Visitor’s Guide
to Steens Mountain Region

Sean Bagshaw   Website

The Steens may look like a small mountain range, but it is actually just one massive mountain.
When you visit the largest fault-block mountain in North America, expect extremes. Snow falls earlier and lingers longer than you might expect in the high country here, so be sure to check road reports before heading out. If you’re hiking here in the mid-summer heat, carry a gallon of water for each day and bring a hat for shade.
The 52-mile Steens Mountain Backcountry Byway provides easy access to the mountain’s four campgrounds and the Kiger Gorge and East Rim scenic viewpoints. You can expect any other roads—indicated by dashed lines on a map—to be passable by four-wheel drive vehicles only.

listen

Wind and Birds in Quaking Aspen

Wind and Birds in Quaking Aspen

voices

Carl Axelsen, member since 1999

Carl Axelsen, member since 1999

You folks at ONDA really have your stuff together. Such a well-planned opportunity to comment, since figuring out how to connect with the gummint is off-putting. You make it work for me.

watch

Jeremy Fox on Steens Landscape

Jeremy Fox on Steens Landscape

Safety Tips

Following these suggestions will help you travel safely through the high desert of eastern Oregon and enjoy fragile places responsibly.   

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Where to Stay

Primitive camping is allowed on all Bureau of Land Management lands, unless otherwise marked. For a slightly more civilized camping experience, check out one of our favorite campgrounds. Or, if you’re looking for quaint lodging, you’ll find it at the base of Steens Mountain.   

Fish Lake Campground

Approximately  20 miles from Frenchglen, (7,400 feet elevation)

Visitors will find 23 campsites among aspen stands and shore willows. Camping, swimming, picnicking, cross-country hiking and fishing in Fish Lake are the most popular activities in the area.

Season: June to October.

 

South Steens Family & Equestrian Campgrounds

Approximately 18 miles from Highway 205 via the Steens Mountain Loop Road

Featuring 36 campsites with picnic tables and grills amid juniper and sage, this campground is close to the Historic Riddle Brothers Ranch, hiking trails and Little Blitzen and Big Indian gorges. Recreational stock (horses, mules, llamas, goats, etc.) are not allowed in the family portion of South Steens Campground, but are welcome at 15 equestrian sites complete with tie posts and small corrals.

Season: May to November.

Page Springs Campground

Approximately three miles from Frenchglen (4,200 feet elevation)

Thirty-six campsites sit under cottonwood and juniper trees near the Donner und Blitzen Wild and Scenic River at the base of Steens Mountain. A Blitzen River Trail trailhead is located within the campground, which has concrete picnic tables and fire rings, ADA-approved water lines and faucets and an ADA-accessible restroom. A volunteer camp host is generally onsite May through October.

Season: Year-round.

Jackman Park Campground

Approximately three miles beyond Fish Lake (7,800 feet elevation)

This small campground (six sites), located in aspen trees, offers some of the best fall color viewing on the mountain and is close to the Kiger Gorge Overlook.

Season: June to October.

Frenchglen HotelFrenchglen Hotel

60 miles south of Burns in Frenchglen, Oregon on Highway 205

This historic hotel and their modern satellite, the Drover’s Inn, offer visitors a comfortable, quiet escape from a hectic world.

Visit www.frenchglenhotel.com.

Steens Mountain Wilderness Resort

35678 Resort Lane, Frenchglen, Oregon

This resort offers cabins, tent spaces and full hook-up RV camping, as well as showers and coin laundry. Wifi is available for overnight guests and Verizon cell coverage works here. Their small store carries a limited amount of personal items and snacks. Hikers can send themselves resupply packages here with prior arrangement.

Learn more at www.steensresort.com or call (541) 493-2415.


Where to Eat

Dining options in the Steens Mountain area are quite limited, but they are great bets if you time it right. Just be sure to bring plenty of snacks and meals with you, too.

Fields, population 14, is the southernmost hamlet in the region and food, fuel, and drinking water are all available. The Fields Cafe serves huge breakfasts and famously thick milkshakes.

The Frenchglen Hotel is located 60 miles south of Burns on Highway 205. The hotel serves breakfast, lunch and dinner (by reservation only) in their front dining room. For reservations, call (541) 493-2825 or email  fghotel@yahoo.com. Visit the Frenchglen Hotel website for more details.


