The McGinnis Creek Snowshoe Loop is a nice snowy stroll through some beautiful stands of Ponderosa Pines in the Ochoco National Forest. And one big bonus of this trail is that it is relatively easy to follow, a rarity in the Ochocos where there’s a good chance you will be breaking trail and the blue diamonds can be few and far between. So revel in the miracle that is McGinnis Creek and plan your next snowy adventure!
Your trek begins from the Bandit Springs SnoPark, located near the Ochoco Divide on Highway 26. You may get confused as your driving by and think that it is merely a rest area, but it serves as both. The trail begins behind a group of informational kiosks and heads to the north, up a nice, snowy, meadow area.
The majority of this trip follows a serious of forest roads, making route finding much easier along the trip. As you head up road from the Sno-Park, you will quickly come to a gate. Go on and head on through. There will be a junction soon thereafter, and this will mark the tie-in of the loop when you are over. Why does the trail by-pass the Sno-Park when there is only an open meadow between the two, you may ask? I will make it all clear in time, young grasshopper.
So keep heading up the road until you hit the next trail junction. Two different trails shoot off to the left, the Woodpecker Trail and the Easy Trail. There will also be the continuation of the Ponderosa Loop heading straight ahead. You will want to make a left onto the Easy Trail (even though the next half mile isn’t so easy). This will be the trail that follows the road, as opposed to the Woodpecker Trail, which heads further to the left and into the trees.
Once on the Easy Trail, the grade will increase as you begin marching uphill. Prepare to gain roughly 200 feet in the next half mile. There will be some amazing stands of Ponderosa through this section, the dark red and yellow bark contrasting nicely with the snowy landscape. As you move up the hill, the road you were following seems to come and go, but you should be able to find the trail markers fairly easily.
After traveling along the Easy Trail for half a mile, you will come to a 4-way intersection. The McGinnis Creek Trail will head to your right and straight ahead, and the Easy Trail will turn to the left. Hop onto the leg of the McGinnis Creek Trail that continues straight (possibly with a turn to the left first before reaching the intersection, depending on where you popped out onto the McGinnis Creek Trail). This section of trail is also following a road as it begins to level out and plow deeper into the Ochocos.
Follow this trail as it slowly climbs and then falls through the forest for the next 1.5 miles. You will cross McGinnis Creek towards the back end of the trail, but it is usually dry and easy to pop through. After the 1.5 miles you will begin to see some rocky outcrops ahead of you. You will then pop out at a quarry in what looks like a giant parking area. This is where the Easy Trail rejoins up with the McGinnis Creek Trail, off to the left. Keep heading straight ahead and continue following the road as it leaves the quarry area.
Once you leave the quarry, you may get complacent as you continue marching down the road. Be sure to keep your eyes open though, or you may miss the trail leaving the road and heading off to your left. If you miss it and stay on the road, you will soon find yourself on the highway. You may be tempted to just walk up the highway the last ¾ of a mile or so back to the Sno-Park, but you probably shouldn’t. There isn’t really any shoulder, cars and driving fast, and it is winter after-all, so the road conditions could be crappy. So stay safe and keep to the trail!
Once the trail leaves the road and begins heading through the forest, you will have just a little bit more climbing to do. You will be able to hear the highway and maybe event he screams of some kids sledding over at Mark’s Creek Sno-Park across the highway.
After about ¾ of a mile of weaving through the forest, you will be able to see Bandit Springs Sno-Park through the trees and across a meadow, your car gleaming in the sun. You will also notice the trail isn’t going that way. You may think, this is dumb, I’m going to walk through these wide open trees straight back to my car. Then you will hit a barb wire fence. They aren’t super easy to get over in snowshoes. So just stay on the trail and it will take you to the first junction you encountered, back when you were offended that I called you grasshopper. That way you can go back through the gate and not tear the crotch out of your fancy new snow pants. You’re welcome. Just head to the right and be back in no time.
To reach Bandit Springs Sno-Park, head east from Prineville on Highway 26 for 30 miles. The Sno-Park also doubles as a rest area and will be on your left, just a mile or so before cresting over the summit of the Ochocos. If you’ve started going downhill, you missed it.
Passes: An Oregon Sno-Park permit is required November 1 through April 30.
Dogs: Allowed and must be on leash or under voice command at all times.
Open Season: As long as there's snow. The Ochocos don't get near the snowpark the Cascades do, but there should be 1-3 feet between Christmas and March, most years.