Pacific Northwest Region Viewing Area

LOCATION and PHOTOS

Mule-ears (Wyethia amplexicaulis) at the forest/meadow interface of Big Summit Prairie.
Mule-ears (Wyethia amplexicaulis) at the forest/meadow interface of Big Summit Prairie. Photo courtesy of Ron Halvorson.

Desert Shooting Star.
Desert Shooting Star (Dodecatheon conjugens) is an early season wildflower. Photo courtesy of Ron Halvorson.

Bitterroot.
Bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva) can be found blooming in May on dry, rocky flats. Photo courtesy of Ron Halvorson.

Peck's mariposa lily.
Peck's mariposa lily (Calochortus longebarbatus var. peckii) occurs only in the Ochoco Mountains, Oregon. Photo courtesy of Elmer Vandervelden.

Big Summit Prairie

Forest: Ochoco National Forest

District: Lookout Mountain Ranger District

Description: Big Summit Prairie occupies several thousand acres of the middle portion of the Ochoco Mountains, in Central Oregon. The Prairie is largely privately owned, but most of the perimeter is National Forest, and easily accessed by public roads. Driving around the prairie, with periodic stops, is the most popular way of viewing the area’s wildflowers.

Viewing: The first wildflowers generally begin blooming in April, with grass widow, wild parsley, and shooting stars among the favorites. As spring progresses, Wyethia (mule-ears) and camas come into bloom and provide showy displays of the season, generally in May through June. On dry, rocky flats, May also features bitterroot, with their large white to pink flowers. In June and July, other flowers become prominent, including Missouri iris, larkspur, paintbrush, checkermallow, and arrow-leaf balsamroot. One notable plant is Peck’s mariposa lily, a tulip-like plant with lavender petals. This plant is found only in the Ochoco Mountains. Spring is also an excellent time for wildlife viewing, as neo-tropical birds return, and big game animals such as elk, mule deer, and antelope become more visible as they migrate back to their summer range on the Forest. The Prairie is also home to several pairs of sandhill cranes that generally migrate back in April to nest, and remain through the summer.

Directions: To get to Big Summit Prairie, take Hwy 26 East from Prineville, Oregon, approximately 18 miles and turn right onto County Rd 123. Continue another 8 miles to Ochoco Ranger Station, then just past the station, turn right at the “Y” on FS Road 42. Continue on the 42 to Big Summit Prairie. A brochure, “Wildflowers of Big Summit Prairie” is available at the Ochoco National Forest office in Prineville. It includes a description of suggested stops for those driving the loop around the prairie. A National Forest map is also recommended to those not familiar with the area.

Ownership and Management: USDA Forest Service, Ochoco National Forest, Lookout Mountain Ranger District.

Closest Town: Prineville, Oregon.