While the Ochoco Mountains may take some effort to reach, the idyllic meadows, ponderosa pines and aspen trees, soft swooping hills, and nearly perfect climate make this range a must-see! If you are traveling from Bend, it is nice to get some alpine exposure outside of the Three Sisters Wilderness; if you are coming from the Willamette Valley, it is great to get out of the rain and into the sun! Lookout Mountain is an excellent destination and can be easily combined with short detours to check out the Mother Lode Mine, the Independent Mine and the Blue Ridge Mine. Each were cinnabar mines* that lived short lives from the 1930s to 1950s.
As you climb Lookout Mountain you’ll enjoy a diversity of flora, including sagebrush, yellow bells, leafy bluebells and evergreen violets. The key attraction is the view from the summit, which makes the drive worth your while. Lookout Mountain is the tallest peak in the Ochocos, and from here you'll have a panoramic view of the Cascade Range unlike any other. From north to south you get full views of Mount Adams, Mount Hood, Ollalie Butte, Mount Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Mount Washington, the North, Middle, and South Sisters, Broken Top, Mount Bachelor and Diamond Peak. The view is truly spectacular!
* The lands for the mines were acquired by prospector George A. Dreis in 1930 for mercury extraction. Mercury comes primarily from the mineral cinnabar, which is sparsely but widely scattered throughout the Ochocos, particularly at the base of Lookout Mountain. Extracting mercury from cinnabar is rather simple: the rock shale is crushed, heated in a kiln, and the resulting mercury vapor is condensed and drained into a metal-lined “flask.” You can find tailings and talus from the extraction process that have been deposited in mounds throughout the area. Mercury was used for thermometers, various instruments, amalgam tooth fillings, a topical disinfectant, laxative and a de-wormer for children. Once mercury's toxicity was understood it was phased out of common usage, and most of the mines in the region began to shut down by the 1950s. Mercury still has many uses, however, including mercury vapor, which enables the illumination of fluorescent lights.