Multi-Sport Adventures
Along the Oregon Desert Trail

Renee Patrick

Author: Renee Patrick  | Updated: August 17, 2021  |  Category: How-to

Hiking may be the most common way to approach the 750-mile Oregon Desert Trail, but there are many other ways to experience the remote beauty of the high desert along the route.

The Oregon Desert Trail Guidebook highlights multi-sport options in each of the 25 sections of the route.

Wax those skis, tune the bike, and dig your boat out of the garage. These high desert adventures are sure to have you returning to eastern Oregon again and again to experience the Sagebrush Sea from a different perspective.

 

voices

Karen Garber, volunteer since 2017

Karen Garber, volunteer since 2017

So glad we got to do a stewardship trip with ONDA this summer, and now I’m more inspired than ever to start hiking the Oregon Desert Trail in bits and pieces.

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John Cunningham, ONDA member and volunteer

John Cunningham, ONDA member and volunteer

Restoration is hard slow work. It takes hold, or it doesn’t, in fits and starts. The immensity of the need can be discouraging, but we must carry on. I am so thankful ONDA carries on.

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Oregon Desert Trail Map

Oregon Desert Trail Map

Biking along the ODT

Over fifty-percent of our desert route ties into old two-track and maintained gravel roads. These sections can be biked, but not all two-track roads out there are bike-friendly. We created some bike and pavement alternate options to navigate around Wilderness, Wilderness Study Areas, and sensitive wildlife habitats so you can have a continuous biking experience similar to the hiking route. Route info is available in our GPS data folder. The suggested bike routes are, for the most part, open to vehicle travel as well, so bikers need to expect multiple uses on these roads.

The Oregon Desert Trail ties into the multi-use 135-mile Fremont National Recreation Trail. Bikes will love the views once the trail gains Morgan Butte and further along on Winter Rim. Forty-seven miles of the ODT overlaps with bikepacking route Oregon Timber Trail.

It is helpful to know that biking on saturated dirt roads may be extremely difficult due to deep muddy areas. Burrs and thorns can also cause problems for bike tires, so be prepared with an adequate patch kit.


Horseback Riding along the ODT

Several sections of the Oregon Desert Trail are popular with horseback riders - and horse camps provide the necessary space and amenities you will need to prepare for your ride.

On the west side of the route you will see the hard work of the Backcountry Horsemen – High Desert Trail Riders and the Lakeview Chapter of Oregon Equestrian Trails who helped build and maintain a large portion of the Fremont National Recreation Trail. A horse camp is located at Moss Pass, and wonderful riding can be had in either direction.

Steens Mountain Wilderness is popular with horse packers, primarily up the Big Indian Gorge Trail and the parallel Little Blitzen Gorge. South Steens Campground has 15 equestrian campsites with sturdy hitching rails, fire pits, picnic tables; five sites have oversized corrals.

More info can be found with these local resources:

Boating along the ODT

The ODT route coincides with three navigable waterways in the high desert. The Chewaucan River outside Paisley, and Wild and Scenic Rivers Donner und Blitzen River in the Steens Mountain Wilderness, and Owyhee River near the Idaho border. All can be challenging wilderness paddles.


  • The Chewaucan can packrafted or kayaked from 20 miles upriver of Paisley near Moss Pass, or put in at Chewaucan Crossing for shorter float. Spring snowmelt has provided suitable conditions in the past for this Class II-III river run.

  • Those looking to paddle the Donner und Blitzen River may need to time this run closely to coincide with the snowmelt on Steens Mountain. Adventurous paddlers can hike in and launch about 17 river miles north of Page Springs Campground for this Class III-IV river run.

  • The Owyhee River is a popular raft trip when flows are above 1,000 cfs, and many outfitters run guided trips in the spring. At lower flows this Class IV-V river can be packrafted, but many larger rapids need to be portaged and can be time-consuming.

Winter Sports along the ODT

Winter in Oregon’s high desert can look quite different from one year to the next. In high snow years most of the Oregon Desert Trail could be traveled on skis or snowshoes, or consider these options close to the 750-mile route:


  • Warner Canyon Ski Area is a small and intimate ski hill near Lakeview and the California border. One lift at Warner Canyon provides access to 21 different trails ranging from expert to beginner from the summit at 6,500’. Miles of cross-country ski trails also dot the landscape.

  • Abert Lake and Summer Lake during a cold snap can turn the shallow alkaline lakes into the perfect adventure for those with a pair of ice skates. Speed across the ice and race your friends across miles of frozen lake.

  • Winter Rim and Summer Lake are perfect complements any time of year, but when the snow falls, the rim can look even more dramatic towering 3,000’ above the vast lakebed. Adventurous skiers can rent the Fremont Point Cabin during the winter months, but should be prepared for a 10-mile trip each way.