How-To: Experience the Best of Oregon’s High Desert – practical advice from ODT hikers

Renee Patrick

Author: Renee Patrick |  Published: February 3, 2023 |  Category: How-to

Taking on a challenging remote hike like the Oregon Desert Trail can be intimidating, but hikers from all experience levels and backgrounds have been successful in their desert adventures.

But you don’t have to take our word for it…

Renee Clough and her daughter JessicaRenee Clough hiked a section of the Oregon Desert Trail last summer near the western terminus with her 15-year-old daughter, Jessica. Renee doesn’t have much backpacking experience, but was interested in the ODT for the numerous access points that would make shorter trips possible, and shared, “I’m an over-planner, so I appreciated the quantity and detail of information available for the trail. I was able to feel prepared for the trip rather than heading out with fingers crossed.”

Christine Thuermer is known by her trail name “The German Hiker” in the thru-hiking community, and with her 37,000+ miles racked up on long-distance trails, has written countless books about her adventures. Look for an upcoming publication from Christine featuring the Oregon Desert Trail, and an article in Germany’s popular online magazine, Der Spiegel.

Their practical tips will help guide and inspire you to face the challenge that a high desert hike holds.


Connecting Trails

Connecting Trails

The Oregon Desert Trail ties into two National Recreation Trails: the Fremont National Recreation Trail and Desert Trail.


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.


Great Basin Spadefoot Toads – a sleepy chorus

Great Basin Spadefoot Toads – a sleepy chorus

Expect the unexpected

  • Christine: “The ODT is an unpredictable trail. I started my thru-hike in early May last year because the winter had been very dry and warm – and ended up hiking in several snow storms until the end of May! I even walked into the first trail town in a whiteout. My German friends joked: “What did you expect in a town called Christmas Valley?”
  • Renee: “It’s easy to underestimate the weather…When you look at the weather forecast for your trip, look at more than just the daytime high. Look at the humidity and look at the nighttime low – it will almost certainly be drastically different than the daytime high, this will mean needing to pack a wider range of clothing and likely a heavier sleep system than you’d anticipate from the daytime temps.”
  • Christine: “It is very difficult to correct your gear choices. I brought three-season equipment for a spring desert hike, but temperatures unexpectedly dropped below freezing for several nights and it was difficult to find an outdoor store to buy warmer gear and little cell phone reception to order online.”

double rainbow on the odt

Make sure you like this type of landscape

  • Renee: “It’s called a “high desert” because it’s high in elevation. If you’re from a low-elevation area and haven’t experienced exercise at elevation before, it would be worth planning your first few days on the trail to be easier (flatter terrain and shorter mileage) so you have some time to acclimate. Elevation can also affect how much fuel you need to carry – water boils slower at higher elevations.”
  • open landscape on the oregon desert trailChristine: “For me the Oregon high desert is one of the most spectacular places I have ever hiked in. The endless sweeping views across the empty “sea of sagebrush” are something you will find nowhere else in Europe. But what I found breathtaking other people consider boring and monotonous. You will hike several days in a row through flat terrain with no shade whatsoever. Make sure this is really the kind of landscape you are looking for!”
  • Renee: “There is minimal tree cover on much of the trail, so this means it’s important to protect yourself from the sun – carry UV protective clothing, a sun hat, and plenty of sunscreen. You also need to be prepared for rain with no break from the wind. On the flip side though, no cover also means the ability to see for miles in all directions!”
  • Renee: “It is hard for someone who hasn’t experienced eastern Oregon to understand how very remote most of the trail is. Take some time to review the maps, and check the drive time between the various “cities” since map scale can be deceiving. Even if you have a satellite phone to call for help, that help is likely to be coming from a very long way away, and may not be coming with the same resources as help based in an urban area.”

Plan ahead

  • a hiker views the landscapeRenee: “ONDA provides excellent resources regarding water sources, but it still needs to be a significant factor in trip planning. My daughter and I knew that we didn’t want the weight of carrying all our water with us, so our solution was to find a section that was close enough to a road for my husband to day hike in with a water refill for us.”
  • Christine: “I am used to the poor thru-hiker diet of ramen soups and instant mashed potatoes, but on most other trails you can feast on fresh food in town on your rest days. This is not the case on the ODT! Many resupply points sell only non-perishable food at prices that reflect the remoteness of their location. The owner of Rome Station told me, ‘I can go shopping only once per week because the next supermarket is almost 100 miles away.’ As a foreigner with no family in the U.S. I didn’t have anyone to send resupply packages to me, but if you have this chance, consider mail drops containing some nice and healthy treats.”

The best place to start planning your day hike, section hike, or thru hike on the Oregon Desert Trail is with ONDA’s guidebook. Download this free resource today. Hopefully, these fresh tips from recent hikers will help you be even more prepared for your desert adventure!