Ochoco National Forest Overview
Situated in the heart of Oregon, the Ochoco's 1,500 square miles is a beguiling landscape of vertiginous rimrock, abysmal canyons, geologic oddities, dense pine forests, and high desert terrain. Modern-day explorers and outdoor adventurers can also wander the vast steppe of sagebrush and crooked juniper in the Crooked River National Grassland, also administered by the forest.
The Ochoco is yet another forest that owes its existence to Teddy Rooseveltit was part of the old Blue Mountain Forest Reserve established back in 1906. The Ochoco eventually emerged as its own independent national forest in 1911. Congress created the Crooked River National Grassland in 1960.
Explore Black Canyon Wilderness
The Black Canyon Creek continues to cut into lava basalt like a wiggly bandsaw, creating a serpentine river gorge with canyon walls that reach elevations of 6,000 feet. The 14.5-mile Black Canyon Trail (#820) sufficiently penetrates the wilderness, snaking its way through wildflower meadows of paintbrush, crimson columbine, and lupine skirted by thick stands of fir, pine, and tamarack (western larch). The last 2 miles of the trail traverses the creek 12 times. Rattlesnakes thrive in this section of the canyon. Take a side trek on the the Payton and South Prong trail (#820D and 821) to visit old-growth ponderosa pine, juniper, and mountain mahogany.
Climb Steins Pillar
This 400-foot rock pillar was not climbed until 1950—overhangs on all sides and its relative obscurity kept climbers away. The Northeast Face of Steins Pillar is rated 5.11; the Southwest Face route has a difficulty level of 5.10. Steins Pillar and the nearby 200-foot Twin Pillars are the volcanic plugs of ancient volcanoes. To get there from Prineville: Take Highway 26 east 9 miles to Ochoco Reservoir, turn left on Mill Creek Rd. 33 for 5 miles toward Wildcat Campground, and then turn right on Road 500 for 2 miles to the Steins Pillar Trailhead at the end of the road.
Mountain Bike Cougar Creek
Cougar Creek's (#835) 8.2-mile one-way trail is challenging technical single-track along ridges interspersed with smoother sections on closed logging roads. The second half of the trail follows a historic pack-and-saddle route used by early settlers traveling between Prineville and John Day. Trailheads are located at each end of the trail: The south trailhead is located just off US Highway 26 near Ochoco Divide Summit on FS Road 650; the north trailhead is located on FS Road 2735.
Cross-Country Ski Bandit Springs
The Bandit Springs Cross Country Ski Trail, developed cooperatively by the Prineville Nordic Ski Club and the Ochoco National Forest, is the premier ski trail in the forest. Well-marked blue diamond markers and directional arrows will guide you through a forest of old-growth ponderosa pine. The trailhead is located 29 miles east of Prineville at the Bandit Springs State Rest Area.
More on skiing in Ochoco National Forest
Shag Flies on Ochoco Creek
Fly-fishing is the best way to catch trout on Ochoco Creek. Ochoco, along with Canyon Creek, were the sites of early gold mining activity. You can still see the ramshackle remains of old buildings on both creeks. A pioneer road built circa 1870 follows Ochoco Creek, Canyon Creek, and Johnson Creek. The forest requests that you use barbless hooks. To get there: Drive approximately 16 miles east of Prineville on Highway 26, turn right at County Road 23, and drive 9 miles to the Ochoco Ranger Station.
Camp in a Cool, Green Oasis
The 17-site Wildcat Campground is a forested oasis on the edge of the Mill Creek Wilderness and offers refuge from the high desert heat of the summer months. This is a great place to see species that depend on old-growth forest, like the pileated woodpecker. A trailhead adjacent to the campground offers easy access to the Mill Creek and Twin Pillars Trails. To get there: Travel 9 miles northeast of Prineville on Highway 26 to Mill Creek Road (Forest Road #33). Turn left on Mill Creek Road and follow it approximately 10 miles to the campground.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication