Steens Mountain Wilderness is a popular outdoor destination in southeastern Oregon. Designated as wilderness in 2000, over 170,000 acres make up this Bureau of Land Management property. Elevations range from 4,200 to nearly 9,800 feet. The Donner und Blitzen River passes through parts of the wilderness and many lakes can be found within the wilderness area. It is considered to be one of the most remote areas of land remaining in Oregon.
Recreational activities within the wilderness are endless. There are over 68 miles of trails of varying lengths and difficulty that can be explored. The river and lakes within the wilderness provide excellent trout fishing opportunities for anglers. Deer, elk, and many other types of animals travel throughout the wilderness delighting both wildlife enthusiasts and hunters. The fun doesn’t stop in the winter. Once the snow falls, strap on your snowshoes or cross-country skis and get ready to hit the trails.
Due to the remote nature of the wilderness, many visitors opt to stay overnight. There are two BLM campgrounds with a total of 72 campsites as well as 15 campsites for equestrian use. These campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Campers should expect a primitive experience and come prepared with plenty of supplies as both campgrounds have very few amenities.
Steens Mountain Wilderness is in a remote area of southeastern Oregon. Visitors should come prepared for the drive with plenty of gas and a map. Gas stations are few and far between and cell phone service is intermittent. The small community of Burns is a great spot to stop to fuel up and grab any last-minute supplies. The drive to the wilderness will be filled with scenery that includes canyons, mountainous slopes, cattle, and wildlife.
To reach the wilderness from Burns, you’ll take State Highway 78 to Highway 205. Once through the town of Frenchglen, you’ll turn left onto Steens Mountain Loop Road. Steens Mountain Loop Road is gravel but can be accessed by standard two-wheel-drive cars. The roads in the wilderness may be a challenge for RVs. There are steep elevation changes and it’s bumpy. Extra caution and slow speeds should be used. It isn’t unusual to encounter deer, elk, horses, or even cattle while driving along Steens Mountain Loop Road. Keep your eyes on the road and be prepared to stop for any animals blocking the roadway.
South Steens Campground is a BLM campground. Located near the middle of Steens Mountain, both family campsites and equestrian campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The campground is near hiking trails as well as Little Blitzen Gorge and Big Indian Gorge. The campground is used during the peak season of May to November. If planning to visit during the off-season, check with the BLM for road and campground conditions.
There are 36 campsites offered for tent or RV use. An additional 15 campsites are available to equestrians. The equestrian camping area is next to the family campsites. Horses are not permitted within the family camping area. Each campsite has a picnic table and grill, perfect for families to gather around when preparing or eating meals. While there aren’t hookups at any of the campsites, the campground does have drinking water and a restroom with vault toilets.
Page Springs Campground is operated and maintained by the Bureau of Land Management and is located at the base of Steens Mountain. There are 36 campsites, all of which are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The campground is open year-round, but winter visitors should check with the BLM office for road conditions. During the peak season, a campground host is typically on-site should you have any questions during your visit.
Page Spring Campground is popular with hikers and anglers. It isn’t far from the Donner und Blitzen river where anglers can cast their line to fish for trout. For hikers, the campground is the trailhead for Blitzen River Trail and the Wilderness Nature Trail.
RVs can fit into the spacious Page Springs campsites. Campers should arrive expecting a primitive experience with few amenities. There are no hookups or showers, but there are restrooms and vault toilets. The campground does have drinking water as well as a covered picnic area that is available for day-use.
There are many miles of hiking trails within Steens Mountain Wilderness to explore. The 68 miles of trails include trails of varying lengths and difficulty. Hiking trails can be found at Wildhorse Overlook, Pike Creek, and both BLM campgrounds.
Two popular shorter hikes are Blitzen River Trail and Wilderness Nature Trail, both of which can be accessed from Page Springs campground. The Blitzen River Trail is four miles long and leads hikers along a section of the Donner und Blitzen River. The Wilderness Trail is one mile in length. Hikers will follow a gentle incline to the top of a scenic overlook.
Fishing is a popular activity at Steens Mountains Wilderness both at the Donner und Blitzen River as well as a few lakes, such as Fish Lake. Anglers will find that there is a variety of trout, with the most prominent being red band trout. While the fishing experience can be a hit or miss some days, patient anglers generally end up being lucky. If not getting any bites, head upstream on the river where you can find many remote fishing spots.
Steen Mountain Wilderness has a variety of trees and vegetation, including aspen, mountain mahogany, and juniper. The vegetation along with the river and lakes within the wilderness provide a habitat for many types of wildlife that visitors with a keen eye are likely to see.
Bighorn sheep, Rocky Mountain elk, pronghorn, coyote, and deer roam throughout the wilderness. Birdwatchers will find that there are a variety of birds including sage grouse, hawks, and eagles.
Steens Mountain Wilderness provides a fantastic hunting opportunity during the fall. Steens Mountain falls under unit 69. Elk and deer are commonly sought after by hunters. With an abundance of both in the area, hunters are likely to use their tag during their hunt. Though crossing paths isn’t likely, you’ll want to keep an eye out for hikers and equestrians that may be passing by.
The fun doesn’t have to stop during the winter. Once snow blankets the wilderness, there are many snowshoeing and cross-country skiing opportunities throughout the wilderness.
The many miles of trails provide hours of fun and exploration on the snow-covered Steens Mountain. Some wildlife are winter residents. While out exploring the snowy terrain, keep an eye out for animal tracks.
With stunning overlooks, the river, several lakes, and the landscape and trails filled with wildflowers, there are many opportunities to take stunning photos. Take a picture of your family’s catches from fishing or snap a picture of an elk you spotted lingering on the edge of junipers and aspen. Whether you use your phone or pack your camera, you won’t want to miss capturing your visit to Steens Mountain Wilderness.