Ten Springtime Adventures

Renee Patrick

Have the longer days and warmer temps led you to experience bouts of day-dreaming and window-gazing?
Put that wanderlust to work! Plan on your trip to the desert, and get out there! With flowers blooming, birds migrating and roads drying out, spring is just about the best time to explore southeast Oregon.
Here, we offer up ten springtime adventures for paddlers, bikers, hikers, and birders.


Owyhee Wild and Scenic River
  • Owyhee River: Boaters from all over the nation flock to the Owyhee Wild and Scenic River for unmatched solitude and startling beauty. So immense are the canyon walls along the Owyhee that The New York Times proclaimed it “Oregon’s Grand Canyon.” In places like Green Dragon Canyon, it’s nearly 1,000 vertical feet to the rim. Spring and early summer, when water levels are highest, is peak rafting season. The most popular section is the Lower Owyhee, which runs 48 miles from the put in at Rome to Birch Creek Historic Ranch. It’s filled with class II, III, and IV rapids including Montgomery and Whistling Bird.
  • John Day River: The 284-mile John Day River, the third longest free-flowing river in the country, offers an incredible paddling experience. The 70-mile stretch of Wild and Scenic River is framed by three Wilderness Study Areas: North Pole Ridge, Thirtymile, and Lower John Day. Bighorn sheep roam the hillsides, effusive wildflowers fill the lowlands, and pictograph-filled caves dot the landscape. Numerous boat launches and a variety of outfitters and guides can help you plan a trip that is as long, short, easy or difficult as you like.
  • Warner Wetlands Canoe Trail: Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge may be a destination for many during the spring months, but the often-overlooked Warner Wetlands at the base of Hart Mountain offers miles and miles of interlocking channels and small lakes. Paddlers can explore the waterways via a ten-mile canoe trail between Campbell, Turpin, and Stone Corral Lakes. Hart Lake is available for boating even during low water years.


  • Painted Hills Scenic Bike Way: This 161-mile road-bike route meanders through millions of years of geology and natural history. Bikers will travel through all three units of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument [Painted Hills, Clarno, and Sheep Rock] and each offers a unique window into Oregon’s past. The small communities of Fossil, Service Creek, Spray, and Mitchell offer a variety of services (including baked goods and beer!) along the route.
  • Oregon Outback Scenic Bike Way: Experience 90 miles of scenic wonder in Oregon’s outback. Pedal from Lakeview and the beautiful Warner Mountains, to the scenic towns of Adel and Plush; this scenic bike way is the perfect late-spring road ride adventure. A new bike shop in Lakeview, Tall Town Bike & Camp, can loan you a bike for the ride, and be sure to visit the Hart Mountain and Adel Stores for a burger and beer, also important stops on the Oregon Desert Trail.


Christmas Valley Loop
  • Christmas Valley Loop: Transportation to many areas in the high desert can be tricky, especially when trying to hike a longer section of the Oregon Desert Trail (ODT). This 107-mile loop offers a taste of the route and combines ODT Sections 3-5 with the Christmas Valley Alternate. Highlights include solitude and remote cross-country hiking near the Lost Forest, Burma Rim, the Black Hills, and a brief bit of trail in Crack in the Ground. This is a fairly dry area in the high desert, so please refer to ONDA’s databook/water chart and all of our other resources to plan your trip. Note: Sections 3-5 are available on the Hiking Project website and app.
  • Spring Basin Wilderness: We may be biased, but we think spring in Spring Basin Wilderness is a must-do hiking trip. With 10,000 acres of undulating terrain, secluded canyons, and spectacular vantages of the John Day Country, this area is simply magnificent. A profusion of desert wildflowers await hikers, horseback riders, hunters, and botanists alike. There are few trails in this area, but we have a couple of ideas on where you can get the most out of your trip.
  • Pueblo Mountains: Drive about as far as you can in Oregon, south of Steens Mountain and nearly to the border with Nevada, and you will find the impressive Pueblo Mountain Range. The Oregon Desert Trail ties into the older Desert Trail, a cairn-marked route through this Wilderness Study Area, and offers a 25-mile cross-country adventure from Denio, Nev. to Fields, Ore. Set up a car shuttle for a one-way adventure, or try your hand at route-finding and create your own loop. Visit the Oregon Desert Trail section of our website for detailed information about Section 16 of the ODT.


  • Malheur National Wildlife Refuge:  President Roosevelt established the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 1908 to protect nesting egrets and other waterbirds from unregulated plume hunting. Today, Malheur is one of the best spots for birders, especially in the spring. It is one of three of the most important areas left in the western United States for spring migratory birds stopping on their way north. The refuge’s Auto Tour helps you to optimize your birding adventure.
  • Harney County Migratory Bird Festival: Just north of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, the community of Burns hosts an annual festival of all things winged. Through a series of workshops, tours, and speakers, visitors can immerse themselves in the rich birding history of the area and learn where to view the 300+ different birds who live in or migrate through the refuge each year.