Steins Pillar is a 350-foot natural skyscraper that rises out of the gentle slopes of the Ochoco mountains in central Oregon just east of the town of Prineville. With its overhanging bulbous summit, it towers impressively over the Mill Creek Valley just outside the Mill Creek Wilderness. The farm structures lying at its base provide the onlookers with the correct sense of scale. The pillar is composed of rhyolite ash produced by eruptions from the Cascades that settled in an inland sea and compacted to stone – a natural process that apparently also spawned another impressive pillar in central Oregon, specifically Monkey Face at Smith Rock. What is more directly relevant to climbers is that the rock is not terribly solid. Large swaths of it are in fact are quite chossy. This however does not take away from one’s desire to scale this impressive formation once seen from the overlook point.
According the the USFS plaque at the overlook, the pillar was named after the 1860’s area explorer, Major Enoch Steen. The name was commonly misspelled and the incorrect version eventually became official.
Steins Pillar is located approximately 16 miles east of the town of Prineville, OR. To reach the Pillar, drive US26 10 miles east from downtown Prineville to 200 yards east of mile marker 28. Turn left onto (paved) Mill Creek Road. Follow the road past the end of the pavement (at 5.1 miles from US26). Stay on Mill Creek Road for another 1.6 miles to the signed junction for Steins Pillar Trailhead.
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If headed for the Trailhead: Turn right at the sign, cross a small bridge and follow the forest road (#500) for exactly 2 miles from the junction. The trailhead consists of a turnaround loop in the forest road (note the self registration box). From the trailhead, hike the well-maintained trail for 1.8 miles to the backside overlook (NOT the same overlook as mentioned below) of the Pillar. From there, stay on trail as it descends down toward the base of the pillar. The trail vanishes just before the base (below wooden steps). The hike-in takes from 30 minutes to 1 hour and involves approximately 700 feet of elevation change (rolling ups and downs).
If headed for the Steins Pillar Overlook: Stay on Mill Creek Road for another 2 miles (approximate distance) from the junction and look for a marked parking area (on right). Please note that hiking from the overlook to the Pillar directly would involve crossing private land – don’t do it!