Big Summit Prairie
Home, home on the range, where the mustangs and the antelope play.
That’s the tune you will be singing by this classic wild west ride. The route circumnavigates the Big Summit Prairie, a beautiful prairie deep within the Ochoco National Forest. This ride is best in late spring / early summer when the flowers are in full bloom, the grasses are green, the creeks are running full, and the antelope are perky. And if you haven’t been to the Ochoco National Forest, it’s just a gravel cyclist dream. Empty roads with beautiful views.
Big Summit Prairie, is a U.S. Forest Service designated wildflower viewing area, with more than a hundred species of native plants, including the rare Peck’s Mariposa lily. The Audubon Society recognizes Big Summit Prairie as an important birding location, with sandhill cranes, woodpeckers, and other pine-loving bird species. A number of butterfly species frequent the Prairie during the summer, including the silver-bordered meadow fritillary butterfly, known from only three Oregon locations. Mule deer, pronghorn antelope, and Rocky Mountain elk are commonly seen in the area as well. [The Oregon Encyclopedia]
The ride is “not too easy, not too difficult”. In looking at the elevation profile you will see 3 distinct climbs, the first and third on pavement. The first climbs is the longest at 1500 feet over 8 miles. The gravel sector has 1 climb and 2 moderate descents. **Click to Read More
This is one of Gravel Girl’s favorite spring rides– she loves the antelope and wild mustangs that live there. We’ve also had reports of sandhill cranes and badgers along the river so keep your eyes open. Also look out for the Peck’s mariposa lily, a tulip-like plant with lavender petals, a plant only found in the Ochoco Mountains. But to get a great feel for the ride, flip through the photos: the pictures tell the whole story.
From the start location, the old Ochoco Ranger station parking lot, head east on Ochoco Creek road. In 0.3 miles stay left / go left on NF-22 the old Ochoco Highway. At one time this was the main road to the town of Mitchell, to the east by x miles. The road (paved) gradually climbs and passes by the old Mayflower and Ochoco gold and silver mine sites from the late 1800’s. [Cascade Earth Sciences site inspection report of the Mayflower – Ochoco mine complex]
The defunt Ochoco and Mayflower Mines are located along Ochoco Creek just northeast of the old Ochoco Ranger Station site. Central Oregon missed out on the early gold mining activity that had occurred in eastern Oregon, but in the fall of 1871 a gold discovery was made that created a short burst of mining activity. [Bowman Museum]
At mile 4.7 stay right on NF-22. The road continues to climb through Ponderosa forest lined with green grasses. At ~ mile 7 you will pass by the entrance to Walton lake. It is not visible from the road, but is only 0.3 miles to your left. At mile 7.9 and after 1500 feet of gain, the climb tops out. The climb is quite moderate, an average grade of 3.6% with no steep pitches. The pavement continues for a sort distance down the back side descent, but as you make a sweeping right past a mountain meadow the road surface changes to gravel.
The profile for the next 13 miles is that of a giant “U”, with 1000 feet of descent and gain. The road is usually in good shape, without significant washboard, and fast running gravel. The main go is through Ponderosa forests and past some mountain meadows and a stand or two of Aspens. Every once and a while you will get a sneak peak of Big Summit Prairie to your right.
At mile 21.4, you come to Scott’s Corner. There are several interpretive signs here that are worth the read including information about the Summit Trail (NF 2630). The trail goes from McKay Creek (north of Prineville) to the South Fork of the John Day river, 70 miles. It started as a pack trail and was later on used as a stock-way moving sheep and cattle and later used to access many of the fire lookouts in the area.
Go right on Scott Camp road / NF-3010. The road skirts the eastern boundary of Big Summit Prairie. It is mostly downhill, passing by Peterson Creek reservoir and offering up some sweeping views of the prairie.
Just before mile 29 make a right onto NF-42 (paved). Cross over the North Fork of the Crooked River and slowly work your way towards the saddle between Lookout and Round mountains (two of the four tallest mountains in the Ochoco range). The next 8 miles are relatively flat, but with a slight upward trend. This section is a prime wildflower viewing area. Ohh … lest we forget, the frost heave cracks in the road are big! Be careful. Ride across them perpendicular or risk losing a tire in a crack.
At mile 37 begin the last climb of the day. Again quite moderate, 800 feet of gain in 4.5 miles. At mile 39 you will pass by the old Four Horsemen hotel (on the right). Just behind the hotel are artifacts from the Blue Ridge mine and a bit further up the road on the left hand side there is a standing building left from the Amity mine.
The Blue Ridge mine dates to 1929, when cinnabar ore was first discovered along Johnson Creek. The Blue Ridge Mercury Company was established to operate the mine and by 1930 an ore processing plant had been erected on the site. [Mines of the Ochoco National Forest]
From the saddle at mile 41.5 it is all downhill. Not too steep. Take your hands of the brakes and “fly back” to the start / finish.
For a longer ride (71 miles, 5200 feet of gain), take a look at the Big Summit Prairie (Long Version).
This area is also home to the Big Summit Wild Horse herd. Look for them, we have seen them several times.
Adventure / Gravel Route
When we like to ride this …
Mid spring through mid summer when the creeks are flowing, the wetlands are full of water and the flowers are in full bloom.
24 miles east of Prineville at the “old” Ochoco ranger station parking lot. Water available via yard hydrant,between parking lot and road. Pit toilets.
Lat / Long: 44.396245, -120.425960
Food / Water
Red = paved road
Brown = gravel / dirt road
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