DO I NEED A PERMIT?
Some activities, such as motorized access for winter recreation and organized group functions, may require a special-use permit from the BLM.
The United States Congress designated the Steens Mountain Wilderness in 2000 and it now has over 170,200 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Oregon and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Steens Mountain is located in Oregon's high desert is one of the crown jewels of the state's wildlands. It is some of the wildest and most remote land left in Oregon.
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 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, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.
There are five designated campgrounds in the Burns District Ė Chickahominy Reservoir near Riley, and Fish Lake, Jackman Park, South Steens, and Page Springs on Steens Mountain. Camping is also allowed at Mann Lake on the east side of Steens Mountain and at Warm Springs Reservoir near Juntura, but these areas do not have specific sites or use fees. Fees are charged at designated campgrounds from April through October and range from $6-$8 per vehicle per night. All fees collected are returned to the site for improvements, facility maintenance, and visitor services. No firewood collecting is allowed in developed campgrounds. Pets must be kept on a leash in the campground at all times. Additional regulations are posted at campgrounds. There are also several developed campgrounds on the Malheur National Forest to the north and east of Burns. Facilities include Yellowjacket Lake, Delintment Lake and Idlewild Campgrounds and Falls and Emigrant Recreation Sites. Primitive camping is permitted on all public land across the Burns District. Remember, however, most off-road travel is prohibited (please donít trek your RV or camp trailer across the landscape!), and we encourage use of existing primitive campsites if at all possible! For specific information about developed campgrounds on BLM-administered land within the Burns District, visit our Recreation Sites web page.
Hiking is popular in most areas of the Burns District, but most notably within the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area. There are several trails suitable for horseback riding and on-foot travels, and thousands of wide open acres available for cross-country adventures. Descriptions of the developed trails on Steens Mountain can be found online at the Burns District Recreation Sites web page.
Other popular hikes include:
- Mud and Ankle Creek (on Steens Mountain) - If open country and solitude are what you desire, this is the hike for you. To access this trail, which is actually an old jeep road, turn to the east on the road directly across from the Riddle Brothers Ranch Road (1/8 mile southwest of South Steens campground). Follow this road 1 mile to the parking area (4 wheel drive recommended). Park your vehicle and hike east where you will soon encounter a gate. Beyond the gate, the trail begins. You will encounter many stream crossings along the route which will be difficult, if not impassable in spring and early summer. Use caution! Many old spur roads branch off from the main route allowing exploration of the Ankle Creek Basin, the upper Donner und Blitzen Wild and Scenic River, and the rim of Wildhorse Canyon for the really adventurous. Aspen groves, dense juniper stands, and an abundance of wildlife and are around every corner. Length: 7 miles to the Ankle Creek crossing; Trail Rating: Moderate with an elevation gain of anywhere from 100' to 2500'; Best Time to Hike: May – October.
- Pike Creek (east Steens Mountain area) - If snow and rain prevent you from getting up to the Steens, head east to the back side of the mountain where access is year-round. Approximately 1.5 miles north of Alvord Hot Springs, head west towards the mountain on a dirt road for one mile and look for the juniper tree growing out of a rock. Park here and close by you'll notice where the trail begins. It follows a very old jeep road for one mile and becomes a walking trail for another mile before petering out. Experienced trekkers can pick up the trail again further ahead where it eventually leads to a neat, established campsite. There are two creek crossings which can be difficult to cross in early spring and after summer thunderstorms. Destinations along this trail are an old cabin, an old mine, and the upper Pike Creek drainages. Look for deer, cougar, and the ever-elusive bighorn sheep along this trail. NOTE: Portions of the land in the Pike Creek drainage are private property, including the parking area near the trailhead. The public use of private lands is a privilege. Please respect private property and landowners throughout your travels. Length: 3 miles to the hidden campsite; Trail Rating: Difficult with an elevation gain of anywhere from 100' to 3000'; Best Time to Hike: March - November.
Additionally, there are many developed and well-liked trails within the Burns District boundary in the Emigrant Creek Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service. For a description of these trails and access information, visit the Malheur National Forest trails web site.
