Carlson Creek Trail

NOTE: Carlson Creek burned in South Steens Complex Fire of September 2014.
It may be a few years before this area recovers for recreational use.

Hike Rating: Easy
Hike Length: 7.5 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1,250’
Trailhead Elevation: 4,180’
Best Season: June through September
Driving Access: Any vehicle, with care

Plus Points
• An easy hike into a low-elevation stream canyon on the east side of the Steens range
• Carlson Creek is within the Andrews Rim portion of the Steens Wilderness Area
• The route follows an abandoned road along the creek, to wet meadows in upper basin
• Perennial water in the canyon is an oasis for wildlife in the dry desert landscape
• Look for sage grouse, numerous songbirds, red-tailed hawks and mule deer
• Views of the southern Steens escarpment, with possible bighorn sheep sightings

Minus Points
• Cows are all gone by June 1, but their impacts persist, especially in the lower canyon
• Hike can be hot in midsummer, so plan to start in the early AM and return by noon
• Rattlesnakes are a possibility throughout the summer, so caution is advised

Download (PDF, 538 KB): Photos of Carlson Creek Trail
Download (PDF, 704 KB): Topo Map for Carlson Creek Trail
Download (PDF, 658 KB): Road Map for Carlson Creek Trail

Trail Notes
Map of Carlson Creek Trail
The hike starts at the parking area near some isolated cottonwood trees and continues up the dirt road to the west. After a quarter mile, one comes to a "Wilderness Boundary" sign at a locked steel gate in the road — but hikers can use the unlocked equestrian gate nearby. Look for sage grouse on dry flats beyond the gates. For the first mile, the road follows the north side of the creek, above dense thickets of alder, willow and the occasional cottonwood. Cow impacts are quite heavy in this stretch, but they lessen considerably the further one walks up the canyon. The road soon crosses to the south side of the creek and the canyon widens into a broad basin, with great views northwest of the canyon headwall and the Andrews Rim.

About 1.8 miles past the creek crossing, the road turns sharply southwest and uphill, away from the creek, and begins a big switchback into the upper basin. Follow this road for about 0.4 miles up the dry hillside, past a few springs and wet seeps, then turn onto a dirt road branching off downhill to the right (north). Follow this road north for about one mile through scattered juniper trees to the upper basin of Carlson Creek.

At road's end, one finds numerous springs, green meadows, aspen groves and a creek that runs more dependably into late summer. This is a good place to find a spot in the shade and glass for bighorn sheep on the rims high overhead to the north. When leaving the upper basin, rather than retrace one steps over the switchback, it's easier to hike cross-country down the south side of the creek and rejoin the road below.

Road to Trailhead
On the East Steens Road, drive about 10.9 miles north from Fields Station, or about 28.8 miles south from the Mann Lake Campground. Look for a dirt road with a wire gate on the west side of the road and yellow "No Off Road Vehicles" markers. This turnoff is just 0.7 miles north of a radio facility on the East Steens Road.

If the road is dry, turn west through the wire gate and drive about 0.6 miles southwest to a parking area near a few isolated cottonwood trees. This dirt access road is a bit rocky in spots, but it can be traveled by any passenger car if one is careful.

Camping Options
Pubic campgrounds on the east side of the Steens range are limited. One may be tempted to camp in the large flat parking area at the Carlson Creek trailhead itself — but the BLM has restricted this area to day use only.

With one's own water and sanitation, a good dispersed camping area nearby is at Little Cottonwood Creek in the Pueblo Mountains, about 19 driving miles south of the trailhead and 7.7 miles south of Fields Station on the Fields-Denio Highway. Here there are 6-8 dispersed camp sites spread out along the dirt road into Little Cottonwood Creek, all within a half mile of the highway. These camping sites have no tree cover or shade and the access road gets rougher the further one drives up the canyon — but any size camping setup, from small tents to large RVs, can find a spot here and there is good privacy from the highway.

For tent campers with high-clearance vehicles: Dispersed camp sites are also available along lower Pike Creek, about 14 driving miles north of the trailhead on the East Steens Road. There are 6-8 sites here in the cottonwoods, starting at a house-sized rock next to the creek, and strung out for a quarter mile upstream. Below this rock is unmarked private land, off limits to camping. You'll need to provide your own water and sanitation.

Agency Contact: Burns BLM District, (541) 573-4411

DISCLAIMER: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this information, but the authors do not guarantee that it is either current or correct. The reader assumes full responsibility for any use of this information, and is encouraged to contact local federal land agencies to inquire about current conditions before traveling.

Page last updated: 1/17/13