Steens Mountain Hiking: Tips for All Hikers (2021)

If you are a hiking addict, you should not miss Steens Mountain – an exciting but challenging destination for hiking. It will bring you fantastic experiences that no other destinations can.

But before you travel to this exciting place, it is essential to learn some tips about Steens Mountain hiking first. Let’s go through our article to find out more!

See also:

Steens Mountain – An Overview

Steens Mountain - An Overview
Steens Mountain – An Overview

Steens Mountain is the highest mountain in Eastern Oregon, with an altitude of up to 9,733 feet. When you look at this mountain range, it seems like a basalt island in the Alvord Desert to the east because its peak is more than 5,000 feet high.

What makes Steens Mountain so special is the enormous enchanting U-shaped gorges that stretch west for about half a mile. Also, this mountain has many wildlife habitats for plant and animal communities, such as plants from the Sagebrush steppe, juniper, perennials, and so on.

Quick Facts of Steens Mountain

  • The distance is various, depending on your itinerary.
  • Most of the trips to this mountain take 2-5 days.
  • The peak elevation is about 9.738 feet (equivalent to 2,968 meters).
  • From July to early September is the ideal time for hiking.

Highlight Points of Steens Mountain

Highlight Points of Steens Mountain
Highlight Points of Steens Mountain
  • There is various terrain for you to experience, from high desert to alkaline playa.
  • You can enjoy the stunning vitae from the summits and the ridgelines’ multitude.
  • Dogs are permitted, so you won’t feel lonely when traveling alone.
  • If you take a trip in early summer, you can enjoy the wildflower as well.
  • The Steens Mountain wilderness is decent and possible for you to see.
  • The solitude is also very decent.

Top Seven Trails of Steens Mountain

Wildhorse Lake Trail from Steens Summit Road

To reach this bowl, you will follow the zigzag trail at the top of Steens Mountain. From this location, if you want to go to Wildhorse Lake, you need to go about 1.3 miles and 1,200 feet. Camping in the lake is possible, but it is better to camp in designated locations.

The distance for Wildhorse is 2.6 miles, and for Steens Summit, it is 1.5 miles. Steens Summit is the trailhead. About elevation, the high point reaches 9,734 feet (equivalent to 2,869 meters), and the low one is 8,432 feet (equal to 2,560 meters). The difficulty level of hiking is moderate.

Route:

Wildhorse Lake Trail from Steens Summit Road
Wildhorse Lake Trail from Steens Summit Road

To reach this bowl, you will follow the zigzag trail at the top of Steens Mountain. From this location, if you want to go to Wildhorse Lake, you need to go about 1.3 miles and 1,200 feet. Camping in the lake is possible, but it is better to camp in designated locations.

Before or after your hike to Wildhorse Lake, you ought to complete the short and relatively easy 1.5-mile round trip hike to climb to the top of Steens Mountain. The scenery of the Alvord desert is still gorgeous and worthwhile, even though there are many towers and artificial objects used to mark the mountain at the top of the hill.

Campsites:

You can camp in designated locations near Wildhorse Lake, but you need to follow the “No Trace” rule. Places to camp are on durable surfaces such as sand, rock, dry grass, or compacted soil.

And make sure you are 200 feet away from trails and water. Camping at the Steens Summit is impossible.

Directions:

Start from Frenchglen and follow the Steens Mountain Loop Road
Start from Frenchglen and follow the Steens Mountain Loop Road

Start from Frenchglen and follow the Steens Mountain Loop Road. Then, walk straight up the mountain until you see a signed junction for the Wildhorse Lake or the Steens Summit. Then, turn to the left side and follow the rough road for about 2 miles to reach the road summit parking space.

Big Indian Gorge Trail

Among the most beautiful and accessible gorges in Steens Mountain, we cannot fail to mention the Big Indian Gorge. The distance is around 16 miles for both back and out trips. South Steens Campground is the trailhead. Its high point reaches 8,500 feet, and the low one is 5,300 feet. The level of the complex is from moderate to difficult.

Route:

After reaching the dirt path, you will continue walking across the grasslands and riverside. These places can be dangerous at certain times of the year, so be careful.

Eventually, you will reach a plateau based on a giant U-shaped canyon surrounded by poplar trees and sagebrush juniper trees.

Campsites:

You can find several excellent sites for camping when you hike about 6,500 feet (6.5 miles) to a grove of cottonwoods
You can find several excellent sites for camping when you hike about 6,500 feet (6.5 miles) to a grove of cottonwoods

You can find several excellent sites for camping when you hike about 6,500 feet (6.5 miles) to a grove of cottonwoods. If you want to take an out-and-back, you can walk 8,000 feet to reach the turnaround point.

Directions:

Depart from Burns follow State Highway 78, about 2 miles southeast. Then turn right onto State Highway 205 and go southeast (towards Frenchglen) for about 60 miles.

Continue for about 9 miles, then turn left south on Steens Mountain Loop Road. You will find the trailhead at Southamonds campsite. In the area marked the Little Blitzen Trail, park your car on the right side of it. The official trail begins just up the path.

Pike Creek Canyon Trail

Hiking in Pike Creek Canyon is considered one of the best hiking trips you should not miss. To get there, you need to go through the other side of the Steens to reach the Alvord Desert.

Narrow, remote, steep, and rocky are the words to describe this place. It is a colorful rock consisting of dark green, orange, and red. There is also a perennial spring surrounded by willow and reed trees.

The distance is 5.4 miles for out-and-back. Pike Creek Trail is the trailhead. Unlike the two trails mentioned above, its high point is just 5.480 feet, and the low one is just 4,320 feet.

The difficult level is moderate, like Wildhorse Lake Trail. Another notable thing about this area is the fee required. You need to pay for the camping permit ($30 a night) or the parking space ($5 a day).

