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Monument Rock Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Monument Rock, with Table Rock (left) and Bullrun Rock (right), Monument Rock Wilderness (bobcat)
Looking towards Monument Rock, Monument Rock Wilderness (bobcat)
Brown's peony (Paeonia brownii), Bullrun Rock, Monument Rock Wilderness (bobcat)
Bullrun Mountain and the Wallowas in the distance, Bullrun Rock, Monument Rock Wilderness (bobcat)
Leaning pillars, Bullrun Rock, Monument Rock Wilderness (bobcat)
The jeep road/cross country loop to Monument and Bullrun Rocks (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Table Rock South Trailhead
  • Ending Point: Bullrun Rock
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Cross-country lollipop loop
  • Distance: 5.7 miles
  • High Point: 7,873 feet
  • Elevation gain: 800 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Summer into Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Hike Description

The Monument Rock Wilderness in the eastern Blue Mountains protects some pristine river valleys but also open sagebrush steppes on high ridges with ancient, highly weathered volcanic outcroppings. This hike begins near the Table Rock Fire Lookout, an obligatory visit if you are in the area, and sticks mostly to open country as it visits two prominences on the high ridge east of the Little Malheur River. One of these is Monument Rock, a mysterious symmetrical cairn, and the other is the delightful scramble up Bullrun Rock for expansive views. The area was popular with early sheepherders who grazed their flocks on this open plateau: several pack trails led up here from different directions, but these are only occasionally maintained. Until recently, cattle were grazed here, and the fences are just being rolled up. Unfortunately, fires have also scarred the landscape, one the 1989 Monument Rock Fire, another the 2002 Monument Fire; then there was the 2016 Rail Fire of 42,000 acres, Oregon’s largest wildfire of that year, which also found its way up to these heights. Wildlife most likely to be seen are deer, badgers (or at least their burrows), and golden eagles. You’ll begin the hike on the overgrown lookout road, actually a continuation of FR 1370, but now the southern section of the Table Rock Trail #365. There are no signs, though, and this becomes basically a cross-country jaunt: make sure it’s a clear day so you can make out your points of reference.

From the trailhead, hike in along the old road bed, the continuation of FR 1370. There’s a view to the Strawberry Range from the parking area, and Table Rock with its lookout tower looms behind. The slopes below were burned in the 2016 Rail Fire. Pass through a section of partially burned woodland composed of subalpine fir and lodgepole pine. Emerge from this shade onto a slope of low sagebrush with lupine, paintbrush, groundsel, goosefoot violet, and phlox blooming here in early summer. You’ll see a trail coming in from the left, part of the tread of an old pack trail that came up from Amelia Creek and descended to the Little Malheur River (This is your return route if you follow the cross-country loop). Picturesque, weathered granite outcroppings begin to appear. A small spring, dry by mid-summer, issues below the road bed. Fir and pine islands dot the open landscape. A dark tower of rock stands out across the sagebrush flat to your right. Drop into a wooded area with a high granite outcropping to your right and a dark wall of jagged rock to the left. A sign on a lodgepole pine denotes the junction with the Amelia Trail #1973. There’s another outcropping to your right, and you’ll cross the sagebrush expanse at the head of South Bullrun Creek, with Bullrun Rock on your left and Monument Rock away to your right. There’s a post and then an old road sign denoting FR 1370! Reach an open cattle gate at the Monument Rock-Bullrun Rock Trail Junction: the faint track joining from the left runs to Bullrun Rock.

For Monument Rock, proceed through the gate, and follow the track down the slope towards a burned stretch of woodland, getting good views of the Strawberry Mountains to the west. The road trace ends at a sea of deadfall. If you angle to the right, you can make an easier passage where some of the downed trees were reduced to ash by the 2016 fire. Looking ahead, you see the prominence which hosts Monument Rock: a steep snow bank can linger here into early summer. You’ll either want to ascend by taking a breach in the snow somewhere near the center of the snow bank, or walk farther to the right to come up the northwest slope. The first summit you encounter will be Peak 7736, but Monument Rock stands out a short distance away, an interesting cylindrical stack of andesite slabs which local lore says was constructed over the decades by bored shepherds. Dwarf fleabane and buckwheat have taken root around the “monument” and the views are extensive. To the east is Ironside Mountain, while the tower of Castle Rock stands out to the south. The Elkhorn Range is behind Bullrun Rock, and the snow-capped peaks of the Wallowas are on the northern horizon. To the west, you’ll see past Lookout Mountain to the Strawberry Range.

To reach Bullrun Rock, rather than retrace your steps to the gate, keep as close as you can to the eastern rim of the ridge. Once out of the burn, you’ll be hiking through sagebrush along an old fenceline of wooden posts with rock anchors (The barbed wire has mostly been rolled up now) with traces of an old cattle trail. Before you arrive at Bullrun Rock, you may notice the tread of the Amelia Trail coming up from below. Pass another old gate, and look up the southern slope of Bullrun Rock to pick your route, an easy scramble up through the rock formations. Phlox, peonies, groundsel, lungwort, lupine, and buckwheat bloom among the odd pillars. At the top, you can sign the summit register, which was placed here in 2012. A cabin lookout was constructed here in the 1930s but only lasted a few years. You may see the old telephone wire on your descent. Gaze down on the verdant valleys of Bullrun Creek towards the town of Unity. You’ll also get an unobstructed view of the Elkhorns from here.

For your return to the trailhead, descend Bullrun Rock’s western slope, and hike cross-country, keeping to the north rim as much as possible. Pass a red-tinged outcropping, and look down into the burned bowl below. Soon, find yourself on a firebreak cut through the sagebrush by the Alaska-based fire crew that fought the Rail Fire here. You’ll see where they stacked cut trees off to the right of the break. Rise to a grassy ridge that stretches north. From here, angle southwest through the burned woods to pick up the old pack trail that leads back to the decommissioned tread of FR 1370. Go right to head back to your vehicle.

To cap off your day, consider visiting the Table Rock Fire Lookout, which is staffed from late June/early July until the first snows. You can either make this a walk (about half a mile), leaving the lookout road to angle up cross-country after the initial patch of forest, or drive there (0.8 miles). The lookout was almost destroyed in the 2016 Rail Fire but was wrapped in aluminum. The outhouse was reduced to ashes, but there’s a new facility ready for use as of 2017. This is an historic 1937 cabin that replaced the original 1920s structure. The lookout staffperson is used to receiving curious guests, but make sure your visit is between 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Self-issued registration
  • Expect downed trees; no marked trails

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Strawberry Mountain-Monument Rock Wilderness (USFS)]
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Malheur National Forest
  • USFS, BLM, USFWS, National Park Service: Southern Blue Mountains

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Eastern Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • Atlas of Oregon Wilderness by William L. Sullivan
  • Eastern Oregon Wilderness Areas by Donna Ikenberry Aitkenhead
  • Oregon’s Wilderness Areas by George Wuerthner
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill

More Links


Page Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.