Monument Rock Wilderness is the lesser known, little brother of the popular Strawberry Mountain Wilderness. The peaks are lower and less spectacular, but Monument Rock can claim quiet and solitude.
The 20,079-acre wilderness was established in 1984 and lies in the Malheur and Wallowa-Whitman national forests. The rocky ridge at the area’s northern boundary divides the Little Malheur River and the upper drainage of the South Fork Burnt River.
Elevations in the wilderness range from 5,200 feet in the valleys to 7,500 feet or more on the ridges. Ponderosa and lodgepole pines cover the lower elevations, while subalpine fir grows near the treeless ridgetops.
Wildlife species found across the wilderness include elk, deer, bear, badgers and a rare wolverine. Birdwatchers will find 70 species of birds, including water ouzels, pileated woodpeckers and sage grouse.
The hiking season in the wilderness begins in early summer and runs through November, with the majority of use seen during hunting season. Winter snowstorms and summer thunderstorms are common along the mountain ridges, with precipitation averaging 40 inches per year, about twice the amount received at surrounding lowlands.
The last 3 miles of Forest Road 1370 to Table Rock Lookout is rough and rocky. The nearest campground is Elk Flat Campground, a primitive spot with six sites on a grassy meadow about 4 miles from the lookout. There is a vault toilet but no water supply.
Large fires swept through parts of the wilderness in 1989, 1996, 2002 and 2016. The Rail Fire raced 300 yards in 60 seconds toward Table Rock Lookout in 2016, but the lookout had been wrapped in aluminum and survived intact. A wooden garage below the lookout burned to its concrete foundation.
Staffed from late June until first snows, the lookout at 7,756 feet atop Table Rock began as a cupola in the 1920s. It was upgraded to a 14-foot square cab with a catwalk in 1937 and again in 1949.
The lookout is listed on the National Historic Lookout Register and is a popular attraction. Looking south, visitors can make out a faint knob on a hill about 2 miles away — a 12-foot high cairn called Monument Rock.
Legend has it that bored Basque sheepherders built the circular stacked-rock cairn in the early 1900s. It now leans precipitously to the west.
Visitors can hike to Monument Rock along a closed portion of Forest Road 1370, which over the years has become overgrown with sagebrush and brilliant wildflowers. The trailhead is located at a hairpin turn about 0.8 mile below the lookout.
Most of the 2-mile hike to the giant cairn is level, passing between spectacular rock formations and across large meadows. From a historic fence line a little more than a mile from the trailhead, where the trail begins to peter out, hikers can start cross-country toward a 300-foot hill to the right. The cairn is not visible from the trail at that point.
An alternative is to hike north from the old fence line for half a mile to the top of Bullrun Rock. Visitors will enjoy great views down 150-foot high cliffs into the South Fork Burnt River region.
For hikers who enjoy cool running streams, Little Malheur Trail 366 runs for about 7.3 miles along the Little Malheur River. Hikers are advised to bring water.
Directions: To reach Table Rock Lookout from Prairie City, head south from Highway 26 on Bridge Street past the cemetery, where it becomes County Road 62. About 7 miles later, turn left on Forest Road 13. After another 11 miles, turn left on Forest Road 1370. The wilderness boundary is 6 miles farther.