Diamond Craters, an Outstanding Natural Area of 17,000 acres, has some of the most diverse basaltic volcanic features in the nation clustered within a small, accessible area. Located in the high desert country about 55 miles southeast of Burns, Oregon, Diamond Craters is really unlike any other place in North America. That’s the opinion held by scores of scientists and educators who have visited and studied the area. It has the “best and most diverse basaltic volcanic features in the United States and all within a comparatively small and accessible area,” one geologist summarized. There is only a 550 foot range from the lowest to highest point with elevations ranging from 4,150 to 4,700 feet above sea level.
Named for Mace McCoy’s diamond brand, Diamond Craters displays an entire range of eruptions possible in basaltic volcanism. This volcanic area was formed some time in the past 25,000 years, with some of the eruptions taking place as late as 1,000 years ago, and now resembles a thin, rocky pancake with a few bumps. Features identifiable at the Outstanding Natural Area include craters and vents, cinder cones, spatter cones, lava tubes, driblet spires, a graben, and water-filled maar.
Red Cone Feature at
Diamond Craters ONA
It’s an isolated place and some precautions should be taken when traveling in the area. First, Diamond Craters has no tourist facilities. The nearest places where fuel is sold are Diamond and Frenchglen. Keep your vehicle on hard-packed road surfaces and obvious parking areas. Certain roads and trails are closed for rehabilitation. Be careful or you might spend time stuck in loose cinder, volcanic ash or clay. If you go hiking, carry drinking water. Watch out for rattlesnakes. If you come upon one, stay calm and allow the snake to glide away.
It took thousands of years of volcanic activity to form Diamond Craters, but requires only a few seconds of carelessness or thoughtlessness to destroy its features. Help BLM protect and preserve Diamond Craters. Please do not destroy or collect plants, animals or rocks.
Diamond Loop National Back Country Byway
Wildlife Refuge marsh
The Bureau of Land Management has designated several adventurous routes within public lands as Back Country Byways. These are typically unpaved and more remote than other byways and are noted for their scenic attributes. Most of the public lands found along the byways are distant and provide both solitude and recreational opportunities.
Designated on March 14, 1991, the Diamond Loop National Back Country Byway offers a variety of wildlife, historical landmarks and fascinating natural formations. Traveling the 69-mile byway takes you through a patchwork of high desert terrains – from the deep blues of mountain vistas and the dusky sage-covered hills to the red rimrock canyons and the grassy reaches of marshes and valleys.
If you are a wildlife watcher, keep an eye out for wild horses, mule deer, or pronghorn antelope. Bring along your binoculars to spot the waterfowl, shorebirds, hawks and eagles that traverse the Pacific Flyway through the area.
Whether you are exploring a lava flow, stopping at small historic towns, or passing the ranches scattered throughout the valleys between the Steens and Riddle mountains, you will travel back country roads that lead to attractions right out of the “Old West.”
Peter French Round Barn
Along the Byway, stop in the town of Diamond, originally established as a major supply center for ranchers. Residents of the area can tell you about the history of the recently renovated Hotel Diamond, a legacy of its rancher past. Another site to see is the Pete French Round Barn, built in late 1870. Nearby is another legacy -- the Kiger Mustangs, believed to closely resemble the horses brought over by the Spaniards in the late 16th Century. Walk around the Diamond Craters Outstanding Natural Area, home to some of the most diverse volcanic formations in America. End your trip in Frenchglen and snap a picture of the famous Frenchglen Hotel, now on the National Register of Historic Places.
There are two places to access the Diamond Loop Back Country Byway: near the town of Princeton on State Highway 78 (north), or at the junction of State Highway 205 and Diamond Lane (west). We recommend filling up with fuel and food in Burns or at the Narrows before venturing around the byway. Lastly, remember much of southeast Oregon is open range – be prepared to share the byway with cattle and wildlife!