As the days cool down and our thoughts turn to cozy campfires and the first few flakes of snow, Oregon Desert Trail Coordinator Renee Patrick has rounded up a few best bets for experiencing Oregon’s high desert in fall.
Remember, Oregon’s high desert is a dynamic place, so, as always, check current conditions before you head out.
Hikes & Bikes
- Want to catch a glimpse of the glowing aspen groves in Steen Mountain? Autumn is the perfect time to backpack into Big Indian Gorge or Little Blitzen Gorge for an immersive experience in fall colors. Both hikes leave from the South Steens Campground and wind up the glaciated gorges to impressive headwalls peppered with waterfalls and hanging valleys.
- Is walking just too slow for your speed? Try biking the Steens Loop road, or riding along the east side of this 50-mile long mountain. The loop road offers incredible views into Big Indian Gorge and Little Blitzen Gorge, as well as Kiger Gorge and the incredible expanse of Alvord Desert almost 5,000’ below. Gates to this 59-mile road close when the snow gets too deep near the 9,734’ summit. Contact the BLM-Burns District for the latest conditions.
- Any time of year is a good time of year to explore Hart Mountain, but the aspen groves that pepper the landscape mean the fall season is particularly spectacular. The Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge suggests several hikes in the region, and a particularly stunning choice is the DeGarmo Canyon Waterfall hike. From the base of the mountain (14.2 miles west of the Headquarters) look for the DeGarmo Canyon sign on the east side of the road. The trail heads into the mouth of the canyon a short distance to a 30’ waterfall. Adventurous hikers can continue up canyon, but please note there are no established trails. Bring your sturdy hiking boots and sense of exploration.
- After a day of hiking or exploring in Hart Mountain, head to the Hart Mountain Hot Springs to soak away the day and prepare for another hike, perhaps up to Warner Peak? Two hot springs, situated in a beautiful free campground, provide multiple ways to stay warm in the chill evening air. There’s a deep, rock-walled pool near the entrance and a smaller undeveloped pool found in the grassy meadow just a short distance away.
- One of the best views of the shallow alkali lake found just outside of Paisley, Oregon is from the outdoor soaking pool at Summer Lake Hot Springs. Multiple pools in this soaking resort provide respite from the day’s adventures, and while soaking in the stunning views of Winter Rim and Summer Lake, you can start planning your future biking, hiking or horseback riding adventure in the near-by Fremont-Winema National Forest.
- The Owyhee Canyonlands area hosts a number of hot springs and warm springs, but many are only accessible by boat. The exception is Three Forks Hot Springs, although a high clearance/4WD vehicle is best suited to make the journey all the way to the primitive campsites at the confluence with the North and Middle Forks of the Owyhee River. Once at the river walk up the main fork of the Owyhee a few miles until you see water cascading over the edge of a bluff on the west side of the river. A short climb uphill will reveal the warm springs, reminiscent of an infinity pool. For the story of a quest to find this hot spring in the dark, check out this post.
- Ward off the chill of fall with chili! The annual harvest festival chili cook-off and apple pie contest in Burns, Oregon will fill your belly and try your taste buds. To enter your own chili or pie recipe, come with an entry fee ($5-$10). Cooking starts at 8 a.m. and tasting at noon. For $5, you can sample all the chili entries.
- Corn mazes and the golden hues of autumn go together like apples and pie (can you tell we’re hungry?). Head to Ontario, Oregon to try your luck in the Montgomery Farms corn maze. Open until November 3, the elaborate puzzle will be sure to entertain, and if you dare, visit at the end of October. At dark, the haunted woods takes over.
- The artist residency program, Playa, has fostered the creative spirit of hundreds of scientists and artists on the shores of Summer Lake over the years. The open studios program offers a way for the public to glimpse at the current cadre of resident’s work as they mull over creative inquiries and host innovative dialogues to help bring positive change to the environment and world.
Check ONDA’s event calendar for more happenings in, or about, the high desert. And, be sure to take part in fall’s most important happening: Election Day on Tuesday, November 6. Your vote matters!