One of the most scenic areas of Central Oregon surely has to be along the Lower Crooked River. Driving from Prineville (see map) after a few miles you will enter a canyon flanked by steep rimrocks that jut into the sky like something from medieval times. One of the treasures of this drive is stopping at the Chimney Rock hiking trail just past the 15 mile marker (or just over 16 miles up the road).
The trail, like all of the Lower Crooked Wild & Scenic River area, is managed by BLM and it starts directly across the road from the Chimney Rock Campground.
The trek up to the pinnacle may be only slightly longer than a mile, but by the time you get back to your vehicle you will have hiked 2.6 miles and your butt will have had a good workout in the process.
The trail zigzags up though a nice little side ravine leading into a gorgeous rim rock lined area where you more than likely will run into deer and occasional ground squirrels and rabbits. Early on in the spring the lower trail will be littered with a wide variety of darting and dancing butterflies as they drink from the moist rocks at the bottom. In fact, there are so many butterflies along this trail that it’s almost impossible to count the number of varieties that linger here, and the same goes for wildflowers, if you hit it early in the season.
Also frequently sighted will be a variety of hawks and birds of prey including golden and bald eagles. I have also seen a pair of nesting Peregrine Falcons take up prime real estate along the rim rocks in this area, so it’s always good to keep an eye out for them as you make your way up the trail although you’ll likely hear them before you see them.
The steep part of this trail commences at the far back of the ravine, and this is where the views really start to happen. The higher up you go the more glimpses of the Cascade Mountain Range you’ll see off in the distance. As you get to the top and along the trail a bit you will come to area inset from the edge, and it’s always wise to stick to the trail, but if you venture out a bit you can overlook the rim edge and see a long expanse of the Crooked River below. Just be mindful of wildlife and careful not to trample the vegetation along the way.
Some years, in the late spring, a flock of Nighthawks have been known to nest along this rocky area taking up the whole top section of the trail out to and along the rim. These guys are really good parents and we’ve actually been bombed a few times, even though we stick close to the trail as to not disturb the brooding families. It’s an interesting experience, and an indication to be respectful of the critters who call this unique landscape home.
Anyway, back to the trail hike … as you round the corner you get your first glimpse of Chimney Rock which juts up at the end of the trail. It’s only a short trek to this iconic rock and there is quite a bit of view to soak in once you get there. There is a bench strategically located at the base of the rock just for this purpose.
What you’ll see: loads of wildlife including interesting birds, insects, deer and ground critters; a few fellow hikers and occasional hiking dogs (so keep your leash handy). I don’t always take water with me on this hike because it’s so short, but if you go in the heat of summer it’s probably a good idea to pack a bottle, and some extra for the pooch. More information …