Home  •   Field Guide  •   Forums  •    Unread Posts  •   Maps  •   Find a Hike!
| Page | Discussion | View source | History | Print Friendly and PDF

Mill Creek Wilderness Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Revision as of 19:43, 7 November 2017 by Bobcat (Talk | contribs)

West side of Twin Pillars from the trail (Jerry Adams)
Twin Pillars from Belknap trail (Jerry Adams)
The Wildcat trail goes through a previously burned area (Jerry Adams)
Below Twin Pillars, the trail goes through overgrown brush - wear pants (Jerry Adams)
The Twin Pillars trail crosses Mill Creek several times (Jerry Adams)


Hike Description

The Mill Creek Wilderness is a fairly small, fairly unknown wilderness area in Eastern Oregon, about 15 miles northeast of Prineville. The "mountains" are more like hills, reaching 6000 feet elevation. Mill Creek runs through the middle of it. From the creek, you can see the surrounding hills of the wilderness. The trail goes up to summit ridges, from where you can see Mill Creek and glimpses of surrounding area including the Three Sisters in the Cascades. There are a number of interesting rock spires, including the Twin Pillars, which the trail passes close to.

The area has sparse pine and fir forest. In general, there isn't too much undergrowth to impede your view or travel. There's a lot of deer. There is a lot of cattle residue.

There isn't a lot of drinking water. You can get water from Mill Creek for about 3 miles of trail. There's a well at South Twin Pillars Trailhead and springs at each of the other three trailheads, but the water is sort of funky. The trail crosses the headwaters of Mill Creek at one place, but it may dry up late in the season.

A large part of the wilderness was burned in 2000. In places, entire trees were burned and died. In other places the fire didn't reach the tree tops and the trees have survived well. In other places there was no fire. You could consider this a negative, or an opportunity to see how nature works. All the burned areas are recovering. There are large swaths of burned tree trunks, sort of like the Mount Saint Helens blast zone.

This area gets a lot of snow in the winter and can get very cold. It doesn't get snowed in until later than the Cascades, because of the relatively low elevation and rainfall. It melts off earlier than the Cascades.

One advantage of this area is the relatively low amount of rainfall, being east of the Cascades and lower elevation. If you want to do a trip and there's too much rain in Portland or on Mount Hood, this area will be much drier - see the weather report for Prineville, or go to forecast.weather.gov. Also, the snows come later and leave earlier - see www.nohrsc.noaa.gov.

This hike does all of the official trails in the wilderness. You have to walk 2.9 miles along a gravel road to get between two trailheads. You camp at two trailhead campgrounds, which cars can get to on somewhat long gravel roads. You might prefer staying off the road and camping away from the trailheads.

Most people hike this area as a day hike. Since it takes at least 4 hours to get here from Portland, you could camp at any of the the trailheads and hike during the day.

This hikes starts at the most popular trailhead, the South Twin Pillars Trailhead. Wildcat Campground is right at the trailhead, which is a popular campground. In the off season, it's closed and you can't camp there. Another good hike would start at the North Twin Pillars Trailhead, where there is a small campground open year-round, and you get a nice view of Bingham Prairie, where you might see wildlife.

Detailed Description

Start at the South Twin Pillars Trailhead at 3750 feet elevation. The Twin Pillar Trail goes on the west side of Mill Creek. The trail is a good trail, well maintained.

In the first 1.5 miles, the trail crosses Mill Creek seven times. There are no bridges. Mill Creek is not very big, but especially in the spring, it's a bit tricky crossing without getting your feet wet. You might want to wear sandals or something. You can just stay on the East side of the creek and avoid the stream crossings but there are difficult use trails at places.

At mile 2.6 miles, 4050 feet elevation, you reach the Twin Pillars-Belknap Trail Junction and the beginning of the Belknap Trail. Go right on the Belknap trail. This is your last chance to get drinking water.

The Belknap Trail is pretty good, well maintained, easy to follow. It goes steeply up a canyon. You get some views of the Twin Pillars, and as you get higher up, the Three Sisters.

At mile 4.8 you reach the end of the Belknap Trail at 5200 feet. Just before the junction, go through a gate in a barbed wire fence. Go right on the Wildcat Trail.

