Plan Your Visit
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.
To download YOUR copy of the Steens Mountain Wilderness Area brochure, click here (PDF).
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.
Know Before You Go
Considerations for backcountry travel in the Steens Mountain Wilderness include:
- Some areas have 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 part 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.
- 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.
Visitors can help in protecting this fragile ecosystem by adequately planning and by arriving prepared! Knowledge of the area, weather, terrain, and common sense can help to ensure you have a safe, fun, and memorable trip to the wild. Trail junctions are generally unsigned, so you should carry a map and a compass. And always be sure to bring your ten essentials!
Leave No Trace
Leave No Trace refers to a set of outdoor ethics that emphasizes principles designed to promote conservation in the outdoors—it also makes good common sense. Leave No Trace is built on Seven Principles: Plan Ahead and Prepare, Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces, Dispose of Waste Properly, Leave What You Find, Minimize Campfire Impacts, Respect Wildlife, and Be Considerate of Other Visitors.
Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit.
- Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
- Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
- Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
- Repackage food to minimize waste.
- Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
- Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
- Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
- In popular areas:
- Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
- Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
- Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
- In pristine areas:
- Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
- Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
Dispose of Waste Properly
- Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
- Deposit solid human waste in "catholes" dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the "cathole" when finished.
- Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.
Leave What You Find
- Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
- Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
- Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
- Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
- Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
- Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
- Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
- Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
- Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
- Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
- Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
- Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
- Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
- Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
- Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.