Alvord Desert/Mann Lake
While Steens Mountain looms to the west, the shimmering salt flats of the Alvord Desert unfold to the east. The Alvord Desert playa, which can be either wet or dry depending on the time of year, is one of the largest playas in Oregon—six miles wide and 11 miles long. Tens of thousands of years ago, a lake almost 200 feet deep covered the Alvord Desert and extended southward into Nevada. The old shoreline forms terraces along the edge of the valley, and deep under the desert floor are the same lava flows that make up the top of Steens Mountain.
Located below the east face of Steens Mountain, Mann Lake attracts anglers as much for its remote, rugged splendor as for its abundant Lahontan cutthroat trout. These trout are supremely adapted to survive alkaline desert waters and without them fisheries like Mann Lake could not exist. The lake was named for an early rancher and has satisfied fishers for over forty years.
Know before You Go
The Alvord Desert is accessible year-round; however, ideal conditions exist July through November, when the playa is usually dry enough for vehicular travel. With no potable water, restroom facilities, cell phone service, or designated camping areas, travelers to the area should bring their own conveniences and plan on a desolate, open-air adventure.
At Mann Lake, anglers converge as early as March and into October. Shallow throughout its 200 acres, the lake features extensive weed-beds and easily wadeable shoreline margins. Aside from two vault restrooms and boat ramps, Mann Lake offers no amenities. Bring your own shade, shelter and water and tie everything down. Swift winds are common, and weather conditions are often unpredictable. The nearest town is Fields, 45 minutes to 1 hour south.
The Alvord playa is a popular venue for land sailing, glider flying and camping. Sore travelers will find sweet solace at Alvord Hot Springs, a privately owned, no-fee hot spring that bubbles up at 174 degrees, but cools considerably by the time it reaches man-made sitting pools. Mann Lake is a favorite fishing spot for the cutthroat trout living there. Visitors also enjoy camping, hiking, viewing wildlife such as pronghorn antelope, quail and chukar, and rock hounding for thunder eggs, agates, and other rocks and minerals in the area.
Directions to Alvord Desert/Mann Lake
From Burns, take State Highway 78 southeast for approximately 72 miles. Turn right onto the East Steens Road and travel southwest for approximately 23 miles until you reach the Mann Lake Recreation Site turn-off on your right. The Alvord Desert is located approximately 20 miles south of Mann Lake by way of the East Steens Road.