Recommended Hikes & Activities

To see how we define hike difficulty, please see our Hike Difficulty Ratings.

Jeremy Fox

Wildhorse Lake

Wildhorse Lake fills the bottom of a deep cirque with high surrounding walls on three sides that give way on one side to an open view of the horizon beyond. This treeless bowl is streaked with tiny creeks and even tinier rivulets that flow only after there’s been rain. You’ll start out by heading...

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Renee Patrick

Steens Mountain Summit

On your way to the top of Steens Mountain Summit trailhead, you’ll pass by two amazing viewpoints that involve short walks—Kiger Gorge and the East Rim—and we recommend stopping at both of these viewpoints and hiking up to the summit as well. The first stop along the drive is the Kiger Gorge Viewpoint parking...

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Michelle Alvarado   Website

Big Indian Gorge

The Big Indian Gorge Trail is 8 miles to the headwall of the gorge and passes through meadows as well as cottonwood and aspen groves. It’s easy to follow for the first 7 miles and then it fades away and becomes a cross-country hike. There are three stream crossings along the way, which can...

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Pike Creek

An old mining track leads 1.4 miles up the canyon through a rugged rock narrows with wildflowers and views of the desert playa below. Two creek crossings can be difficult to pass in early spring and after summer thunderstorms. Along this trail, you’ll find an old cabin and an old mine on the way...

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Bruce Jackson   Website

Little Blitzen Gorge

The Little Blitzen Gorge Trail follows the Little Blitzen River up a long, glacially carved canyon. Expect wildflowers, springs, aspen, and waterfalls. From the trailhead parking lot, walk 100 yards to the start of the trail on the left. This path descends a mile to a bridgeless creek crossing that can typically be accomplished...

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Alvord Deset biker Steens Mountain

Experience the Alvord Desert

If the desert lakebed is dry, you can hike out onto its cracked, alkali surface for a few miles to experience the remarkably empty playa and to admire Steens Mountain from below.

Outdoor Project's Alvord Desert page
alvord desert hot springs

Check Out the Hot Springs

The Alvord Hot Springs, a privately-owned hot spring, bubbles up at 174 degrees, but cools by the time it reaches man-made sitting pools. It's also worth exploring other geothermal springs in the Alvord Desert (although not for soaking!!), including Borax Lake, Mickey Hot Springs and Willow Creek Hot Springs.

Alvord Desert Hot Springs

Go Fishing

Recognized for its near pristine condition, 73 miles of the Donner und Blitzen River system are designated as a Wild and Scenic River. It's also well-known for its catch and release angling opportunities. The river flows northwesterly to the marsh lands of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Frenchglen.

You can also fish Mann Lake. Named for an early rancher, this lake has satisfied anglers seeking cutthroat trout for over 40 years. These trout are supremely well adapted to survive in alkaline desert waters, and, without them, fisheries like Mann Lake could not exist.

ODFW Fishing Report

Check Out Volcanic Rocks

The Diamond Craters Outstanding Natural Area packs a ton of volcanic features - lava tubes, collapse craters, shield volcanoes, spatter cones, and more - into one small, accessible area. If you’re not a geologist, be sure to bring the Diamond Craters Tour Brochure along to help you tell the rhyolitic from the silica in this “museum of basaltic volcanism.”  

Diamond Craters Tour Brochure
https://www.blm.gov/or/resources/recreation/files/brochures/DiamondCratersTourBrochure_August07.pdf

Visit a Historic Ranch

Three bachelor brothers, Walter, Frederick and Benjamin Riddle, settled here in the early 1900s and built the Riddle Brothers Ranch by gaining control of water in the area. They secured homesites and raised livestock in and around the ranch. In the late 1950s, the Riddle brothers sold their ranch holding, and, in 1986, the BLM purchased the property. The agency has since managed the ranch for its historic values.

Riddle Brothers Ranch National Historic District

Resources

Land Manager Contact Info 
Bureau of Land Management – Burns Office
Jeff Rose
District Manager
28910 Hwy 20 West
Hines, OR 97738
Phone: (541) 573-4400
E-mail: BLM_OR_BU_Mail@blm.gov
Website: Bureau of Land Management – Steens Mountain