The Ochoco Way trail at the Bandit Springs Sno-Park is an endeavor in route finding, but this trek through the forest will take you through some of the most beautiful stands of Ponderosa Pines in the Ochocos. Just be ready to feel totally lost at times. We gave up and went back the way we came about halfway through the trek because we felt totally at a loss as to where to go, but I feel like I could get it done now. I think….
The Ochoco Way trails begins as the Ponderosa Loop Trail and heads right out of the rest area/Sno-Park known as Bandit Springs. Follow tracks to the north and quickly link up with a forest road that heads up the side of a narrow meadow. Here, you will pass through an open forest of red-bellied Ponderosa Pines. The tall, stately trees make a beautiful contrast against the white snow surrounding you.
After 2/3 of a mile, you will reach junction P. Maybe. The signage in this trail area leaves a little to be desired. Regardless, the majority of the traffic seems to head up the McGinnis Creek trail, the direction you want to go. So keep to the left and head in a northwesterly direction. This section of trail was very difficult to follow for us. The blue diamonds seem to just disappear at times and the trail just kind of goes through and around some random tickets of small pines. Just keep your eyes open and primarily head northward. After a little while, you will pop out on a small, dead end road with a draw to your right. Follow that road for a couple hundred feet and emerge on a main road.
Once you hit this road, you will be at trail junction N. Again, we couldn’t find a sign confirming this anywhere. But from here, head to the right up the ridge climb trail. This trail will climb about 100 feet in 0.3 miles. Once up, the trail mostly levels out as it meanders around towards Forest Road 27. Supposedly, there is a snow shelter along this section of trail. We couldn’t find it anywhere, and we looked around. A lot. It was really cold. We wanted to sit in a shelter and drink some fireball. We were disappointed. In addition, once the trail crossed Forest Road 27, we couldn’t find it again. We were feeling a little out of sorts and wondering if we were on the right path, so this is where we decided to head back. However, after subsequent reviews of our GPS tracks, we were on the right path. I just have a feeling the snow shelter is gone.
This point on to the intersection with the Ponderosa Loop Trail is all conjecture on my part because we didn’t do it. But, I will let you know all that I can. Following the crossing with the 27 road, the trail (if you can find it) descends very steeply, losing 250 feet is 1/3 of a mile. You will also cross another road on the way down. Once down, you will encounter another, smaller forest road. Here, turn to the right and follow the road for the next 1.5 miles as it loops back around towards the 27 road.
On the 27 road, we weren’t able to find the intersection with the Ponderosa Loop trail, so we just started heading uphill. Because the trail follows a small, narrow ridge, it is fairly easy to navigate to. Just keep heading up until you reach the top of the ridge, and then you will see the little blue diamonds following the ridgetop as it descends back to the Sno-Park. ¾ of a mile and your home free!
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.
Hazards: Trails aren't marked super well and aren't heavily traveled, so be sure to bring a map and GPS so you know where to go.