Hundreds of migratory birds traveling the Pacific Flyway use Harney County as a rest and refueling stop. Birds can be seen in town, just outside of town, abundantly on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and in several other locations across the high desert landscape. Over 320 species of birds and 58 mammal species have been observed on the Refuge.
In spring many migratory birds nest on the refuge while others stop over on their way to northern nesting areas, making it one of the most popular birding sites in the west. The Silvies River Flood Plain near Burns provides excellent birding opportunities in March, April, and sometimes into May. Usually the best birding areas include the meadows along Hotchkiss and Greenhouse Lanes and Potter Swamp Road near Burns. The Double-O Unit of Malheur Refuge is another good birding spot. Depending on water conditions, good viewing may also be found along Highway 20 between Burns and Buchanan. Over 200 pairs of greater sandhill cranes nest on the refuge each year. In September large groups of cranes begin congregating in the grainfields on the refuge. The Blitzen Valley is the best place to see local trumpeter swans and to view greater sandhill cranes. Malheur Refuge also hosts an array of raptors. Swainson's and red-tailed hawk sare present and bald eagles and rough-legged hawks begin arriving in mid-October. Watch for raptors on power poles and in open fields and stay alert for the occasional Merlin or peregrine falcon.
Hundreds of other species can be seen throughout Harney County, mainly March through September. Some include: tundra swans, northern pintails and white-fronted, snow, Ross' and Canada geese, Sage grouse, American white pelicans, double-crested cormorants, western grebes, long-billed curlews, American avocets, warblers, vireos, tanagers, buntings, least and western sandpipers, both species of yellowlegs, solitary, pectoral and Baird's sandpipers, marbled godwit, ruddy turnstone, American redstart, indigo bunting, eastern vagrant, rough-legged hawks, and golden and bald eagles. Visit the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for more information on birding in Harney County.
Fishing opportunities in the Burns District are plentiful in all directions. The primary angling opportunities in the Steens Mountain area are for wild redband trout in the Donner und Blitzen River system. The major access points (trails) are Page Springs Campground, South Steens Campground, and the crossing on the Steens Mountain South Loop Road. Special angling restrictions apply to the Donner und Blitzen River system; Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations should be consulted.
Additional angling opportunities on or near Steens Mountain include Fish Lake, Wildhorse Lake, and Mann Lake. Fish Lake is accessible at Fish Lake Campground along the Steens Mountain Loop Road and is annually stocked by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife with rainbow trout. A residual population of brook trout is also present from historic stocking. Wildhorse Lake is accessible by a trail starting at the Wildhorse Lake Overlook, which is just off the Steens Mountain Loop Road near the summit. Wildhorse Lake provides angling for Lahontan cutthroat trout. The hike to the lake requires walking down (and back up) approximately 1 mile of steep trail. Mann Lake is accessible off the East Steens Road and 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.
Chickahominy Reservoir near Riley, Oregon – another angling favorite – is known for its large rainbow trout. The reservoir was first stocked in 1967 and is still stocked once or twice yearly with fingerlings and legal-size fish. The water level fluctuates with the amount of spring runoff, occasionally affecting the availability of fisheries. In most years, Chickahominy provides outstanding fishing opportunities. The main season of use is April to November, but ice fishing is popular in the late-winter months as well.
Other popular fishing sites include:
- Krumbo Reservoir – for trout and largemouth bass; located 10 miles northeast of Frenchglen, Oregon, on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
- Warm Springs Reservoir – for smallmouth bass, white crappie, catfish, perch, and hatchery rainbow trout; located 9 miles southeast of Juntura, Oregon; from Highway 20 east, head south on the Warm Springs Road
- Buelah Reservoir – for redband trout, whitefish, and bull trout; located 10 miles north of Juntura, Oregon; from Highway 20 east, turn to the north just before reaching Juntura
- Yellowjacket Lake – for trout; located on the Malheur National Forest, approximately 21 miles northwest of Burns, Oregon; access from Forest Road 47 to Forest Road 37
- Delintment Lake – for trout; located on the Malheur National Forest, approximately 27 miles northwest of Riley, Oregon; access from Forest Road 47 to Forest Road 41
- Malheur River – for redband trout and hatchery rainbow trout; from Warm Springs Reservoir downstream to South Fork Malheur River, and further downstream to Gold Creek
- Moon Reservoir – for bass and trout; located 8 miles southeast of Riley; access off Highway 20 west, to the south via the Double ‘O’ Road
Hunting in Oregon's High Desert is one of the most popular recreation activities the Burns District offers. Hunters from near and far gather annually for rifle, bow, and muzzleloader seasons for a variety of big game hunts including deer, elk, antelope, and bighorn sheep. The Burns District has portions of the Malheur River, Buelah, Silvies, Wagontire, Juniper, Beatys Butte, Steens Mountain and Whitehorse Hunt Units and serves hundreds of hunters each year. Other species typically up for hunt at various times of the year include cougar, bear, bobcat, upland game birds such as pheasant, chukar, wild turkey, and mountain quail, and migratory game birds such as goose and duck. Hunters are also known to search for rarely sighted feral pigs in the area and take aim at abundant coyotes on occasion. Controlled hunts generally begin mid-August and last at least through November. For more information on hunting in the Burns District, visit the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife on the internet.
