Crooked River Road (Highway 27) is one of the prettiest roads in Oregon. It is also called the Lower Crooked River Back Country Byway and connects Highway 20 east of Bend, Oregon to Highway 126 in Prineville, Oregon.
This is not a long drive, approximately 45 miles, but it is very scenic. The road winds along the meandering Crooked River, with basalt cliffs on either side, wildflowers, and great places to turn off and do some fishing.
We decided to explore this area on a cool day in early March and were treated to some magnificent views of Oregon high desert. After reaching the Prineville Reservoir, we dropped into the incredibly scenic Crooked River Canyon below the Bowman Dam. There are many pullouts along the road to allow visitors to take in the views. The road is decent and well maintained. There are many campsites and access to the river to fish and or wade along the way.
Because the sun is lower in the sky in early March, we decided to take this drive from south to north so that the sun would be behind us. We had breakfast in Bend and then drove East on Highway 20 for 31 miles before heading North on the Crooked River Road (Highway 27). The first 18 miles are a well-maintained gravel road. From that point to Prineville the road is paved. From the south highway 27 crosses into the hilly sections of Oregon’s high sagebrush desert before descending into the narrow Crooked River Canyon gorge when you reach the Prineville Reservoir and the Bowman Dam.
The scenery was so gorgeous that we will post more pictures than we usually do. Here are some photos of the gravel part of Crooked River Road.
More road pictures after reaching the pavement.
The Crooked River Basin lies in the heart of central Oregon. It is east of the Cascade Mountains and Deschutes River and south of the John Day River. The appropriately named Crooked River is fed primarily by mountain creeks and springs as it twists and turns for 155 miles before emptying into the Deschutes River and Lake Billy Chinook. In some sections, the Crooked River has carved deep canyons through the landscape; in others, there are broad floodplains caused by the river’s historical heavy floods.
Lower Crooked Wild and Scenic River was designated a Federal Wild and Scenic River in 1988. This rugged landscape is nearly as untouched as it was a century ago and is a visual treat to all visitors. The Lower Crooked Wild and Scenic River has cut a gorge into a massive basalt flow, exposing cliffs and sheer basalt walls up to 600 feet high. The canyon walls show irregular patterns with different layers of rust to dark brown basalt. The basalt formations include post piles, talus slopes, and narrow tributary canyons. The Crooked River has eroded these columnar basalt cliffs since the Newberry volcanic eruption 1.2 million years ago.
The Lower Crooked Wild and Scenic River has 2,300 acres of public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management and approximately 220 acres managed by the Bureau of Reclamation. The 8-mile Chimney Rock segment boasts diverse scenery and wildlife and provides access to year-round recreational activities.
The Chimney Rock segment of the Lower Crooked Wild and Scenic River has nine developed sites for camping, two day-use areas, and one trailhead. The majority of these campgrounds have single family campsites that accommodate up to eight people and one vehicle, with room for one additional vehicle. There are two campgrounds (Lone Pine and Big Bend) that have group or multi-family campsites. Campsites and day-use sites are currently available on a first come/first served basis, and are open year-round. All the campgrounds are fee sites; all have toilets and only one, Chimney Rock, has drinking water.
|Campground||# of Sites|
|Castle Rock||8 sites|
|Lone Pine||8 sites|
|Chimney Rock||20 sites|
|Cobble Rock||15 sites|
|Post Pile||10 sites|
|Poised Butte||6 sites|
|Big Bend||30 sites|
The maximum length of stay is 14 days. All campgrounds have numbered campsites, toilets, picnic tables, and garbage cans. Grey water sumps are provided for waste water disposal (dish water). There are no RV dump stations on the river corridor, although they are available in Prineville at the Chamber of Commerce and Crook County RV Park.
Prineville Reservoir State Park has two developed campgrounds as well primitive sites along the 43-mile shore of the lake created by Bowman Dam. There are tent sites, hookup sites for recreational vehicles as well as log cabins “with full amenities”. There are flush toilets and hot showers and boat ramps. The park is open for camping and day use year-round. Adjacent to the state park and its camping areas is the Prineville Reservoir Wildlife Area, managed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Bureau of Reclamation, which is open for dispersed camping.
The 2.6-mile round trip hike to Chimney Rock involves a moderate climb up a side drainage, some switchbacks, and ends with expansive views of the Crooked River Canyon and The Cascades in the distance. The trailhead is located on the east side of the highway opposite Chimney Rock Campground.
Don’t drop your video camera while you are hiking. Especially on a steep gravelly slope. Thanks to my hero, Dick, it was recovered with just minor scratches!
The view from the top was spectacular. We could not see the Cascade Mountains because of the clouds, but it was still an amazing view.
From the North
From downtown Prineville, go south on Main Street. Main Street turns into State Highway 27 (Crooked River Road) and passes through ranchland in the Crooked River Valley. Approximately 10 miles from town, the river canyon narrows and the Federally-managed Wild and Scenic River stretch begins. Bowman Dam at Prineville Reservoir is the upper end of the Wild and Scenic River. The trip from Prineville to Bowman Dam is 22 miles.
From the South
From Bend, go east on State Road 20 for 31 miles to Highway 27 (Crooked River Road). The road is a well-maintained gravel road for the first 18 miles, then becomes paved. The trip from Highway 20 to Bowman Dam is 20 miles.