The Lookout Mountain trail will lead you to the highest point within the Ochocos at 6,926 feet, with sweeping views to the distant Cascades from the summit. There are three different trailheads from which you can begin your hike, depending on the off-roading capabilities of your vehicle. The first trailhead is the Round Mountain South and Upper Lookout Mountain Trailhead (depending what side of the parking lot you are on), and is located right off of the paved Forest Road 42. From there, you can continue up a pretty decent, but steep in places, dirt road for 0.6 miles to the Baneberry Loop Trailhead. However, you don’t have to stop here either. Another ¼ mile will get you to the Mother Lode Mine Trailhead. The road may have some rocks where having a little extra clearance is nice, but most cars should be able to make it up to this point fine.
Begin you hike across the road and on the west side of the parking area. This will be the Lookout Mountain Trail. The trail quickly dives into some pretty deep woods, a little uncommon for the Ochocos. You’ll cross over a couple tiny little streams as you slowly climb up the shady, north face of the mountain. After about a mile you will come to a hard switchback and begin heading in a southeasterly direction. You will cross a couple of meadows soon after that can be lush with alpine corn lily. They can hold snow later into the year than any other spot on the mountain and can be a little bit swampy, depending on how late in the year you are hiking.
A little over 2 miles into the hike, you will encounter the junction with the Mother Lode Mine trail. This trail will return you back to the trailhead in a more direct route. Don’t turn back yet, though. Head to the right and continue on towards the summit of Lookout Mountain. From here, it is only about ½ a mile and 300 more feet of climbing to reach the pinnacle of the Ochocos. There is even a snow shelter along the way if you want to take a load off for a minute.
The summit of Lookout Mountain is a broad, scabby, sagebrush covered mesa. Luckily, the western slope of the mountain is very steep with some cliffs along the summit edge, making for a nice view westward towards Prineville and the Cascades. Once you’ve had your fill, continue along the Line Butte/Independent Mine trail as it traverses the summit rim southward. The trail continues over the open plateau along the summit of Lookout Mountain for less than half a mile until you encounter the junction with the Line Butte Trail. The Line Butte trail splits off to your right, but veer left and stay on the Independent Mine trail.
The trail dives back into the forest and starts working its way down the east side of the mountain. After a mile, you will encounter Brush Creek, a relatively small stream that can usually be rock hopped over without having to get your feet wet. Then girdle your loins cause you’re going to have to climb a little more. The next ¾ of a mile will climb about 200 feet as you climb out of the Brush Creek drainage and onto the Northeastern Ridge of the mountain. The forest opens up here allowing for more views, helping to dampen the pain of having to hike uphill when you are climbing down a mountain.
Once the ridge is reached, the trail spends the next half mile meandering down it before diving over the western side, back into the forest. The trail switches back and proceeds along a long, gradual decent of the northern bowl for over a mile until depositing you back at the trailhead.
From Prineville, head East on Highway 26 for 15 miles until you reach the intersection with a sign directing you toward Walton Lake and Big Summit Prairie to the right. Head to the right along Ochoco Creek Road and continue for another 8 miles until you reach the Lookout Ranger Station. Just past the ranger station, the road will turn hard to the right and head towards Big Summit Prairie and Lookout Mountain. Continue on Canyon Creek Road and proceed up the mountain for the next 6.5 miles. Just as you reach the saddle of the pass, a dirt road to your right will direct you to the Independent Mine and Lookout Mountain Trailhead. Follow the dirt road for the next mile to reach the trailhead.
Passes: No passes required.
Dogs: Allowed and must be on leash or under voice command at all times.
Open Season: The trailhead is open year round but will likely be snow covered into May.
Flowers: Different flowers will bloom depending on elevation, but June and July are usually peak months.