Fish Creek Hike

Hike Rating: Difficult
Hike Length: 3.1 miles roundtrip
Elevation Loss: 400’
Trailhead Elevation: 6,240’
Best Season: June through September
Driving Access: High-clearance vehicle

Plus Points
• A mid-elevation hike into a perennial stream canyon, through a scenic rock rim
• Fish Creek is a Wild-and-Scenic stream within the Steens Mtn. Wilderness Area
• Cottonwoods and willows support nesting songbirds along the riparian corridor
• Streamflow is low in late summer, but 6”-long trout can be seen in deeper pools
• Cows are excluded from Fish Creek, so riparian vegetation is in pristine shape
• Solitude is nearly guaranteed in this seldom-visited canyon

Minus Points
• The last 0.4 miles to the creek is a steep, brushy scramble down through a rim
• Rattlesnakes are a possibility throughout the summer, so caution is advised
• Hike can be hot in midsummer, so plan to start in the early AM and return by noon

Download (PDF, 611 KB): Photos of Fish Creek Hike
Download (PDF, 507 KB): Topo Map for Fish Creek Hike
Download (PDF, 667 KB): Road Map for Fish Creek Hike

Trail Notes
Map of Fish Creek Hike
The hike starts at road’s end, at a “Wilderness Boundary” marker near a small, circular stock pond in the swale of Rock Creek. The route then follows cow trails down the dry swale of Rock Creek, through juniper forests, for about 0.9 miles to where a fence line crosses the bed of the creek. At this point, Rock Creek begins to plunge down through a basalt rim into the Fish Creek canyon. Start on the left (east) side of the canyon where you cross the fence, but soon work your way across the creek bed over to the right (west) side.

For the next 0.2 miles, the best route is along the west bank, over and around the rocks and brush, until the canyon bends sharply to the southeast and the west bank becomes a sheer cliff. Cross to the east bank around this turn, but then regain the west bank and follow a nice game trail down to Fish Creek.

Fish Creek usually has some flowing water into late summer, with willows and cottonwoods lining the banks. However, the canyon walls are quite steep and brushy, so if one wants to explore up or downstream, the best route is often wading in the stream itself — assuming the spring snowmelt has long subsided and water levels are safe. The rocks can be slippery, but the route is a cool one on a hot day! If the stream isn’t safe to hike, or one just wants to relax, the confluence of Rock and Fish Creeks makes a good spot for lunch and a rest. Look for songbirds in the cottonwood trees here and wildflowers along the stream bank. Return as you came.

Road to Trailhead
On the Steens Mtn. Loop Road, drive about 5.2 miles west from the Fish Lake Campground, or 8.8 miles east from the Page Springs Campground. On a broad curve, look for a dirt road branching off southwest between the juniper trees. If the road is dry, turn onto it and proceed as far as your vehicle is capable. This means low-clearance vehicles may want to park in a pullout immediately off the Loop Road and walk the 0.5 miles to the trailhead. High-clearance vehicles can drive for at least 0.3 miles to the first reservoir and perhaps the next 0.2 miles to the trailhead if the road remains hard.

At road's end is a small, circular stock pond in the grassy swale of Rock Creek. There's a parking area here next to the pond, just before the "Wilderness Boundary" markers.

Camping Options
The nearest developed campground is the Fish Lake Campground, managed by the BLM. It’s located at 7,400’ on the Steens Mtn. Loop Road, about 17 miles west of Frenchglen and about 6 driving miles from the trailhead. The campground has 23 sites around a small mountain lake, some tucked away in aspen groves at the head of the lake and others more exposed near the lake’s outlet. All have gravel parking pads, tables and fire rings. There are vault toilets here, drinking water, trash cans and a small boat ramp (motor-less boats only). The fee was $8.00 per night in 2012.

The next nearest developed campground is the Page Springs Campground, also managed by the BLM. It’s located at 4,200’ on the Steens Mtn. Loop Road, 3 miles east of Frenchglen and about 9 driving miles from the trailhead. It’s been developed around several large springs below a basalt rim on the Donner und Blitzen River and is a pleasant spot, though mosquitoes can be thick here in summer. It has 36 sites, each with a gravel parking pad, concrete picnic table and fire ring. There are vault toilets, drinking water, trash cans and a camp host during the summer. The fee was $8.00 per night in 2012.

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: 1/16/13