Route:

Pike Creek Canyon Trail
Pike Creek Canyon Trail

You need to first move to the top of the trail. Then walk across a creek to find a path that runs along the south bank. Follow this path up to the canyon (about a mile). Finally, go to the left of Pike Creek and into a ravine.

Directions:

Depart from the Burns, and you need to drive to the east, following Highway 78. It takes about 65 miles to past Crane’s town. Then, you will reach marker 65 on East Steens Road.

There, you will turn right and continue to drive for about 38.5 miles. An unmarked road that a yellow guard identifies will appear.

Steens Mountain Summit

Before reaching the summit of Steens Mountain, you will need to walk over an obstacle and go up a rocky and steep path. It takes nearly half a mile to do that. Even though the actual peak is on your left side (about 100 feet left), you can check the view on your right side as well.

Unlike other trails, this one does not have any trailhead amenities. The snow may remain till summer, making the loop delayed sometimes. Thus, we suggest that you access their website to learn more about the weather before starting your trip.

Directions:

Steens Mountain Summit
Steens Mountain Summit

Suppose you are now at Burns; you will follow State Highway 78 to the southeast for about two miles. Then, you turn right and keep going on State Highway 205 to the south for another 60 miles.

You will be at Frenchglen. Past it and go until you see the Steens Mountain Loop Road. Turn left there and continue going for another 22 miles. Finally, turn left on Kiger Gorge Overlook so that you can access the hiking trail.

Big Indian Gorge Trail to Little Blitzen Loop

This trail is about 25.2 miles, located near the Frenchglen of Oregon. It brings tourists the opportunity to enjoy the wildlife view.

The difficulty level is complex and quite challenging. Still, if you love something adventurous, this place is excellent for you to hike and take a backpacking trip or nature one. Usually, the best time to visit it is from June to September. Moreover, you can also take your dogs with you.

Little Blitzen Gorge Trail

Little Blitzen Gorge Trail
Little Blitzen Gorge Trail

If you would love to reach one of the mountain peaks that are symbolic of Steens, you should visit this place once. The distance is around 18.6 miles. The trailhead will leave from South Steens Campground. Its high point is 7,883 feet, while the low one is 5,332 feet.

The difficulty level is from moderate to complex, suitable for different types of hikers.

Route:

You will enter the trail from the Steens Mountain Loop and go straight down for about half a mile. Then, you will cross the Little Blitzen River. Stream crossings are sometimes challenging hikers due to heavy snowfall during the previous year.

Still, the swimming holes are also great to see and take some photos. Next, you keep hiking for about 2,000 feet along the river. The primary trail will follow a path leading to a waterfall located a little bit upper the end of the canyon.

Campsites:

You can find a campsite once you hike about 4 miles to a plateau. Follow the instructions to camp in the proper positions. Don’t forget to follow the land management of the area as well.

Kiger Gorge Overlook

Kiger Gorge Overlook
Kiger Gorge Overlook

Kiger Gorge is an ice valley with a depth of about 0.8 km. It looks like a giant U with classic beauty. Its sediments soften over time as glaciers have swept down it. Besides, that also creates very obvious notches in the rock.

A brief of top seven trails mentioned above:

Distance Elevation gainRoute type
Wildhorse Lake Trail from Steens Summit Road2.6 miles for Wildhorse and 1.5 miles for Steens SummitHigh point: 9,734 feet

Low point: 8,432 feet

Trafficked out and back trail
Big Indian Gorge Trail

 

16 milesHigh point: 8,500 feet

Low point: 5,300 feet

Desert trail route
Pike Creek Canyon Trail

 

5.4 milesHigh point: 5.480 feet

Low point: 4,320 feet

 

Trafficked out and back trail
Steens Mountain Summit

 

0.9 milesThe summit is more than 5,000 feet (above the Alvord Desert to the east)Trafficked out and back trail
Big Indian Gorge Trail to Little Blitzen Loop

 

25.2 milesAbout 133,000 feetTrafficked loop trail
Little Blitzen Gorge Trail

 

19 milesHigh point: 7,883 feet

Low Point:5, 332 feet

Trafficked out and back trail
Kiger Gorge Overlook0.2 mile1,119 feetTrafficked loop trail

Best Travelling Time at Steens Mountain

Best Travelling Time at Steens Mountain
Best Travelling Time at Steens Mountain

Usually, the best time to go hiking is from July to September. However, some years you can still come in October. In summer, the temperature here is very high can reach as high as ninety degrees and down to 50 degrees at night.

Eating and Sleeping

Here are some reference places for you to eat and sleep when taking a trip to Steens Mountain.

From July to September: Fish Lake Campground (7,400 feet at high elevation).

From mid-June to October: Jackman Park Campground (7,800 feet at high elevation).

You can also refer to other places like Page Springs Campground (4,200 feet), South Steens Campground, etc.

You can also refer to other places like Page Springs Campground (4,200 feet)
You can also refer to other places like Page Springs Campground (4,200 feet)

An advice for you is to bring water and food because it is pretty hard to find dining options in such an extreme place. If your food is not enough, you can get some at the Fields Station Cafe.

To sum up, Steens Mountain is a fantastic place for hiking. For the most successful trip, you should carefully learn the information about the area. The two most notable things are equipping yourself with hiking boots and not entering paths with road closure signs.

We hope this article can help you. Thanks for reading!

FAQs

Is Steens mountain hiking safe?

It is not very dangerous, but you had better be careful.

Does Steens Mountain Loop Road open?

Yes, it opens on May 15.

How many days that is ideal for Steens mountain hiking?

Usually, most trips will take about 2-5 days.

Does Steens mountain open everyday for hiking?

It often opens from mid-June to October.