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Big Indian Gorge

Hike description of Big Indian Gorge on Steens Mountain in the Oregon Natural Desert Association's Steens Mountain Visitors Guide.
Closest townFrenchglen
Big Indian Gorge
ONDA played a critical role in protecting Steens Mountain as Oregon's first high desert wilderness area. It was designated in 2000.
Photo: Sean Bagshaw
Driving distance

2 hours from Burns

Best time to visit August - November
Recommended hike Big Indian Gorge Trail
Hike distance 8 miles
Hike difficulty* 3

Driving Directions from Burns:
From Burns, take State Highway 78 southeast for approximately 2 miles. Turn right onto State Highway 205 and travel south for 60 miles to Frenchglen. Travel approximately 9 miles, then turn left on the Steens Mountain Loop Road south entrance. The turnoff to South Steens Campground is just over 18 miles from State Highway 205 and the Big Indian Gorge Trail starts out of the back of the campground.

Trailhead amenities:
The trailhead is at the back of the South Steens Campground.

The Hike:
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 be difficult or impassable at times in the spring and early summer. The U-shaped gorges, carved by glaciers, are sure to amaze, as will the wildflowers and waterfalls. A number of primitive campsites exist along the way. Make sure to call to check trail conditions before heading out, as snow can be an obstacle early in the season.

Activities allowed in wilderness study areas: Nonmotorized recreational activities are allowed in Steens Mountain Wilderness, such as hiking, in-season hunting, horseback riding, bird watching, trail running and rock climbing. For more information, see our page about enjoying wild areas.

Take only photographs, leave only footprints!

Wilderness areas are some of the most prized lands in our country. When visiting wild areas, it is imperative that you follow the following "Leave No Trace" principles:

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare – Know the rules of the area you’re visiting. Research current conditions and weather in the area and always travel prepared for emergencies or inclement weather.
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces – Minimize your impact by sticking to established trails and campsites or durable surfaces such as rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow. Avoid walking off trail through sensitive riparian areas or on steep slopes. Make your camp at least 200 feet from creeks, lakes and rivers, and leave your site as you found it.
  • Respect Wildlife – Observe wildlife from a distance to allow them peace in their natural environment. Do not follow or approach them and never feed wild animals.
  • Dispose of Waste Properly – Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Always pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
  • Leave What You Find – Leave rocks, plants, animals and historical artifacts as you find them. Examine, but do not touch, cultural or historical artifacts such as structures and rock art.
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts – Know the current regulations on campfires for the area and follow the rules. When fires are allowed keep them small and in control at all times. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand. Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors – Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience by being courteous and yielding to other visitors on the trail. Let nature’s sounds prevail by avoiding loud voices and noises. Avoid cliffs and steep areas and be conscious of hikers below you on the trail who may be hurt by any debris that you knock loose.


* Hike difficulty ratings:

1= Like a walk in your local city park. Trail surface is generally flat and level.

2= Trail is generally flat, with some rocky terrain and slight elevation gain.

3= Trail may include rocky or loose terrain, with steep sections and moderate elevation gain.

4= Trail is steep and rocky, with elevation gain of more than 1000 feet. May feature rock scrambles or other challenging features. Trekking poles recommended.

5= Off-trail travel. Terrain is variable and potentially steep. Good map and compass navigation, backcountry travel skills a must.

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Oregon Natural Desert Association
50 SW Bond Street, Suite 4,
Bend, OR 97702
Tel: (541) 330-2638

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