Sutton Mountain Dazzles,
Inspires in Equal Measure

Matt Wastradowski   Website

success

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

Read More

watch

Tibetan Monks Visit Sutton Mountain

Tibetan Monks Visit Sutton Mountain

fact

Western Rattlesnake

Western Rattlesnake

Also known as the Great Basin Rattlesnake, these pit vipers have buff-tan coloring and small, oval blotches to blend into their arid surroundings. Small heat-sensing indentations on each side of the snake’s snout detects warm-blooded prey for better striking accuracy in the dark. Source: The Oregon Encyclopedia

Latin name: Crotalus oreganus lutosus

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

Sutton Mountain Dazzles,
Inspires in Equal Measure

By Matt Wastradowski The Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument sees roughly 200,000 visitors per year, almost all of them dazzled by the brightly colored hillsides, arid landscapes, and explosive ecological history of the John Day River Basin. But just east of the Painted Hills sits Sutton Mountain, rising...

Read More

We Challenged, You Hiked

ONDA’s Badlands Challenge prompted discovery, exploration, and a lot of math In celebration of the tenth anniversary of Oregon Badlands Wilderness designation, ONDA hosted a six-month-long exploration challenge. After ONDA volunteers helped to build trail segments that created critical connections into the larger Oregon Badlands trail system, we realized the 30,000-acre wilderness area now...

Read More

Get to Know the Owyhee River

One of Oregon’s 58 officially designated Wild and Scenic Rivers. Located in southeastern Oregon and reaching across the corner of Idaho to its headwaters in northeastern Nevada, 35 percent of the Owyhee River within Oregon has been classified as “Wild and Scenic” for its recreational, wildlife, geologic and cultural values. Cutting through benches of...

Read More

Autumn – The Best Time to Visit Oregon’s Desert?

Spring, summer and winter are all strong contenders, but there’s mounting evidence that autumn could be the very best season to visit Oregon’s high desert. Consider … Temperature – Daytime highs are in the 70s, not the dripping-brow 90s and nighttime lows are in the lovely-for- sleeping 30s, not the teens. Color – Yes,...

Read More

How To: Raft the Lower Owyhee

Rafting the lower Owyhee River is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that introduces you to some of the most spectacular and untouched high desert landscapes found in eastern Oregon. Deep canyon walls, riverside camps, and hikes climbing to sweeping vistas are all highlights of this trip. Just be sure to gather some information ahead of time...

Read More

Where To: Hart Mountain

Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge lies at the center of the Greater Hart-Sheldon Region in southeastern Oregon. Few established trails cross this vast region. Instead, desert enthusiasts have endless opportunities to build their own adventure and experience the solitude of Oregon’s high desert. Here are six tips that will help you make the most...

Read More

Hart Mountain Revealed Recap

During our 2019 High Desert Speaker Series, ONDA’s Hart-Sheldon Coordinator Jeremy Austin presented in both Bend and Portland. Here’s the “CliffsNotes” version of his for Hart Mountain Revealed talk. Where is Hart Mountain? Roughly 230 miles southeast of Bend, Oregon, Hart Mountain sits at the northern extent of the largest desert in the United...

Read More

Dark Desert Skies

For those of us who have spent time in Oregon’s high desert, there is no need to explain how truly dark skies showcase the wonders of the stars viewable by the naked eye. Night skies relatively free from light pollution — that is, human-created artificial lighting and atmospheric disturbances such as smog — will...

Read More

Best Bets for Fall

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 2018. Remember, Oregon’s high desert is a dynamic place, so, as always, check current conditions...

Read More

Bikepacking the Steens Loop

If you’ve ever dreamed of a desert bike trip circling Steens Mountain, this post from Central Oregon Wheelers members Ben Groeneveld and Kevin Briggs won’t do anything to dissuade you.

Read More