Panoramic View of Balanced Rocks

Balanced Rocks of the Lower Metolius Canyon

Hidden and nearly unnoticed in the canyon lands above the Metolius River arm of Lake Billy Chinook are several small bowls with unique geologic formations, known as the “balanced rocks.” Carved by erosion over eons of time, these great slabs of rock weighing many tons are poised up to thirty feet in the air above pinnacles of softer rock. First recorded in 1855 by a railroad survey party traveling in the area, these balanced rock formations are accessible today by a short hike from a good road about thirty driving miles west of Culver.

History of the Balanced Rocks
In 1855, the Williamson
Photo of John Strong Newberry
Railroad Survey passed through Central Oregon, looking for possible rail routes between the Sacramento Valley in California and the Columbia River. Descending the Metolius River canyon in late summer, the party’s geologist, Dr. John Strong Newberry (who lent his name to the Newberry Caldera), noticed a spectacular group of perched rocks high in the canyon, which he duly recorded in his field notes.

For over a century, these balanced rock formations were little known to the public and unadvertised by the Forest Service. However in 2002, a massive wildfire spread through the area, torching the thick juniper-pine forests and exposing the balanced rock fields to public view for the first time from Forest Road 64. As a result, the Forest Service decided to construct a gravel parking area and public access trail leading to viewpoints overlooking the balanced rocks.

The Story of Their Formation
Two ash-flow tuffs of the Deschutes Formation combined to create the balanced rock formations. The capstones are all made of hard, welded Fly Creek Tuff, which protects the softer underlying pillars formed of unwelded and more easily-eroded Hoodoo Tuff (photo at left).
Graphic of Tuff Layers

Since many of the capstones are tilted downhill, this suggests that as the softer Hoodoo tuff layer erodes, it undercuts the harder Fly Creek tuff rimrock immediately above. When deeply undercut, the Fly Creek rimrock then breaks off into slabs and these slide downhill over the surface of the Hoodoo tuff. The harder capstones then protect the softer underlying rock from eroding, and over thousands of years, tall pedestals slowly form beneath these tilted, protective capstones.

Visiting the Balanced Rocks
Just a scenic, 40-minute drive on good roads west from Hwy 97, the balanced rock fields can make a good day outing in the spring and fall (see Road Map download below). About 9 miles north of Redmond, turn west off Hwy 97 onto the Culver Highway and drive 2.6 miles to the town of Culver.
View of Basalt Cliffs above Lake Billy Chinook
In the town center, turn west on C Street, following signs for the Cove Palisades State Park. The paved road then zags through farm fields before descending into the State Park, crossing a bridge over the Crooked River arm of Lake Billy Chinook at 9.5 miles.

Follow the paved road up out of the canyon, then down again across a bridge over the Deschutes River arm of the lake at 12.5 miles. Climb again up out of the canyon onto the juniper-covered plateau, then keep zagging west on the main paved road, following signs for the Perry South Campground. At 24.6 miles, the road turns to gravel as it climbs out of the Fly Creek canyon. Drive another 0.2 miles to a Y, then bear right past a “Dead End” sign. Within 0.1 miles, just over the ridge top, look for the gravel parking and trailhead on the right.

From the parking area, a gravel path contours north for 0.3 miles, ending at an overlook above the first balanced rock field (see Trail Map download below). If feeling more adventurous, one can find a faint, abandoned double-track road about
View of Balanced Rocks and Buckwheat Flowers
40 yards east of the gravel path, which wanders north cross-country another 0.5 miles to a second balanced rock field, known as the Button Head Rocks. This route is best hiked later in the spring, after the soils have dried out, since it can be gumbo mud when wet.

May and June are the ideal time to visit, as the countryside is green, the temperatures are generally mild, and one has the best chance of seeing wildflowers in bloom. Besides abundant yellow arrowleaf balsamroot, look for yellow goldenweed, plus both white and yellow buckwheats flowering among the balanced rocks. Visiting during the hot summer months can be a trial, as there’s very little shade here. Finally, keep an eye out for rattlesnakes once the weather warms up.

Download (PDF, 783 KB): Photos of Balanced Rocks
Download (PDF, 357 KB): Road Map for Balanced Rocks
Download (PDF, 495 KB): Trail Map for Balanced Rocks

DISCLAIMER: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this information, but the authors do not guarantee that it is either current or correct. The reader assumes full responsibility for any use of this information, and is encouraged to exercise all due caution while recreating.

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