The Monument Rock hike is one of Oregon’s more obscure wilderness excursions, placed miles away from main roads, and located deep in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. But this high-elevation hike is an easy-to-complete stroll across a sagebrush-covered plateau, wide-open space in contrast to pine forest found throughout much of the rest of the wilderness. And, of course, there’s the fascinating Monument Rock – an eight-foot rock cairn – to check out once you’ve hit the end of the trail.
This hike has a handful of trailheads, but from any direction the adventure starts by following old roads up through sloping hills covered with sagebrush, as well as seasonal crops of lupine and paintbrush. Once on the main part of the trail, the first mile is all gentle uphill, with lazy switchback, until you reach the top of a mesa. Wander away from the trail to the north to catch terrific views of the distant, snow-capped Wallowa Mountains as well as the Elkhorn Range. Plus, if you’re lucky, you might spot a heard of elk in the hills below.
The trail continues just over a half mile before hitting a cross fence. Here you can go two ways. One option is to take a short trip up to the top of Bullrun Rock. This is another great viewpoint from which to take in the Wallowa-Whitman landscape, including lichen-covered boulders, acres of dusty green sagebrush, and old glacial cirques.
The other option is to cut south along the main route, which crosses a fence (there’s a wire gate) and climbs another 0.3 miles. You’ll reach a broad crest that winds through an old burned alpine forest, then hike cross-country up a steep slope. Monument Rock will be in sight at this point, so heading off-trail is no problem.
This monolithic landmark is a mysterious one, and is believed to have been built by Basque shepherds who grazed their sheep in this area as far back as the early 1900s. Today, it stands as a lonely but impressive pile of rocks. Whatever its origin story however, it makes a great spot in the shade and to eat a picnic lunch.
Note that there are several routes and sister trails that link up with the Monument Rock Trail. Be sure to call ahead and check with local authorities to make sure the trail you’re headed down is clear and dry, as snow drifts can also block the upper roads into early July.
Learn more and get the latest updates on trail conditions from the U.S. Forest Sevice: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/wallowa-whitman/recarea/?recid=79465