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Steins Pillar

Just a short drive from Prineville, the hike into this massive stone tower is a relatively easy one. Photo by Deanna Darr/The Bulletin.

Deanna Darr
The Bulletin
September 14, 2000

Interesting geologic formations are far from rare in Oregon, but Steins Pillar in the Ochoco National Forest is still a stand-out.

Just a short drive from Prineville, the hike into this massive stone tower is a relatively easy one, giving access to all levels of hikers.

The trailhead is located about seven miles down Mill Creek Road, just past Ochoco Reservoir on Highway 26. The turnoff to Mill Creek Road is about eight miles east of Prineville on the left side of the road.

Follow Mill Creek Road to Forest Road 500, making a right onto the gravel road. The turnoff is marked by a small sign and a one-lane wooden bridge can be seen from the main road.

The gravel road winds up the hillside for about a mile before reaching a small, unmarked parking area on the left side of the road. This area is easy to miss, but the barricaded road soon after lets drivers know they’ve gone too far.

After parking, the unmarked trailhead begins on the far side of the parking area. While there are no signs marking the way, the trail itself is easy to distinguish and is the only trial in the nearby area.

Starting out meandering through the forest, the trail soon heads uphill, leading to the top of a nearby ridge. After reaching the top, the trail then heads downhill, following the opposite side of the ridge.

Lulled by the peaceful forest walk, hikers can be caught off guard as the pillar suddenly pops into view near the end of the hike.

The first viewpoint of the formation comes at a rocky outcropping above the base of the pillar. From this point hikers can see the top of the pillar as it rises into the sky, birds playing in the air currents near the top.

From this point the trail continues to the right, leading down to the base of the pillar in a series of long switchbacks. At the steepest part of the trail, a set of earthen steps, reinforced by logs, makes the trek down a little easier.

The trail ends at the base of the pillar where hikers can get a better feeling of the immenseness of the formation as they crane their necks, trying to see the top. While at the base, hikers can also get a good view of the green valley below, with a quaint ranch tucked in the bottom.

There is a road that leads through the valley, but it’s private property and not open to the general public.

The return trip follows the same path back to the parking area.

Overall, the trail is easy, with only a few steep sections and good terrain, making it a nice afternoon hike for anyone wanting a unique view. Getting there: From Prineville, drive about eight miles east on Highway 26 to Mill Creek Road, just past Ochoco Reservoir. Turn left onto Mill Creek Road and follow for about seven miles to Forest Road 500. Turn right and follow for about a mile to trailhead parking area.

Round-trip distance: About four miles
Terrain: Easy
Difficulty: Moderate
Access: Hikers
Permits: None  
Other Activities:  

• Camping on the Ochoco National Forest.  
• Fishing on nearby streams.