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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT

Oregon / Washington

Steens Mountain

National Conservation Lands

Welcome to the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area (CMPA) – 428,156 acres of public land offering diverse scenic and recreational experiences. The CMPA encompasses an extraordinary landscape with deep glacier carved gorges, stunning scenery, wilderness, wild rivers, a rich diversity of plant and animal species, and a way of life for all who live there. The 52-mile Steens Mountain Backcountry Byway provides access to four campgrounds and the views from Kiger Gorge, East Rim, Big Indian Gorge, Wildhorse and Little Blitzen Gorge overlooks are not to be missed! Welcome to the CMPA and enjoy the many resources and activities awaiting you.

Legislation - Cooperation Brings Protection to Steens Mountain

On October 30, 2000, the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Act of 2000 (PDF), providing additional protection to approximately 900,000 acres of Federal land in southeastern Oregon, was signed into law. The Act is a culmination of a cooperative effort between Oregon’s Congressional delegation, Oregon’s Governor, and the Secretary of the Interior to forge legislation that will provide long-term protection to the cultural, economic, ecological, and social health of the Steens Mountain Area.

View of Little Blitzen Gorge on Steens Mountain from Rooster Comb area.

The Act designated the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area that will be collaboratively managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and a new Steens Mountain Advisory Council to conserve, protect, and manage the long-term ecological integrity of the Steens Mountain for future and present generations. Within this area, cooperative and innovative management projects will be maintained and enhanced between the BLM, private landowners, tribes, and other public interests. Sustainable grazing and recreational use, including fishing and hunting, will be continued where consistent with the purpose of the Act.

A land exchange provision blocks up nearly 100,000 acres of livestock-free wilderness within the designated 175,000-acre Steens Mountain Wilderness. This land, at the top of the Steens Mountain, is the most sensitive to disturbance and will be managed to safeguard the pristine environment.

The Act also designates three new Wild and Scenic Rivers --- Wildhorse Creek, Little Wildhorse Creek and Kiger Creek --- and adds two new segments --- Ankle Creek and Mud Creek --- to the existing Donner und Blitzen Wild and Scenic River. Also, the first ever Redband Trout Reserve has been created to improve stream health and fish habitat.

Approximately 900,000 acres are designated off limits to mineral and geothermal extraction.

Know Before You Go

Your safety and enjoyment are important. Please be aware of: View of the Back Country Byway in Big Indian Gorge from Steens Mountain.

  • Limited water sources – carry enough water and food to last your entire trip, and do not drink from untested water sources.
  • Ticks, mosquitoes, and rattlesnakes in certain areas during spring and summer.
  • Weather conditions – the mountain’s high elevation can cause rapid temperature changes. Blustery, 100-degree days are common and snow can fall year-round. Be prepared for sudden lightning storms, snow, rain, and high winds.
  • Long distances between services – including gas stations, phones, and cell phone reception. Let someone at home know where you plan to go and when you plan to return. Phone service should not be relied on for emergency communication. Always start your trip with a full tank of fuel and call ahead for current information about fuel availability in the Steens Mountain area. Fuel may be available in the towns of Fields, Frenchglen, Crane, or the Narrows.
  • Rough terrain – deep canyons and rocky slopes are a natural party of the rugged mountain territory. Elevation can change from less than 4,000 feet to over 9,000 feet in just a few miles. We recommend high clearance or 4x4 vehicles for primitive roads, including the steep and rocky portion of the Steens Mountain Loop Road near South Steens Campground. The rest of the Steens Mountain Loop Road can accommodate passenger cars at lower speeds. High quality tires are a must for all vehicles, even when traveling on maintained routes.
  • Livestock and wildlife on roadways – much of southeast Oregon is open range. Be alert, drive with caution, and plan to share roadways with cattle, deer, elk, antelope, wild horses, and rabbits!
  • Getting lost – the remote nature and vast landscape of the Steens Mountain area may leave even the most experienced traveler directionally confused or just plain lost. Traveling with a current map of the area is essential! Don’t hesitate to talk to locals - area landowners and Federal employees are generally visible in the Steens Mountain area. We welcome your visit and have information to help you.

Land Status Boundaries

The Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area contains a mixture of public and private lands and specially designated areas where particular regulations may apply. Obey road closure signs and stay on designated open routes – driving off road is prohibited. Please respect landowners in the area and always get permission to go onto private property. Contact Burns District BLM for more information.

Geology

View of the Rooster Comb section of the Steens Mountain Back Country Byway. During the Ice Age, glaciers formed in the major stream channels on the mountain. These glaciers dug trenches about one-half mile deep, through layers of hard basalt. The result was four immense U-shaped gorges – Kiger (JPG), Little Blitzen (JPG), Big Indian (JPG), and Wildhorse (JPG). The famous notch in the east ridge of Kiger Gorge formed during a later glaciation when a small glacier in Mann Creek Canyon eroded through the ridge top. Massive internal pressures forced the east edge of the Steens upward. The result was a 30-mile-long fault-block mountain with a spectacular and rugged east face that rises one vertical mile above the Alvord Desert. Steens Mountain is the largest fault-block mountain in the northern Great Basin.

Plants and Animals

South Steens Wild Horses on Steens Mountain in the Burns District. At the base of the mountain, where water is scarce, is a belt of sagebrush. Farther up, increased moisture creates ideal conditions for a dense belt of juniper. As you leave the junipers, you will be surrounded by large expanses of Mountain big sagebrush. Look for stands of quaking aspen and mountain mahogany on drier rocky ridges. Above the juniper and aspen, severe climate and thin soils result in a belt of grasses, low-growing plants, and stunted, wind-formed shrubs. This sub-alpine area is home to hundreds of wildflower species, including the Steens Mountain paintbrush, which exists in no other place in the world.

While not easily seen, Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, mountain lion, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn antelope make this corner of southeast Oregon their home. Migratory birds traveling the Pacific Flyway use Harney County as a rest and refueling stop. Visitors can also spend hours watching the amazing, breathtaking antics of raptors as they soar and dive in the high mountain wind currents. Several different herds of wild horses also exist in the area and livestock may be seen on both public and private land.

Recreation

Sightseeing in Kiger Gorge at Steens Mountain. Opportunities for recreation on Steens Mountain are as plentiful as they are widespread. Popular activities include camping, picnicking, sightseeing, and exploring the open country on foot and horseback. Hiking is available in all areas and trailheads exist near Page Springs and South Steens Campgrounds, as well as Wildhorse Overlook and Pike Creek. Visitors bike on rugged mountain roads, photograph landscapes, wildlife and wildflowers, and catch redband trout in the Donner und Blitzen River. Others enjoy hunting for wild game and visiting special places such as Riddle Brothers Ranch, the Kiger Wild Horse Viewing Area, and the nearby historic P-Ranch. Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and limited snowmobiling are winter favorites. Several private outfitters and guides offer opportunities for personalized tours or other activities. Some activities within the CMPA, such as motorized access for winter recreation and organized group functions, may require a special-use permit from BLM.

Directions to Steens Mountain

From Burns, take State Highway 78 southeast for approximately 2 miles. Then turn right onto State Highway 205 and travel south for 60 miles to Frenchglen. Just past Frenchglen, turn left onto the Steens Mountain Loop Road.