At mile 7.2, 5400 feet, you reach the beginning of the Wildcat Trail at the South Wildcat Trailhead at White Rock Campground. Cars can get here on a gravel road, but it's a ways from the paved road and relatively little used. There are two picnic tables and a nice outhouse. There is a spring, with a trickle of water going into a watering trough, used by cattle. When you're at the trailhead sign and facing the road, the spring is on your left behind a wire fence, about 30 yards downhill. There's algae in the trough, but if you used a water filter it's probably oakay. I did this and the water didn't taste too bad.

The next day, go back the way you came on the Wildcat Trail. At mile 2.4 from Wildcat South you reach the Belknap Trail junction again, stay straight on the Wildcat Trail.

From here, the trail is less traveled. It follows generally along the top of a ridge with occasional views. There are lots of ups and downs - 1430 feet elevation gain and 900 feet elevation loss from the Belknap junction. There are lots of trees and branches across the trail, but there isn't a lot of undergrowth or steep places so you can fairly easily get over or around. There are a couple barbed wire fence gates. At about mile 6 the trail gets pretty faint, but stay just west of the barbed wire fence. If you have a GPS with the standard USGS topo map, the actual trail follows the trail on the map pretty good.

There are many places along the ridge where you could camp, but you would have to bring water with you. There are several small summits that the trail goes around that might be good.

On the USGS topo map, it says there are a number of springs. I located a couple of them. They were basically mud holes trampled by cattle. In an emergency, it would probably be possible to get drinking water. At about mile 7.7 from South Wildcat the trail crosses the headwaters of Mill Creek. This may dry up late in the summer/early in the fall. There are some places around here you could probably find to camp.

At mile 8.6, 5730 feet elevation, you reach the North Wildcat Trailhead.

At the North Wildcat Trailhead, there is another small campground - follow the rough road downhill about 0.1 mile. Car access is via a gravel road, is fairly unused, but there is hunter residue like beer bottles. There are several picnic tables, a nice outhouse and a spring like at White Rock. To get to the spring, take the rough road that goes just east of the outhouse, down to the spring. Camp here the second night.

The third day, hike up to the main gravel road, and go west (it start more like northwest and gradually bends west).

At mile 2.9 miles from Wildcat North, 5500 feet elevation, you reach the North Twin Pillars Trailhead. It's well signed and seems more popular than the Wildcat trailheads. The parking area is a short distance from the main road. There are a couple picnic tables and a nice outhouse. There is a spring, which flows into a pool presumably used by cattle which is very algaed. Out of the pool flows a tiny stream, which in about 100 yards becomes clear and looks pretty drinkable, but I would use a filter.

Go south on the Twin Pillars Trail. This is one of the more popular trails, so if you saw anyone, this is where you might see them. The trail starts pretty good, easily followed with a few trees to cross. It crosses a few tiny streams which probably dry up late in the season.

At about mile 0.5 from Twin Pillars North, the trail follows along the rim of Desolation Canyon, rather scenic with cliffs.

At about mile 1.0 you reach a high point at 5800 feet elevation.

At mile 2.8, 5400 feet, you reach the north base of the Twin Pillars. There is a nice area to camp, but you would have to bring water from the trailhead (or Mill Creek if you were coming from that direction). You get a nice view of the Pillars and the Mill Creek canyon below.

From here, the trail goes steeply downhill through a number of switchbacks. There is obnoxious brush encroaching on the trail at many places. There aren't stickers or anything, but they're scratchy. You are advised to wear pants. I need to spend a day there with a pair of loppers.

At about mile 4.6, 4250 feet elevation, the trail crosses a small stream which may dry up in late summer and early fall. There was water when I was there 10/22/2009. There are places to put a tent.

At about mile 4.8, the trail goes back up on a ridge. Follow the ridge a little up and there's a nice camp spot looking over the Twin Pillars.

At about mile 5.4, the trail reaches Mill Creek. Starting here, and the rest of the way down Mill Creek are many nice places to camp. You can get water from Mill Creek, but should probably treat it because there are cattle and other animals around.

The trail crosses Mill Creek from west to east - somewhat tricky without getting your feet wet.

At mile 5.6 you reach the Belknap junction again and the end of the loop. Follow the trail the way you came initially to the trailhead at mile 8.2 from Twin Pillars North.

For current info call:

    Ochoco Forest Service Prineville (541) 416-6500 

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass is required at the trailhead.


This is from Ochoco National Forest web site with elevations and mileages added by me:


Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

More Links


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.