Willow Creek Hike

Hike Rating: Difficult
Hike Length: 8.2 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1,320’
Trailhead Elevation: 5,800’
Best Season: June through September
Driving Access: Any vehicle, when dry

Plus Points
• A challenging cross-country hike to the high plateau and rim of Hart Mountain
• Scenic aspen groves within the cow-free stream canyon of Willow Creek
• Long views to the east of Steens Mtn., the Catlow Rim and the Pueblo Mtns.
• Pronghorn antelope and mule deer are commonly spotted on the high plateau
• From the rim, panoramic vistas west to the Warner Valley lakes and wetlands
• Potential bighorn sheep sightings on rock ledges at the rim

Minus Points
• No established trail, but game trails are numerous enroute to the rim
• No trees or shade on the high plateau, so it’s best to start in early AM on hot days
• Afternoon thunderstorms can present a lightning hazard on the rim and plateau

Download (PDF, 572 KB): Photos of Willow Creek Hike
Download (PDF, 823 KB): Topo Map for Willow Creek Hike
Download (GPX, 4 KB): GPS Points for Willow Creek Hike
Download (PDF, 576 KB): Road Map for Willow Creek Hike

Trail Notes
Map of Willow Creek Hike
The hike begins at the “Road Closed” marker, just above a wide grassy swale, and follows a faint jeep track up this swale toward the mouth of Willow Creek, visible to the southwest. At about 0.8 miles, after ascending the broad alluvial fan of Willow Creek, one reaches the canyon itself. Here it’s best to cross to the south side of the creek and follow an old cattle trail up the canyon along the south bank. This 0.3 mile section of canyon is narrow and the route can be brushy and rocky in spots, but if one perseveres, the canyon soon widens and the terrain becomes easier.

Where the canyon widens, the best route is not to descend into the tree-choked channel of Willow Creek, but to stay up high in the low sagebrush along the edge of the aspen groves. Following the edge of the trees to the southwest, the route eventually climbs uphill away from the creek to Notch 6615 (GPS Point 2).

From Notch 6615, one can see a treeless tributary creek that has cut eastward down through the high plateau, about a half mile south of the main Willow Creek canyon. The hiking route contours around and down into this tributary creek and follows game trails up this creek to the top of the plateau (at GPS Point 3). Once on top of the plateau, the route bears west to the edge of the Willow Creek canyon, but stays high above the canyon as it ascends westward into the upper basin (to GPS Point 4).

The route then crosses the grassy swale of upper Willow Creek and continues 0.6 miles west to the rim (GPS Point 5). At the rim, one has panoramic views up and down the Warner Valley over 2,500’ below. Look for bighorn sheep here on rock ledges just below rim. Return as you came.

Road to Trailhead
From the headquarters of the Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge, drive about 0.5 miles northwest on the main refuge road to a dirt road on the left (southwest). There may be a small sign here to Willow Creek. Turn on this dirt road and go about 1.4 miles south and west, keeping right at all road junctions, to a “Road Closed” marker before a broad, grassy swale. When dry, this dirt road is passable by any passenger car.

Camping Options
The nearest developed campground is the Hot Springs Campground on the refuge itself, about 6 driving miles south from the trailhead and about 4 miles south of the Refuge Headquarters. It has 30 free sites of various sizes, from small tents to large RVs, plus a vault toilet and an enclosed public hot springs. There is no drinking water at this campground, but it can be obtained at the Refuge Headquarters. The campground has a camp host in the summer and is managed by the USF&WS.

The next nearest developed campground is Camp Hart Mountain, an old CCC camp located in the Warner Valley about 10 driving miles southwest from the trailhead and about 15 miles north of Plush on the paved road to the Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge (Road 3-12). This campground has 9 free campsites that will accommodate any size camping rig, vault toilets and drinking water. It has a camp host during the summer and is also managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Agency Contact: Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge, (541) 947-2731 or (541) 947-3315

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