This hike is best in the spring. Even early May can produce a good show, depending on what kind of spring we have had. The earliest flowers may be the grass widows, phlox, larkspur, desert parsley and frasera. In late May and early June, many others will appear, including balsamroot. big-headed clover, death camas, paintbrush, waterleaf, brodiaea, lupine and bitterroot. A bonus for the hiker is a terrific view of the Cascades.
I recommend starting at McCoin Orchards, reached from the Lone Pine Road east of Smith Rock State Park, then left on Forest Road 5710 to its intersection with Road 57, then left about a half mile to the old orchard site. There is a parking area and a trailhead sign. The first section of perhaps a mile to a cattle gate has been heavily grazed and usually devoid of blooms, but once the gate is passed, it’s a whole other world. This can be an out-and-back hike, although other options using car shuttles are possible, the most ambitious being a one-way hike from Smith Rock State Park. Another option in the area is a scramble to the top of Pine Ridge. This is reached by starting up Road 5710, then going right on Road 57. Watch on your right for a large fenced area which is an elk exclosure. Park there on the road and start uphill past the exclosure, continuing to the top of the ridge for great views. Although there are not as many flowers on this scramble as there are on the regular trail, you may see some interesting ones. This bitterroot was found there, and it is the most intensely colored one I have ever seen.
Here are a few examples of other wildflowers you might expect to see.
Here is another idea for a Gray Butte hike. Follow the instructions given above for the previous hike, but after starting up road 5710, go only 1.1 miles and then turn left, crossing a cattle guard onto road 5720. Proceed uphill on this road for 1.4 miles to a saddle (you may have to open and close a cattle gate just before the saddle) and park there where is appears that another rough road comes down from the left and the road you are on proceeds uphill. Look there for a trail post that leads you off to the west. Following this trail to the west and south for 2.5 miles brings you to a nice rock outcrop with views down into Smith Rock State Park. I would expect you to see many of the same flowers that would be found on the McCoin Orchard hike, but with fewer other hikers. On a recent early May visit, I found mostly phlox, but more things should appear as the month progresses. On June 8, 2010, I found lots of flowers on this hike. It was a very cold spring in 2010, so other years may find the flowers a week or so earlier. There were still a few remnants of phlox, but I found lots of pussytoes, sedum and false dandelion at first. Later we began to see wallflower (the tallest I had ever seen), penstemon, larkspur, a bit of cryptantha, phacelia, and finally — at about the 2 mile mark –a large field
of lovely bitteroot. We saw no other hikers or mountain bikers. There are some great rock outcroppings and there are good views to the east at one point, as well as outstanding westerly views. A little stone sentinal stood guard over the flowers and the views.
For those who don’t want to hike, but want to see Bitterroot, instead of hiking west, follow the trail uphill–paralleling the road–and find those little beauties in just a few hundred feet, mostly to the left of the trail.