Steins Pillar is an impressive monolith of 44 million year old rhyolite ash that stands above the surrounding forest. It can be reached via the Steins Pillar Trail #837 which is situated several miles south of the Mill Creek Wilderness in the Ochoco National Forest. The trail is open earlier in the spring than most other trails in the Ochoco National Forest. Check the Ochoco NF ranger station in Prineville for current conditions.
The trail itself is an in and out hike of slightly over 4 miles length and about 730' total ascent if you hike all the way to the base of Steins Pillar. There is a viewpoint looking north towards Steins Pillar and the further off Twin Pillars at about the 1.25 mile point. Generally, the trail is in good shape, although the last mile is across steeply sloped, forest hillsides so there is the possibility of downed trees to have to cross, especially early in spring before trail maintenance occurs. The trail grade is moderate, so most hikers should be able to hike all the way to Steins Pillar and back.
There are good spring to early summer flowers enroute. The first half of the trail passes through a mix of dry ponderosa forest interspersed with numerous flower-filled balds. The second half of the trail as discussed above passes through forest where you get different species adapted to that habitat. Birds and butterflies are also numerous along the trail. We easily spent about 5 hours exploring the wildlife and wildflowers along the trail, although regular hikers were making it in and out in about 3 hours.
Be aware that equestrians and mountain bikes may use the trail, although we encountered only 2 horses during our hike and there was no evidence of recent mountain bike use. Weekend hiker use appears to be moderate.
Trailhead and Trail Information from the Ochoco National Forest
Steins Pillar Trail #837 Map from the Ochoco National Forest
The hike description for Steins Peak in "100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Eastern Oregon" by William L. Sullivan.
The hike description for Steins Peak in "Day Hiking Bend and Central Oregon" by Brittany Manwill.
From Prineville: Drive east on US Highway 26 for about 8 miles. As you approach the east end of Ochoco Reservoir, you will want to turn left (north) onto Mill Creek Road (just past MP 28). Drive north on paved Mill Creek Road for about 5 miles. Continue straight where Mill Creek Road becomes gravel. After about 2 miles of gravel road, turn right (east) onto FS Road 500 and travel 2 bumpy miles to the trailhead which will be on your left in the forest. The trailhead may be unsigned from the road, but has a small informational sign (visible from the road) at the actual trailhead. Despite being bumpy, the road should be fine for most vehicles to drive.
At the trailhead (which is a pull-through loop), there are no facillities. A small stream crosses the trail about 100 meters beyond the trailhead, but water should be filtered. There is no water beyond that point except in very early spring, so bring plenty of water on hot days.
Driving distance from Prineville is about 17.5 miles with about half an hour of driving one way.
Plant Lists for Steins Pillar:
June 26, 2017: Steins Pillar Trail #837 (Ochoco National Forest)
May 21, 2017: Steins Pillar Trail #837 (Ochoco National Forest)