10 Summer Adventures in Eastern Oregon

Sage Brown   Website

Escape the heat, or at least take your mind off the dog days of summer, with these 10 adventures found around Oregon’s high desert and along the Oregon Desert Trail (ODT).

From festivals to star-gazing and bike riding, we have something for everyone to enjoy east of the Cascades.


Michelle Frisella, member since 2017

Michelle Frisella, member since 2017

So proud of ONDA and its members and volunteers. Such hard work gets done. To use an overused word, this is patriotism!


Discover Desert Pronghorn

Discover Desert Pronghorn


Sage-grouse Mating Dance

Sage-grouse Mating Dance

Star Gaze at Pine Mountain Observatory

Eastern Oregon’s dark night skies offer an incredible view into the cosmos, and a trip to the Pine Mountain Observatory is a fantastic summer weekend adventure. On Friday and Saturday evenings until mid-September you can visit the University of Oregon’s observatory, camp next door at Pine Mountain Campground and look through several of the university’s large telescopes. The viewing begins shortly after sunset as the moon and bright planets become visible (clear skies permitting). As the sky darkens, tour guides will help you find more celestial objects including constellations, stars, planets and more. Camping is primitive; make sure to bring your own water and $5 for a donation to the Observatory. Call 541-382-8331 or email Operations Manager Alton Luken for more information.

Steens Loop Road, East Rim View

Drive the Steens Loop Road

Escape the summer heat while viewing one of the most spectacular areas in Oregon’s High Desert with a drive along the Steens Loop Road. The 59-mile gravel road will give you a glimpse into the glaciated landscape of this incredible fault-block mountain that towers 5,000’ above the Alvord Desert below. Several campgrounds along the road are good staging grounds for your adventure, and if you are up to the challenge include a short and steep 1.25 mile hike down to the stunning shores of Wildhorse Lake.

Hit the Paisley Mosquito Festival

The Paisley Mosquito Festival, held July 27-29, 2018 is a highlight of the summer along the Oregon Desert Trail! This festival has a parade, live music, community dance, a bbq and beer garden, and more. Revenue generated from the Mosquito Festival funds mosquito control operations in the area, and, if you have spent any time in the area in early summer, you know this is a great cause! Camp at the Summer Lake Hot Spring just six miles up Highway 31, or follow the Chewaucan River west from town to find a shady spot along the river (hint: there are some excellent swimming holes along the Chewaucan).

Hiking Big Indian Gorge

Hike up Big Indian Gorge

Hiking in higher elevations can often provide cooler temperatures in the hot summer months, so you may consider a hike into Big Indian Gorge in the Steens Mountain Wilderness. This trail is included in Section 14 of the Oregon Desert Trail and starts from the South Steens Campground, so check out the maps and guidebook descriptions over on the ODT pages of the website. Hikers will need to ford the creek three times in the first few miles, so make sure to bring some sandals and splash to your heart’s content in the cool waters.

Get Cool in Crack in the Ground

One secret way to stay cool in the summer is to go underground. A hike in Crack in the Ground just north of Christmas Valley feels like nature’s air conditioner as the deep fissure reaches depths up to 70’ in the 2-mile crack. Bring a picnic lunch to eat below the towering basalt pillars of rock, or explore the cool and mossy path through the shadowy depths and stay fresh even during the hottest part of the day. You can camp at the nearby Green Mountain campground, just be sure to bring plenty of water as there are no natural water sources in the area.

Bike the Tour de Outback


Did you know there is an Oregon Scenic Bikeway in the high desert? The Oregon Outback Scenic Bikeway stretches 90 miles from Lakeview, the highest elevation town* in Oregon, to Plush and Adel at the base of the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge. The Tour de Outback event on August 4, 2018 offers five picturesque rides ranging from 5 to 90 miles in length including a kid’s bike ride and a 14.8-mile trail run (bonus: registration includes dinner!) Come see why recreation opportunities are putting Lake County on the map.

Donner und Blitzen River

Hike and Fish the Donner und Blitzen River

On the west flanks of Steens Mountains, the Donner und Blitzen River flows into the lush Blitzen Valley in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. From the back side of Page Springs Campground, hikers can access this waterway for a short four-mile hike up to the confluence of Fish Creek. Several wide spots in the river corridor offer excellent backcountry camp spots. Consider bringing a fly rod for the red band trout that may be lurking in the deeper pools.

Catch the Big One at the Carp Fishing Derby

How does the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge deal with non-native carp in the waterways between Burns and Frenchglen? They hold a free Carp Fishing Derby with the Friends of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge every year for a fun, good-natured fishing competition. The event began in 2010 as a creative way to remove some of the invasive species, and refuge staff will be on hand to explain the management issues these fish pose. The family-friendly event takes place at the Refuge Headquarters on August 18, 2018 from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. and even includes prizes for the biggest fish.

Paddle Leslie Gulch

Paddle the Owyhee at Leslie Gulch

Leslie Gulch in the Owyhee Canyonlands on the far eastern side of Oregon can reach high temperatures in the summer, so make sure any visit to the area includes time to cool off in the water. The towering rock formations of Leslie Gulch are interesting from the car, but even more impressive from the seat of your canoe. A boat launch can be found at the end of the road past the Slocum Creek Campgound, and we highly recommend a paddle upstream into the stunning scenery that makes the Owyhee region so spectacular.

Jam at the Frenchglen Jamboree

The Frenchglen Jamboree on August 4, 2018 is a family-friendly event at the gateway to Steens Mountain Wilderness. The day includes a youth rodeo, live music and bbq dinner, all hosted by the Frenchglen Community Club. Other fun events include a horseshoe and cribbage tournament, and a dutch oven dessert cookoff! Come hungry and stay long enough for the dancing.

And, don’t forget – safety first!

Be careful on your high desert adventures. Summer months often have extreme fire danger. Please don’t drive over tall grasses. Many 2-track roads have tall grasses between the tracks that can catch on fire from hot vehicle undercarriages during times of extreme fire danger and, if you’re planning to leave the pavement, carry a shovel, fire extinguisher and five gallons of water in the vehicle with you.

Refer to our Desert Travel Tips for more suggestions on staying cool in the summer, and please follow all Leave No Trace principals while on your adventure.

*To be fair, Greenhorn (population: 2) sits at a higher elevation than Lakeview.