A short drive to the east of Bend is the Lower Crooked Wild and Scenic River, and this past weekend I thought it would be an interesting place to seek out wildflowers. I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded by public lands, and this area is a mere 30 minute drive east from my home.

The Lower Crooked River is primarily a fishing and camping destination, without many hiking trails. I previously shared information on Chimney Rock, the only signed trailhead and hike along the Scenic River. While anglers might be more interested in the water, make sure to take time to look up – the area is teeming with wildlife and towered over by geometric basalt formations.

The Crooked River Highway (27) starts approximately 35 miles from downtown Bend out highway 20. Although it’s labeled a Highway, be prepared for a washboarded but wide gravel road. Turning north, it starts through wide open flat high desert rangeland. Watch out for cattle and antelope!

Southern Crooked River Highway

Eventually the road drops to the Crooked River canyon and the beautiful rock formations start appearing. Look carefully and you might see signs of mining that used to occur in the canyon.

Just south of Prineville Reservoir the road switches to pavement and curves to the west around Taylor Butte. I pulled off down a dirt 2 track and drove approximately 1/4 mile towards the butte. Wildflowers were blooming like crazy so I parked my Outback and walked the old road to the summit of Taylor Butte. Thor and I took our time since there were so many flowers to photograph (and sniff!) It was a short hike of under 2 miles with 500 feet of gain, but it was beautiful!

Climbing Taylor Butte

Unfortunately clouds blocked the view towards the Cascades, but I bet it is beautiful on a clear day! From the summit I got a nice little view at one of the arms of Prineville Reservoir as well.

After our hike I continued driving north past the Reservoir. Here the canyon walls get even taller and more impressive – the formations in the volcanic basalt look unnatural. The wildflowers weren’t really out at the river level, but I enjoyed stopping and observing the formations and wildlife as I went around each curve.

If you Go

  • I recommend driving north to south – the majority of the pullouts are on the west side of the road, so pulling in and out on the twisty road is safer and easier when you don’t have to make left turns.
  • No permits or fees are necessary for standard day use. Fees/permits/licenses needed for activities such as camping, boating, and fishing.

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