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. The Ochocos are made up of rocks that were formed hundreds of millions of years ago, uplifted by volcanic eruptions and buried under lava and ash, sometimes as thick as 1000 feet, tens of millions of years ago, and finally covered by flows of basalt, 17 to 14 million years ago. Since then, erosion and continued faulting has resulted in the landscape we see today, one that is many times older than the younger Cascades to the west.
Your snowshoe will begin at the intersection of Canyon Creek Road (FS Road 42), and Lookout Mountain Road. The 42 road up to Lookout Mountain is not maintained by the Forest Service in the winter, so it is best to check with the rangers to see if you can access the trailhead prior to heading out. There are residents that live up in Big Summit Prairie and sometimes winter timber sales that occur in the area, which allow for other entities to plow the road. If it has recently snowed a lot, you’re better off waiting to try and access this area, but if it has been clear for a while, chances are someone will have plowed it for one reason or another.
Once you are strapped in and ready to roll, head up the Lookout Mountain Road is it passes by the Upper Lookout Trailhead. There is an actual trail that head up the mountain for here, but this area isn’t officially maintained for winter recreation, so there are no blue diamonds marking the trail. It is best to just follow the road for the first mile to the upper, Motherlode Trailhead.
The trek up Lookout Mountain is pretty much nonstop uphill the entire way. The first mile, along the road, is a nice warm-up for the real trail, gaining about 500 feet. About a quarter mile before reaching the Motherlode Trailhead, you will come to an area with a nice open meadow to your left. If you look down that way, you will see the ruins of the Independent Mine. The mines located on Lookout Mountain were old “quicksilver” or mercury mines. If you have a little extra time or energy, you can march down there and check it out.
Once you reach the Motherlode Trailhead area, there will be numerous trails heading up in three different directions. You will want to look for the Motherlode Mine Trail. This trail will be exiting straight out of the back end of the parking area. This trail is the steepest and most direct route up Lookout Mountain. The majority of it is also located on an old road bed, making it the easiest to follow. There will likely be other tracks, either snowshoe, ski, or snowmobile for you to follow. The trail can be a little difficult to locate at first, but head towards the south and up a small, steep hill out of the south end of the parking area, and then just keep following the break in the tree. Soon, you will be on a very noticeable road, as it cuts its way up the side of the draw.
You will follow the road for the next ¾ of a mile as it sidehills steeply up the draw. Prepare to gain over 500 feet in elevation over this stretch. There will be an occasional opening in the trees, offering some nice views of both Lookout Mountain itself, and the Ochocos to the northwest, as you climb.
After those ¾ of a mile, things can get a little bit tricky. You will exit the draw and the mountain will really open up. Beautiful, untouched expanses of snow will surround you. The downside is you will no longer have an easy path to follow. Having a GPS with a trail map loaded into it is extremely helpful. There will also likely be other tracks to follow. The backup plan is, if everything else fails, go up. You are climbing a mountain after all.
Once you climb out of the draw, things will flatten out for a little bit as you work your way around a line of trees to your right. Once you pass that line, head right, towards the west, and resume your climb. You still have about 400 feet to go. Keep an eye out for trail signs as you climb. This is where having a GPS comes in really helpful because finding the snow shelter if you’re not on the right path can be tricky. It is hidden in a clump of trees about a ¼ mile from the summit. But again, hopefully there will be tracks to follow…..if you don’t have a GPS……(use a GPS)
Keep an eye out for the signs directing you to the shelter. It is located just off the left side of the trail, a little less than a ¼ mile from the summit. While this shelter does have a wood stove in it, it is not stocked with firewood like many of the others in Central Oregon. So if you want a fire, you’re going to have to bring some with you.
The summit of Lookout Mountain is just a short climb past the shelter. 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. It can get very windy up there though, so the shelter makes for a much more pleasant break spot. Once your eyes are full of the surrounding vistas, just follow your tracks back to your vehicle. And upside about nonstop climbing to reach the summit is that it is all downhill from here.
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 splits with the straight ahead route heading towards Walton Lake and the right heading towards Big Summit Prairie and Lookout Mountain. Head right onto Canyon Creek Road and proceed up the mountain for the next 6.5 miles.
The road up to Lookout Mountain is not maintained by the Forest Service, so when and how often it gets plowed can be very spotty. Be sure to check or have a backup plan prior to heading up.
Passes: No passes required.
Dogs: Allowed and must be on leash or under voice command at all times.
Open Season: Winter can vary widely in the Ochcocs, but there is usually snow here from Chistmas through March.
Hazards: This trail is not marked so having excellent route finding skills is paramount.