Steens Mountain Area Hikes

Day Hikes in the Steens Mountain Area
Steens Mountain has become the premier recreation destination in Southeast Oregon. Not only has the loop road to the summit been recently improved, but land exchanges have consolidated public ownership into nearly 500,000 acres of protected BLM land — including 175,000 acres of designated wilderness (100,000 acres now cow-free) and over 100 miles of designated wild-and-scenic rivers. With several nice campgrounds and established hiking trails, it’s not hard to see the attraction. Gas and groceries are available nearby in Frenchglen on the west side of the range and at Fields Station on the east side.

This 50-mile long, north-south mountain range was created 5-7 million years ago by faulting and uplift along its eastern edge, raising the massive basalt block 5,000’ above the Alvord Basin to the east. The Ice Age then brought glaciers, gouging out several 2,000’-deep, U-shaped canyons. The High Steens escarpment — over 9,000’ high, often snow-covered and rising sharply above the arid, alkaline Alvord Desert — provides some of the most dramatic scenery in Oregon. Along with this higher elevation comes higher precipitation, averaging over 40 inches per year at the summit, and spawning numerous rivers and streams flowing into the desert below.

Download (PDF, 581 KB): Location Map of Steens Mountain Area Hikes
Download (PDF, 582 KB): Photos of Steens Mountain Area

With over 150,000 visitors per year, Steens Mountain has become one of the few desert hiking areas where solitude is not guaranteed. Most hikers and equestrians frequent the established trails in the two big glaciated river canyons, Little Blitzen Gorge and Big Indian Gorge, plus the alpine hike down into Wildhorse Lake. From 40 to 60 groups per month use these trails in summer and they are definitely worth visiting.

  • Two Gorges Hike
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For those day hikers seeking more solitude and a wilderness experience, however, there are many canyons and trails in peripheral areas of the Steens that are equally appealing.

West Side, Lower Elevation Hikes
Due to land exchanges, a cow free, 3.5-mile day hike is now possible along an abandoned jeep road into ill-named Mud Creek, where perennial springs create a green desert oasis. Further south, dramatic basalt palisades rise more than 1,000’ in rugged and seldom-visited Home Creek, draining the Catlow Rim portion of the Steens Wilderness. Finally, we feature a route into hard-to-access Fish Creek, dropping through a basalt-rimmed side canyon to the perennial, willow-lined stream below the rimrock.

Mud Creek Trail
Home Creek Hike
Fish Creek Hike

West Side, Higher Elevation Hikes
Once the upper snow gates on the Steens Mtn. Loop Road open in mid-summer, several higher elevation day hikes become accessible. Our Little Fish Creek hike features old-growth aspen groves, beaver dams, historical cabins and a sweeping gorge overlook. The hike into the McCoy Creek canyon, though a bit rugged, offers a close-up view of a glaciated, U-shaped valley and an excellent chance for solitude. Finally, just off the Loop Road at almost 9,000’, we feature a cross-country hike that visits the rims of two spectacular gorges, both Big Indian and Little Blitzen, in one easy day hike.

Little Fish Creek Hike
McCoy Creek Hike
Two Gorges Hike

East Side Hikes
Land exchanges have now made possible a 3.7-mile day hike up an old road into Carlson Creek, in the Andrews Rim portion of the Steens Wilderness. Further north, a newly built trail in the upper Pike Creek canyon makes this stunning, mid-elevation wilderness much more accessible for day hiking. Finally, for those willing to drive the steep, 4-wheel drive road up Stonehouse Canyon, a spectacular 3 mile cross-country ramble can be enjoyed along the 6,500’-high Stonehouse Rim, with sweeping views of the High Steens escarpment and the Alvord Valley below.

Carlson Creek Trail
Pike Creek Trail
Stonehouse Rim Hike

Clickable map of Steens Mountain area hikes:

Steens Mountain Area Clickable Map Steens Mountain Area Clickable Map Steens Mountain Area Clickable Map Steens Mountain Area Clickable Map Steens Mountain Area Clickable Map Steens Mountain Area Clickable Map Steens Mountain Area Clickable Map Steens Mountain Area Clickable Map Steens Mountain Area Clickable Map

Page last updated: 1/15/13