Steens Mountain

Renee Patrick


Aaron Tani, Sage Society Member

Aaron Tani, Sage Society Member

“It feels good to support ONDA on a monthly basis, because I know they never stop supporting our public lands. ONDA works to help make our lands a better place for the future, and I feel like I’m a part of that every month with my support.”


Jeremy Fox on Steens Landscape

Jeremy Fox on Steens Landscape


Oregon’s first desert wilderness

Oregon’s first desert wilderness

Steens Mountain: Oregon’s first desert wilderness

On October 30, 2000, Congress passed the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Act, finishing the work that had taken ONDA and the other members of the Steens-Alvord Coalition decades  

Steens Mountain is a land of startling contrasts: dramatic u-shaped

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Address critical safety concerns and improve access to the Steens Mountain Wilderness while promoting the conservation of Oregon’s high desert public lands


Project Start Year: 2017
Anticipated Completion: 2035

Key Activity

ONDA volunteers are completing deferred trail maintenance on trails in the Steens Mountain Wilderness that overlap with the Oregon Desert Trail corridor. The Oregon Desert Trail (ODT) ties into the Big Indian Gorge Trail for 8 miles, and hikers can also travel the Donner und Blitzen Trail, Little Blitzen Trail or Nye Trail as ODT alternates.

About this 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.

Through the Steens Mountain Wilderness the Oregon Desert Trail ties into the existing Desert Trail, a proposed Mexico to Canada desert route with many of the same characteristics of a “virtual trail” like the ODT. The Desert Trail was designated as a National Recreation Trail in 1992.

Our efforts

Through work with the Burns BLM, ONDA volunteers have been able to help the BLM complete deferred trail maintenance and open up several stunning sections of trail for all forms of quiet recreation.

The goal is to work with the BLM to steward this trail by addressing critical safety concerns and improving access while promoting the conservation value of Oregon’s high desert public land and improving a unique recreational asset.

Project history

ONDA began maintaining trails in the Steens Mountain Wilderness in 2017.

2017: ONDA maintained roughly two miles of the Big Indian Gorge Trail and logged all down trees from the entire trail.

2017: ONDA established a 0.5-mile high water alternate along the Donner und Blitzen River out of Page Springs campground, an alternate to the ODT.

2018: ONDA maintained approx. two more miles of the Big Indian Gorge Trail, and worked with students from the Academy at Sisters to improve the first mile of trail out of the South Steens Campground.

2018: ONDA maintained approx. one mile on the Little Blitzen Trail, primarily building several rock structures to improve eroding tread and to make the trail safer for equestrians.

2018: ONDA improved roughly 0.5 miles of the Nye Trail, a section of trail that climbs over 1,000 feet out of the Little Blitzen Gorge to the Cold Springs Road.

2019: ONDA continued trail maintenance into the Big Indian Gorge on approx. 1.5 more miles trail.

2019: ONDA finished re-benching and brushing the steep one-mile Nye Trail in the Little Blitzen Gorge.