Trips & Trails: Ochoco Mountains

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Established in 1911, the Ochoco National Forest is located in the Ochoco Mountains in north-central Oregon. It spans more than 850,000 acres and has lots to offer an overlander: golden canyons, beautiful rivers, geologic oddities, streams teeming with fish, high deserts dotted with sage grass, and 95,000 breath-taking acres of old-growth forest – just to name a few. And let’s not forget the wild, wild horses that call the Ochoco home (cue The Rolling Stones).

The place is a veritable oasis for outdoors enthusiasts, with ample hiking, fishing, camping, hunting, horseback riding, stargazing, birding, rock hounding, kayaking, and rock climbing.

An overlander could spend a week tooling around the forest’s primitive roads and exploring all it has to offer (I have).  For this Trips & Trails, I have picked two to highlight: Paulina Valley Road and Summit Trail.

By no means are these the pinnacle of the region. Nor are they the only trails to see. Rather, think of these as suggestions — jumping off points to your own overland adventure through central Oregon.

Summit Trail

Summit trail is only 13.5 miles but it is a part of a larger trail system that extends both east and west of Summit. So, take this trail as a starting point.

This fun and beautiful trail runs along the summit of the Ochocos. This trail can be technical in places with rocky sections and large spring puddles that can be deep. Expect snow in early spring. Elevations peak at 6,146 feet, with large open meadows at summits with great views. This area is very remote with no cell service, so you’re on your own should something go awry.

What’s more, this is an uneven, rutted dirt trail with loose rocks, sand, erosion, and washes. Potential water crossings are up to a foot deep. There may also be mud holes and obstacles up to 18 inches deep. These include ledges and short, steep grades. Roads are typically one vehicle wide with places to pass.

WHAT TO KNOW:

Time: 1.5 hours

Distance: 13.5 miles

Fuel: The South Fork Mini Market at 100 E. Franklin, Dayville, OR is your nearest fuel stop 39.4 miles northeast on Highway 26. Although you’ll likely never be more than 100 miles from fuel, you should bring extra fuel along just in case.

Highest elevation: 6,146 feet

Water: Although there may be water along the route, don’t rely on it as your only water source. Plan to carry your own water. Plan for one gallon of water per person per day.

Permits: Permits are not required.

Other considerations: Even in late spring, this trail may be impassable due to snowpack. Check weather conditions before planning your trip. What’s more, although stunning to see, do not feed or pet the wild horses.


READ MORE: WHAT TO BRING OVERLANDING


Paulina Valley Road

Paulina Valley Road starts down in the farmland of the lush Paulina Valley and, after a creek crossing, it climbs up into the forest. The trail is composed of mostly primitive dirt roads, which can be muddy and littered with puddles during the spring. However, you will encounter some mildly technical rocky sections. Drive through these with caution and pick your line carefully.

Though the trail might not be very tough, it is on the longer side at 41.8 miles. The highest elevation point along the trail is 5,931 feet. Due to its altitude, this trail is best avoided during late fall, winter, and early spring, as snow can make travel difficult. If you do attempt the trail outside the warmer months, be sure to bring self-recovery devices like traction boards.

WHAT TO KNOW:

Time: 3 hours

Distance: 41.8 miles

Fuel: The South Fork Mini Market at 100 E. Franklin, Dayville, OR is your nearest fuel stop 33.6 miles northeast on Highway 26. Although you’ll likely never be more than 100 miles from fuel, you should bring extra fuel along just in case.

Highest elevation: 5,887 feet

Water: Although there may be water along the route, don’t rely on it as your only water source. Plan to carry your own water. Plan for one gallon of water per person per day.

Permits: Permits are not required.

Other considerations: Even in late spring, this trail may be impassable due to snowpack. Check weather conditions before planning your trip. What’s more, although stunning to see, do not feed or pet the wild horses.



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Header image: Nick Jaynes

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Photo by Brett Willhelm

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