Steens Mountain Wilderness Big Indian Gorge Trail Work

Aaron Tani


Ryan “Dirtmonger” Sylva, ODT thru-hiker 2017

Ryan “Dirtmonger” Sylva, ODT thru-hiker 2017

“To me, it’s a thru-hike in an isolated place that promotes a conversation in land management, ethics and usage. Hiking across a vast and remote landscape and having a random and chance encounter with cowboys and hunters to discuss how ‘all of us’ should treat the land, how we all have a responsibility, no matter our political leanings, really showed me the pulse of the people in rural areas, especially here out west.”


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.


Oregon Desert Trail Map

Oregon Desert Trail Map

Organizer: Renee Patrick

Start Date: 7/10/2019

End Date: 7/15/2019

Region: Steens

Difficulty Rating: 5 out of 5

Maximum Group Size: 12 participants

About the place

Steens Mountain lies along the horizon of southeastern Oregon like a sleeping giant among a bed of sagebrush, perennial grasses and wildflowers. Although often mistaken for a chain of mountains, Steens is actually one contiguous monolith — the largest fault block mountain in North America, stretching some 50 miles and reaching a mile vertically, with summits that overlook the Alvord Desert, wide canyons and the Donner und Blitzen River. The Big Indian Gorge Trail is eight miles to the headwall of the gorge and passes through meadows as well as cottonwood and aspen groves.

About the stewardship work

ONDA created the Oregon Desert Trail (ODT) to link existing trails, old two-track roads, and cross country travel as a way to introduce hikers to the stunning landscapes found in Oregon’s high desert. The ODT’s overlap with the Big Indian Trail in the Steens Mountain Wilderness is definitely a highlight along the 750-mile route, and this work project will continue the work our 2017 and 2018 ONDA volunteers started.

We typically head to the work site at 8 a.m. and stop work by 4 p.m. in order to leave time in the afternoon to clean-up, relax and cook a well-deserved dinner. The work will involve using a crosscut saw to clear and move downed trees from the trail, and loppers and hand saws to clear brush from the corridor of the trail, as well as a variety of other trail tools to clear and maintain the corridor according to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) trail standards. The section of trail we will be working on is along a magnificent glacier-carved gorge over 2,000 feet from the summit above. ONDA will provide all instruction and necessary tools to do the job; no previous trail building experience is needed to attend this trip. All that is required is a love of the high desert, a big smile and a willingness to learn.

Trip Timeline

  • Wednesday, July 10, 5 – 7 p.m.: We will meet and camp at South Steens Campground.
  • Thursday, July 11, 8 a.m.: We will backpack into our camp (approx. 5 miles). The BLM may provide a mule-team to pack our tools and some personal gear per person into the campsite (details TBD). We will set up camp, and will plan to work for a few hours that afternoon.
  • Friday, July 12: After breakfast, we will continue our work removing trees, brushing, and maintaining the trail tread. Volunteers should plan to be out all day and be prepared for a full day of hiking and doing physical work in full sun.
  • Saturday, July 13: After breakfast, we will continue our work removing trees, brushing, and maintaining the trail tread. Volunteers should plan to be out all day and be prepared for a full day of hiking and doing physical work in full sun (We will plan on taking a half-day off on Saturday or Sunday to relax or explore the area).
  • Sunday, July 14: After breakfast, we will continue our work removing trees, brushing, and maintaining the trail tread. Volunteers should plan to be out all day and be prepared for a full day of hiking and doing physical work in full sun.
  • Monday, July 15: After breakfast, we will pack up camp and hike back to our cars at South Steens Campground. If we have pack support from the BLM mule-team, they will be able to help pack out tools and gear.


We will be backpacking to our camp in Big Indian Gorge, approximately 5 miles in from the parking lot at South Steens Campground. We will be meeting between 5-7 p.m. at the campground before backpacking in together the next morning.


Level 5

Challenges will be backpacking 5 miles into the work site, physically strenuous work and hiking long distances at elevations between 5,000 – 7,000 feet, and hot daytime temperatures.

Participant Responsibilities

Participants are responsible for their own food, camping gear as well as transportation to and from the trip. In the event of sunny and hot weather, please bring up to four liters of water capacity for the day, and consider an electrolyte replacement drink or mix to help you stay hydrated. We will provide a gravity filter at camp, but please consider bringing a water filter for use during the day and to supplement the group filter. Sturdy off-trail ankle-high boots, long pants, a long sleeve shirt (a light weight sun shirt is a great option), and eye protection are required for this trip (sunglasses or prescription eye glasses are suitable eye protection). Participants should be prepared to be away from camp all day and bring a daypack for lunch, snacks, and water.

Gear Provided

ONDA and the BLM will provide tools for the work, work gloves, sunscreen, and hardhats. We will provide a gravity filter for water, expert leadership, and we can talk about long distance hiking on the Oregon Desert Trail. This is a backpacking-based trip, so volunteers will need to pack their gear (potentially with some assistance from the BLM mule team), and be prepared for an awesome backcountry camping experience.


An ONDA registration application and medical form are required for this trip. Check the box next to each trip you would like to attend. You only need to fill this form out once per year.

 Apply Now

What happens next?

You will receive a confirmation email within 10 working days of submitting your form. The confirmation email will provide information regarding which trips you are on the “participant list” for, and which trips are full, and therefore you have been placed on the “waitlist.”

Six weeks before the start of the trip, the trip leader will send out an RSVP to make sure everyone is still able to participate. Based on RSVPs, open spaces will be backfilled with people from the waitlist.

Three weeks before the trip start date, registered and confirmed participants will receive driving instructions, maps, carpooling options, and additional information in an email sent by the trip leader

If you have any questions in the meantime, please don’t hesitate to contact the trip leader.