Sutton Mountain Dazzles,
Inspires in Equal Measure

Matt Wastradowski   Website

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Spring Basin Wilderness

Spring Basin Wilderness

Spring Basin Wilderness

With 10,000 acres of undulating terrain, secluded canyons and spectacular vantages of the John Day Country, Spring Basin is magnificent to explore This public treasure, forever protected as Wilderness, offers a profusion of desert wildflowers in the spring and year-round recreational opportunities for hikers, horseback

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Stewardship Pronghorn Fence

Stewardship Pronghorn Fence

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Terry Butler, 2018 Volunteer of the Year

Terry Butler, 2018 Volunteer of the Year

“If I have to pick a favorite place in Oregon’s high desert, it would be Sutton Mountain, but I’m excited about all of the Wilderness Study Areas,” says Terry, adding, “Each is a gem to explore, and I hope they all get protection someday… I love the scale of the physical beauty of the desert.”

Natural History of Sutton Mountain

Today, the view from atop Sutton Mountain looks over the John Day River Basin. But millions of years ago, the view would have been far different: Active volcanoes, ginkgo trees, plentiful wildlife, and a verdant ecosystem stretched for miles in every direction. (For context: In those days, this area of eastern Oregon was as wet as modern-day western Oregon.)

But those erupting volcanoes killed plant and animal life before slowly shifting westward—and a changing climate spurred the dry, arid ecosystem surrounding Sutton Mountain today.

Tyson Fisher   Website

What It’s Like to Hike Sutton Mountain

Of course, getting to enjoy those views demands some effort along the Sutton Mountain trail, a 7.5-mile, round-trip trek that gains nearly 1,700 feet in elevation.

The entirety of the trail follows an old roadbed, initially through open forests of juniper and springtime wildflowers—such as purple lupine and red Indian paintbrush—before leaving the shade for good. (As such, this hike is best done in early spring and fall, when daytime temperatures won’t be quite so oppressive. Bring plenty of water, and apply sunscreen before setting out)

Roughly halfway up the mountain, you’ll walk through a cattle gate—be sure to close it behind you—and follow the road as it grows fainter and approaches the summit. A small overlook just below the summit affords wide-open views of the Painted Hills and Ochoco Mountains. But for a full 360º look at the region, a quick backcountry climb to the summit of Sutton Mountain (where no official trail actually leads) affords even grander views of Cascade peaks, from Mt. Jefferson to Mt. Adams. In April, keep an eye out for the rare (and beautiful) pink hedgehog cactus.

 

Mark Darnell

Sutton Mountain Protection Efforts Remain Ongoing

Once you reach the summit of Sutton Mountain, you’ll understand why advocates like ONDA have been striving to protect the stunning landscape.

Sutton Mountain is managed by the Bureau of Land Management—and is under consideration for a Wilderness designation by the U.S. Congress. In 2019, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley introduced the Sutton Mountain and Painted Hills Area Preservation and Economic Enhancement Act, which would formally create the Sutton Mountain Wilderness.

This legislation is pending in Congress but, if passed, would imbue Sutton Mountain with the strongest possible standards of conservation law while providing for conservation and improved management of surrounding public lands to the benefit of fish and wildlife, watershed health, and local communities.

About the Author

Matt Wastradowski is a travel and outdoors writer based in Portland, Oregon. Matt has written for numerous publications, including Willamette Week, REI's Co-op Blog, and Northwest Travel & Life. He is the co-author of Moon Pacific Northwest Hiking, now available.

Learn More About Matt