The ski/snowshoe trails which originate from the Bandit Springs Sno-Park offer a different set of wildflowers not often seen along other more popular hiking trails in the Ochoco National Forest. There are several possible loops possible along these trails. Some are on dedicated trails while others follow old logging roads or head cross country through open forest. The latter may involve following snow trail markers rather than relying on visible trail tred. Two routes are briefly described below.
Ponderosa Loop Trail #801:The Ponderosa Loop Trail #801(see map at right) is a short trail suitable for all hiker levels. This trail begins as a path leading north uphill into the forest from the right side of the vault toilets. It soon passes through a metal gate, then passes through open coniferous forest and occasional dry meadows as it slowly climbs along a ridgetop. At about a three-quarters of a mile it closely parallels FS Road 27 located to the east. At about a mile, one can see a split rail fence surrounding a spring and meadow on the east side of FS Rd 27. This may be worth exploring more fully for wildflowers. At this point, signs indicate that the Ponderosa Loop Trail makes a sharp turn to the left and then heads south back to the trailhead. The path is faint but should be easy to follow as a few people do hike it in summer. At this same junction, the McGinnis Creek Loop Trail #802 continues straight to the north.
The Ponderosa Loop Trail is about 1.7 miles in length, or about 2 miles if one detours to the fenced wet wildflower meadow on the east side of FS Road 27.
McGinnis Creek Loop Trail #802:
Accessed from the north end of the Ponderosa Loop Trail #801, the McGinnis Creek Loop trail (See map at right.) soon peters out and one must follow blue diamonds on trees to find the route. The route climbs cross country up a short hill, then turns north and descends, to a shallow gully and then follows an old road. At a wet wildflower meadow, cross a stream and then the meadow and turn onto a spur road (#559 on map)which climbs north, then becomes Road 650 as it turns sharply south. Note blue diamonds on some trees on the uphill side of the road. At about 0.4 miles south of the sharp turn, note a trail sign (McGinnis Creek Trail) on the left side of the road. Depart the road here and follow blue diamonds south through the forest. The route descends more steeply, crosses a large downed log, then eventually joins an old road (#350?). Turn right and follow the road south to a junction. The 400 Road follows an old drainage downhill to the east (it is signed 'Easy Route'), and is easier to follow than searching for diamonds amongst the trees. Road 400 eventually reaches a vernal stream in the valley bottom and becomes a better road. It turns south and returns to the trailhead. It does pass a broad wet meadow at Bandit Springs. Stay to the outside fringes of the meadow where you will find plants seen nowhere else along the route. Including the east portion of the Ponderosa Loop Trail, the McGinnis Creek Loop Trail measures just over 4 miles in length.
The moist meadows at Bandit Springs can be accessed by an old road that travels north from the west side of the rest area (west of the vault toilets). Hike about 0.1 miles and the flower meadows should be seen extending north about 0.2 miles and west about 0.1 miles. Most of the flowers can be viewed by carefully walking the outer perimeter of the meadows. Muck boots would be handy for venturing further into the meadows, and note the wet, inner portion of the Bandit Springs meadows is very hummocky, making for unsteady walking.
Forest service map of the trail system originating from Bandit Springs Sno-Park.
See also: Hike 87 in "Day Hiking Bend and Central Oregon" by Brittany Manwill.
During late May and early June, expect the following in bloom along the trails here:
Tolmie's onion (Allium tolmiei), heartleaf arnica (Arnica cordifolia), Wyoming paintbrush (Castilleja linariifolia), common paintbrush (Castilleja miniata var. miniata), bead lily (Clintonia uniflora), an early mountain lady slipper (Cypripedium montanum), shrubby cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa), upland larkspur (Delphinium nuttallianum), valley cinquefoil (Drymocallis convallaria), Montana sticky cinquefoil (Drymocallis glandulosa var. reflexa), Rydberg's geranium (Geranium viscosissimum var. incisum), Rocky Mt. sunflower (Helianthella uniflora), small-flowered horkelia (Horkelia fusca ssp. parviflora), western blue flag (Iris missouriensis), Lanszwert's peavine (Lathyrus lanszwertii var. lanszwertii), whiskerbrush (Leptosiphon ciliatus), velvet lupine (Lupinus leucophyllus), Oregon saxifrage (Micranthes oregana), threetoothed mitrewort (Mitella trifida), Rydberg's penstemon (Penstemon rydbergii var. oreocharis), long-spurred bog orchid (Platanthera dilatata var. leucostachys)
From Prineville, OR, drive east on US Highway 27 miles for approximately 27 miles. The Bandit Springs Sno-Park is located on the left or west side of the highway. It is about one mile south of the Ochoco Divide Summit or about one-quarter mile north of the signed Marks Creek Sno-Park located on the east side of the highway at FS Road 2630.
Parking is adequate for about a dozen vehicles. There are 2 vault toilets and several picnic tables, but no potable water is provided. Vehicles crossing the nearby Ochoco Divide using US Highway 26 occasionally use this site as a rest area.
June 23, 2017: Ponderosa Loop Trail #801 and McGinnis Creek Loop Trail #802 (Bandit Springs Sno-Park & Ochoco National Forest)