The Steens Mountain Wilderness is an awe-inspiring natural area located in Southeastern Oregon. Stretching across over 300,000 acres of high desert terrain, this stunning landscape is home to an abundance of wildlife and outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, and bird-watching.
In this guide, we’ll explore the best ways to experience the Steens Mountain Wilderness, from finding the perfect campsite to spotting elusive desert animals.
What You Need to Know
Visiting Steens Mountain Wilderness can be an incredible experience. Before you set out on your journey, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
First and foremost, you should know that the entire wilderness area is spread across nearly 900,000 acres. That means you’ll want to plan your route and itinerary carefully, as it could take multiple days to explore the whole area. Additionally, keep in mind that cell service is generally poor in the wilderness and it can be difficult to access emergency services.
As for activities, Steens Mountain Wilderness offers a variety of options for those looking for a great outdoor experience. Some of the popular steens mountain wilderness activities include hiking, camping, fishing, horseback riding, and wildlife viewing. Be sure to bring along the necessary supplies and gear for any of these activities, as well as plenty of food and water.
You should also check out the Alvord Desert while you're in the area. We wrote a whole guide about it!
Finally, make sure to be aware of the current weather conditions before embarking on any of your Steens Mountain Wilderness hikes or camping trips. This is especially important during winter months when temperatures can drop quickly and wind speeds can increase suddenly. Additionally, check with the Bureau of Land Management or local ranger stations for any specific regulations or restrictions before beginning your journey.
Location and Getting There
Steens Mountain Wilderness is located in the southeastern corner of Oregon, near the border with Nevada. It is a vast and rugged expanse of land that features sweeping vistas and breathtaking views of the surrounding area. The highest peak in the range is 9,733 feet above sea level. To reach Steens Mountain Wilderness, you can take Highway 205 from Burns, Oregon or from Fields Station, Nevada. You can also take the Steens Mountain Loop Road from Frenchglen, Oregon.
The region offers numerous activities, including hiking, camping, horseback riding, and wildlife viewing. There are over 200 miles of trails available for hikers to explore, ranging from moderate to strenuous. Camping is permitted in designated areas, though visitors should be aware of the restrictions before they arrive. Visitors should also be prepared for the challenging terrain and changing weather conditions that can occur in the wilderness area.
The region also hosts a wide variety of wildlife, including bighorn sheep, elk, deer, and eagles.
Best Hiking in Steens Mountain Wilderness
Steens Mountain Wilderness is a seriously beayiful area of Oregon. There are a number of different trails that are worth checking out and we've compiled the best below:
Wildhorse Lake Trail from Steens Summit Road
The Wildhorse Lake Trail from Steens Summit Road is one of the best trails in the nearby area. It's an out and back trail, meaning that you'll need to turn around at the end and repeat what you just hiked.
It takes you from Wildhorse Lake Overlook to Wildhorse Lake. The trail is fairly easy, but there are some uphill bits if you're adverse to that kind of trail. You should keep in mind that there are some roads in the Steens Mountain Wilderness that close in the winter, so check ahead to make sure everything is passable.
Steens Mountain Summit
Standing on the summit of Steens Mountain is a must-do for any mountain lover who visits the area. The hike is very easy, taking only around 30 minutes to complete for most hikers.
The elevation is significant, so if yu're visiting in the summer, it's a bit cooler than you might expect. That being said, there is little to no cover so make sure to dress appropriately and use sunscreen.
Kiger Gorge Overlook Trail
This is another fairly easy trail that starts at the King Gorge Overlook Parking area.
The trail takes you out and back only 0.2 miles to the overlook at 8,700 feet. There, you'll get an amazing view from the plateau.
Big Indian Gorge Trail
The Big Indian Gorge Trail is the longest trail on our list, coming in at just under 17 miles. It starts at South Steens Campground and takes you out and through the canyon.
The trail is very popular throughout the year, especially the first portion. There are reports though of snakes and bees being a nuisance/danger.
Pike Creek Canyon Trail
The Pike Creek Canyon Trail is another great option for anyone looking for a hard hike in Steens Mountain Wilderness.
The trail is fairly hard, considering the amount of elevation you have to deal with but it's also under six miles so for hikers in good shape this shouldn't be much of an issue. You'll end your hike at about 6,000'.
There are a few really great campgrounds in the area and Traverse the Pacific Northwest has compiled a list of the best:
Jackman Park Campground
Coordinates: 42.719085, -118.624208
This campground is near the Kiger Gorge Overlook and is about 2 miles from Fish Lake Campground. It sits at 7,800' in elevation (meaning that it's quite chilly even in the summer).
There are 6 campsites that are all first come, first serve.
No trash cans
Page Springs Campground
Coordinates: 2.805971, -118.867677
This is another Steens Mountain campground located in Hines, Oregon.
It costs $8 per night per car and no reservations are accepted. The campground is at the base of Steens Mountain, only a short drive away from Frenchglen. There are also two nearby trailheads that access the wilderness around you.
Mann Lake Recreation Site
Coordinates: 42.778231239036586, -118.43864141534377
Located on the east side of Steens Mountain, the Mann Lake camping area offers tent sites. The area is very level and has expansive views of the mountain and the surrounding wilderness. Mann Lake is nearby but is usually not suited for swimming.
Drive in campsites
Fish Lake Recreation Site
Coordinates: 42.73846770596315, -118.64376873785368
The Fish Lake Recreation Site campground offers visitors 23 campsites situated at7,400 feet. The camgorund is 20 miles from Frenchglen, Oregon and is open from July to November.
South Steens Campground
Coordinates: 42.656738, -118.728468
There are 36 campsites at the South Steens Campground as well as an equestrian site for horses.
The Steens Mountain Wilderness is home to a wide variety of wildlife. Some of the animals you may encounter while hiking, camping, and participating in other activities in the area include black-tailed deer, elk, antelope, bighorn sheep, coyotes, foxes, badgers, black bears, bobcats, and cougars. There are also numerous bird species, such as golden eagles, bald eagles, turkey vultures, ravens, hawks, and owls.
The area is especially known for its abundance of mule deer. The rocky terrain of Steens Mountain Wilderness provides them with an ideal habitat for resting and foraging. During the summer months, you’ll likely come across herds of mule deer grazing near creeks or perched atop the rocky outcrops.
Fish can also be found in the area’s many lakes and streams. Species such as rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, and brook trout all make their home in these waters. There are also some unique fish species found only in the Steens Mountain area, including dace and suckerfish.
In addition to the mammals, birds, and fish that you’ll find in the Steens Mountain Wilderness, there are also numerous reptiles and amphibians. The most commonly seen species are gopher snakes, western fence lizards, northern alligator lizards, rubber boas, western toads, and Pacific tree frogs.