With the Cascade Range dominating the Oregon landscape, it can be easy to overlook the Ochoco Mountain range. To be fair, this string of mountains northeast of Bend in Central Oregon is far smaller - only 60 miles long and 20 miles wide. But it’s full of terrific outdoor adventure terrain, including gentle hills, beautiful forests, and rolling grasslands.
When I head in that direction I like to wander the Rock Creek Trail, which is a moderate loop hike that totals about 7.5 miles. It’s a scenic trek with just enough elevation gain to put my hiking boots to good use. And, as a bonus, in the spring the trail sides are rich with the kind of wildflower displays only seen in southern Oregon.
The trailhead leads from Potter Meadows down a drop into Rock Creek, an unspoiled stream canyon. No need to ford the waters – there is a solid footbridge leading across to the north bank. You’ll get to hike alongside the burbling water for two miles, which is truly wonderful in the summer months when you can make periodic trips to the bank to splash chilly water on your face. The trail varies from 10 feet to 50 feet above the creek though, so you want to plan those water breaks strategically.
Just past the 2-mile mark is an interpretive sign pointing out the Waterman Ditch, the dried out remains of a human-made section of Rock Creek. This channel of water was used in the 1890’s to reach the gold mining district of Spanish Peak about 10 miles out. The modern-day trail follows this dry ditch towards Fir Creek Trail. You’ll walk under the intermittent shade of lodgepole pines, ponderosa pines, and willows.
The trail levels for a bit, opening up to reveal great views of the canyon slopes. You may have to clamber over a few downed trees on this slope of the trail, but the road itself is well-packed and clear. The end of the trail rewards with a shady picnic spot near Fir Tree Creek. The historically curious can explore the remains of an old log cabin built by miners and left to decay in the woods. It’s a great place to cool off your feet in the creek water and relax before the return hike.
Directions from Paulina:
Take Highway 380 for 3.5 miles, then turn left onto Beaver Creek Road. Drive for 7.5 miles, then merge onto Forest Service Road 42 for 1.5 miles. You’ll hit a tee in the road, at which you’ll turn right onto Forest Service Road 38. Take this road down to Potter Meadows, where there is a small gravel parking lot on the left and a trailhead sign.
Those who have traveled in the area before will be happy to hear that the road to the trailhead is solid gravel, and can be taken by any car. No dirt roads or deep potholes to traversed. But as always, check with local authorities in advance to get a sense of trail and road conditions in months with snowfall.
A nice nearby camping option which includes a swimming hole is the Cottonwood Pit Campground, about 6 miles from the trailhead. Six free campsites are available and a toilet, but no potable drinking water, so be sure to bring plenty with you. Learn more about the campground: https://www.fs.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsinternet/cs/recarea?ss=110607
You can call Ochoco National Forest with questions about the hike or camping: (541) 416-6500.