The vast expanse of public land within the Burns District lends itself nicely to auto tours of all kinds. The Steens Mountain Backcountry Byway (also known as the Steens Mountain Loop Road) is a very popular route. The nearly 60 mile loop – which begins and ends in Frenchglen, Oregon – affords access to four developed campgrounds, Kiger Gorge, East Rim, Big Indian Gorge, Wildhorse and Little Blitzen Gorge overlooks, fishing at Fish Lake and along the Donner und Blitzen River, wildflower and wild horse viewing, and an abundance of other sightseeing or photography opportunities. We recommend high clearance or 4x4 vehicles for the steep and rocky portion of the Steens Byway 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!
The Diamond Loop Backcountry Byway is another favorite for touring visitors. This 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.” 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!
Check out these other popular tour routes as well:
- High Desert Discovery State Scenic Byway(Burns, Oregon to Fields, via Highway 205) - The High Desert Discovery Scenic Byway guides you through the heart of Harney County's sparsely populated region, offering broad panoramas of wide-open spaces so seldom encountered today. This byway serves as a gateway to awe-inspiring Steens Mountain, the Diamond Craters, the Malheur Refuge, the Peter French Round Barn and the Alvord Desert. Its austere beauty offers incredible solitude; alone in the high desert, you feel a bit like a cowboy or pioneer from another era. As a modern day pioneer exploring this frontier, plan accordingly as basic services are few and far between. The High Desert Discovery Scenic Byway begins at Burns, which rests at the junction of Highways 20, 78 and 395. From Burns, proceed south on Highway 205. The High Desert Discovery Byway ends in the ranching community of Fields. Fields is an excellent staging area for outdoor adventures in the nearby Trout Creek and Pueblo Mountains. See the High Desert Discovery Scenic Byway and Tour Routes Map (PDF).
- Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Central Patrol Road/Sodhouse Lane – The Center Patrol Road (CPR) bisects the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge lengthwise. The central part of the refuge narrows into a waist which consists of several rimrock buttes. This waist is so narrow and rugged that the CPR wasn't built through it, and thus splits it into two, disconnected portions. The section of the CPR which lies to the north of this barrier, connecting the Narrows-Princeton road with Diamond Lane, is often referred to in this guide as the "northern portion" of the CPR, while the section connecting Benson Pond with P Ranch is referred to as the "southern portion." Both sections, with their marshes, ponds, and ditches, contain an amazing variety of birds, along with mule deer, mink, long-tailed weasel, and other mammals. Waterfowl and pied-billed grebe are especially plentiful.
- East Steens Road (Fields, Oregon to Burns, Oregon via Highway 78) – This 127 mile tour skirts along the eastern escarpment of Steens Mountain and the vast expanses of the Alvord Desert, providing a scenic study in dramatic contrasts. Like many great plays, the drama of the East Steens Tour Route builds slowly toward a stunning conclusion. Heading south out of Burns on Highway 78, you'll pass the first of several hot springs just north of the town of Crane. Near milepost 65, the Tour Route detours off Highway 78 onto East Steens Road; it's a gravel surface, but quite passable for regular passenger vehicles. After passing the sagebrush-covered Sheepshead Mountains to the east, you come to a series of small lakes – Five Cent, Ten Cent, Fifteen Cent, and Juniper Lakes (the lakes can be dry depending on the year) -- that attract a variety of animal life. 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. The Tour Route ends in the small community of Fields; rumor has it that the café in Fields serves some of the best hamburgers and milkshakes in southeastern Oregon.
