountains

After last year’s time in Ochoco Mountains, split between Walton Lake and Wildcat areas, I knew not returning was not an option. I planned this year’s ramble staying 4 nights at Walton Lake campground and hiking the last day at Wildcat (on the way home). This year was also 1 week earlier – arriving at Walton Lake, June 3. Hiking from Walton Lake or a short drive to another trailhead gives access to Round and Lookout Mountains. Wildcat cg is the trailhead for Twin Pillars.

Left to top right to bottom: Round, Lookout, Twin Pillars.

I arrived Monday around noon to recent rain, cool temperatures and risks of rain continuing through Tuesday. Temperatures 40-60 and increasing to 55-85 by Friday. Hike schedule was Monday pm Round Mountain up / down; Tuesday Round Mountain trailhead to trailhead; Wednesday Lookout Mountain; Thursday ‘optional’; and Friday am Twin Pillars. The key reason for my return to Ochoco Mountains = the horses.

Walton Lake Campground

The campground divides into two sections: South side of lake = RVs; north side of like = tents (not perfectly, but close). 30 total campsites including group sites. Walton Lake itself was a forest service built lake to help with fires – so the story goes. I stayed on the north side, #23 and while my site didn’t have a private path to the lake, I had an unobstructed view to the bald eagle’s nest. They were not nesting there last year.

Watching the eagles hunt was both a morning and evening activity – better than TV. They were not as good as most osprey I watched. One of the eagles was always on the nest, so either eggs or hatchlings. The lake provided other great views, and the only negative was the tree removal – diseases – and replanting along the entry road.

Campground was 25% full Monday and by Friday morning, only 1 empty site. Clean and well hosted. Not a campground for a big RV.

Wildflowers were everywhere, literally …

Round Mountain

While Round Mountain is higher than Lookout, and just a tad to the northeast, I found it the tamer to hike. The upper meadows are filled with skunk cabbage and the middle ponderosa meadows are spectacular. I actually went up / down the mountain 4x; 3 from Walton Lake cg and 1 from the south side. Round Mountain trail is also a National Recreation Trail (NRT). I did not see any sheep herding dogs, but I watched for them!

Monday and Tuesday hiking after the rain soaked my feet – all the trail-side grasses were dripping! Trail conditions were great for early season, a few blowdowns and very small patches of snow. By later in week, trail was dry and hard in most places. Sadly, the top of Round Mountain is a gravel road leading to an ATT cell tower – ugly and loud. All the miles I hiked on Round Mt, I saw 4 other hikers, 1 trail runner and 1 MTB rider – beautiful solitude.

Lookout Mountain

Lookout Mountain trailhead is a 7 mile drive down the hill (all paved but bumpy road) from Walton Lake. My actual hike started at the trailhead to the top, down Lookout Mountain trail (lots of snow still) and back up on Mother Lode Mine trail (just a few blow downs). I met 2 hikers at the top of Lookout Mountain which is this huge flat table filled with grasses and flowers. There are also old fences and mines.

Lookout Mountain is just a fabulous hike and one can wonder up / down on several trails once atop. It is possible to loop the two mountains, but a gravel forest road of >5 miles required – I’ll pass.

Twin Pillars

Leaving Walton Lake and driving to Wildcat cg by 4:30 got me to the trailhead and ready to hike by 5:30. This is a great small cg first come, first serve; there was 1 camper in the 12 sites. Twin Pillars trail crosses Mill Creek like 6 times – my feet were wet and I changed socks after the last crossing. The pillars are massive rocks that just stick out and can be seen from Lookout Mountain over 10 miles away.

The trail conditions were perfect (other than the stream crossings) and I met 1 other hiker pair coming out around noon. This hike is NOT to be done in hot weather. Once you leave the creek, it’s all open, exposed and HOT. I took the trail to the top, behind the pillars but did not go down the other side.

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