Steins Pillar is a 350-foot-tall monolith of welded tuff that towers over Mill Creek valley in the Ochocos. The tower was deposited by the collapse of the Wildcat Caldera 40 million year ago. This magnificent geological feature was believed to have been used as a sacred place by the Shoshone, but was named after Major Enoch Steen who visited the area around 1860.
The pillar can be reached by hiking along a beautiful trail through old growth forest, flower filled meadows, and rocky ridges. The trail begins by traveling through some thick forest with plenty of large boulders to play around on if you want to try your hand at a little climbing. After 1000 feet or so, the trail then begins to climb up to a ridgetop, ascending a couple of loose and steep switchbacks.
The trail climbs until you are about a half mile in, where it then begins to level out. This ridgetop can be covered in flowers such as balsamroot, lupine, and Indian paintbrush during the late spring and early summer. A mile into the hike, towards the end of the ridge on which you are traveling, you will encounter a viewpoint to your left. This will give you limited views of the pillar from a distance, but be sure to continue on to get the full experience of the hike.
After the viewpoint, the trail drops down into a heavily forest draw full of larch, Douglas fir, and ponderosa pine. After passing through the draw, the trail descends about 300 feet in the next ½ mile to an overlook right next to the pillar. From here you have a number of options. You can scramble down the trail to the very base of the pillar to marvel in its size. You could enjoy the view from here and turn back. Or, if you are confident in your rock scrambling skills and not terribly afraid of heights, climb up the rock formation to your left and from there, you can sit on a ledge and enjoy even better views of the pillar combined with the valley below.
From Prineville, head about 9 miles east on Highway 26 until you reach the far side of Ochoco Reservoir. From there, turn left on Mill Creek road towards Wildcat Campground. The road will turn into two lanes of gravel after about 5 miles. Continue on for another 1.5 miles until signs direct you to the right towards the trailhead. If you reach the Steins Pillar viewpoint, you’ve gone to far. Continue over the bridge and up the two-track dirt road for 2 windy miles. The trailhead will be on your left. It’s not really marked but it will be the first parking area that you come to.
Passes: No passes are required.
Dogs: Allowed and must be on leash or under voice command at all times.
Open Season: Year round, but depending on the winter and depth of snow, the trailhead will likey be inaccessible during certain times in the winter.
Flowers: Flowers are usually blooming in this area in late-May through June.