- Hart Mountain Backcountry Byway (Steens Mountain to Lakeview, Oregon) – A 91-mile stretch of road through the Oregon High Desert and a variety of ecosystems from Sonoran to Hudsonian, past great shallow lakes and wetlands in Warner Valley, and over Hart Mountain, a dramatic fault-block mountain. This area offers a variety of recreational opportunities such as viewing geologic wonders, experiencing wetland habitats, downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, canoeing, fishing, hunting, camping, wildlife and wild horse viewing, soaking in hot springs, viewing historical and archaeological sites, and more. The Byway begins its westward trek seven miles south of Frenchglen. After crossing Catlow Valley, the route enters the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge. Hart Mountain is home to antelope, deer, and a productive herd of California bighorn sheep. The road next forges a steep route down the west escarpment of Hart Mountain, offering spectacular views of the Warner lakes and beyond to the Warner Mountains. After passing through the town of Plush, into the Warner Mountains and along Deep Creek on State Highway 140, the Byway ends in the town of Lakeview.
- Ponderosa Legacy – A 90-mile stretch of road through the Oregon Blue Mountains. The area offers a variety of recreational opportunities such as geologic wonders (transition between the northern Great Basin and Range provinces and the Blue Mountains of Oregon), a Ponderosa pine forest, historic sites such as early homesteads, high mountain lakes, and wildlife viewing. Points of interest along the route include Radar Hill, Willow Flat, Pine Springs Basin Wildfire overlook, Donnelly Butte, Delintment Lake, Allison Guard Station, Snow Mountain Lookout, and Emigrant and Falls Campgrounds. The route starts and ends on Forest Road 47 (also called the Hines Logging Road or County Road 127) on the western city limit of Hines.
Wild Horse Viewing
There are over 1,000 wild horses roaming within eight Herd Management Areas (HMAs) in the Burns District. These areas present unique opportunities for viewing wild horse herds and their habitat. You can find colorful bands of wild horses scattered throughout the Burns District's eight beautiful HMAs: Palomino Buttes, Warm Springs, Kiger, Riddle Mountain, South Steens, Heath Creek/Sheepshead, Alvord-Tule Springs, and Stinkingwater. more>>
Once excess wild horses in Oregon/Washington are gathered from the range, they are brought to Oregon's Wild Horse Corral Facility for preparation for the BLM's Adopt-A-Horse Program. Located just 3 miles from the Burns District Office along U.S. Highway 20, the Corral Facility is home to a wide variety of wild horses throughout the year, and occasionally a few burros as well. The Burns District is responsible for coordinating wild horse gathers and adoption events, and also for providing overall guidance regarding the management of wild horses in Oregon. The Facility is open for viewing weekdays, 7:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. more>>
The Kiger Wild Horse Viewing area near Diamond is a popular overlook for visitors to catch a glimpse of mustangs in their natural habitat. Remember – the horses aren't always visible from the viewing area. Please don't plan a "for sure" sighting! The South Steens wild horse herd is generally the most visible to driving visitors. Travel along the southern portion of the Steens Mountain Loop Road, between Highway 205 and South Steens Campground, often results in wild horse sightings without leaving the car!
A wide variety of rocks, minerals, and semi-precious gemstones is available for collection on 16 million acres of lands managed by OR/WA BLM. Most BLM lands are open to rock collecting, and some areas, such as the Glass Buttes obsidian area within the Prineville District and a public sunstone area in the Lakeview District, have been specifically set aside for this purpose. Collectors should note that there are some restrictions and a BLM permit may be required, depending on the amount of material you collect, how you collect it, where or when you collect it, and whether the material will be used commercially. The Glass Buttes obsidian area is the most popular and most accessible for visitors in the Burns District. The area is very rugged, remote, and primitive. The best way to access the butte is by turning south, off Highway 20 west, onto the dirt road at milepost 77 which leads to the interior.