The Warner Wetlands is a fifty-two-thousand-acre BLM managed property near Plush in the state of Oregon. The wetlands consist of a series of more than forty different lakes separated by stretches of undulating dunes. The low-lying, sodden terrains are surrounded by wildlife refuges and national forestlands.
To the east, the wetlands are bordered by the Hart Mountains. The prominent peak of the range, Warner Peak, dominates the landscape of the Warner Wetlands to the north and the extensive acreage of the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge around it. The Fremont National Forest borders the wetlands to the north-west and the Modoc National Forest to the south-west. The Warner Valley provides a scenic division between the southern border of the wetlands and the arid lands of the Black Rock Desert High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area.
The water levels in the lakes of the Warner Wetlands can vary from year to year depending on climate conditions. When there is sufficient water, the wetlands are a popular place for canoeing and kayaking. The Warner Valley Canoe Trail rates high on the list of to-dos for most paddlers heading to the wetlands. There are several short hikes ideal for a leg stretch as well as longer treks around the shores of the lakes or to viewpoints with incredible scenic vistas. The Warner Wetlands attract a multitude of birdlife and it's a favorite spot for ornithologists to pitch camp for a few days to see the varied species. Mammal life is plentiful and so is the fish population in the lakes, even during dry spells when the water levels fall.
Vehicles are allowed inside the boundaries of the Warner Wetlands. This includes both RVs and OHVs although all vehicles must remain on designated roads that are signed as open for use. Dispersed camping in RVs is permitted in the wetlands at marked campsites around the shores of the lakes.
There is a network of county roads running through the Warner Wetlands and around the perimeters of many of the various lakes. The roads are narrow but normally negotiable in RVs. However, during exceptional spells of wet weather, many of the roads can be flooded and impassable with a vehicle.
One of the easiest access points to the Warner Wetlands is via the rural town of Plush. The town can be reached by taking a junction off the OR 140 onto County Road 3-13. The OR 140 runs east to west across Oregon and into the state of Nevada and can be joined at either Lakeview in the west or Denio Junction, the NV 140 in Nevada, to the east. From Lakeview to Plush is a forty-five-minute drive and from Denio Junction around two hours.
If you've been RV camping in the north of Oregon in the Malheur National Forest, you'll have a reasonably straight run down from Seneca to the wetlands along the US 395 southbound. The three and a half hour drive will take you alongside the shores of Lake Albert and through parts of the Fremont National Forest. If you've been RV vacationing in the Lassen National Forest or the Lassen Volcanic National Park, once you reach Susanville where you can join the US 395 northbound, you'll have another three and a half hours of motoring to go.
If you don't want to go dispersed RV camping in the Warner Wetlands, then you may find either one of the two campgrounds in the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge convenient. The campgrounds are easy to get to by either asphalted or gravel-surfaced roads. All vehicles are required to adhere to the speed limit restrictions of twenty-five miles per hour inside the refuge boundaries. Drivers should also keep a careful eye out for any wildlife that may be crossing the roads and slow down to let them pass first before continuing their journey.
The Hot Springs Campground has twenty-five campsites that can accommodate RVs up to twenty-four feet in length. Camping is primitive with no utility hook-ups or water on-site. Some shade is provided by groves of aspen trees. There are vault toilets but no showers. The lack of amenities at the campground is greatly compensated for by stunning views and two hot springs for bathing in. The campground is open all year and operates on a first-come-first-served basis throughout the twelve months.
Camp Hart Mountain campground has eight primitive campsites with no utility hook-ups, but each pitch does have a picnic table and fire ring. The campsites are distributed around an open dirt and grass-covered field where there is no shade. The only on-site amenity is a block of vault toilets. There are good views of the mountains. The campground is open all year and operates on a first-come-first-served basis throughout the twelve months.
The Warner Valley Canoe Trail is a ten mile long stretch of waterways marked out by the BLM between the lakes during wet years when the water levels are high enough. The trail is not signed when levels are low.
Even if the trail is not operative when you go to the Warner Wetlands, you'll soon discover there are around three hundred miles of channels to paddle on that interconnect the different lakes as well as the lakes themselves to navigate.
The Warner Wetlands are one of the best locations in Oregon to go bird watching. The lakes and waterways attract multiple species of both resident and migratory birds.
There are estimated to be around two hundred and forty different birds inhabiting the wetlands at one time of the year or another. You could spot anything from bald eagles, ibis, egrets or avocets as well as flocks of swans, ducks and geese depending on when you go.
Unless they're bone dry, then there's good fishing all year round in the lakes and channels of the Warner Wetlands. If you prefer to fish from a boat rather than from the shore, you'll find Hart Lake has the most consistent water level and is the most suitable for floating a motorized craft.
Wherever you fish in the Warner Wetlands you'll have a good chance of reeling in some crappie, catfish, bass or even a trout. The only one you'll need to put back if you hook one is the Warner Sucker. It's an endangered species only found in the Warner Valley area and not to be eaten or you'll be partly responsible for its extinction.
The Hart Bar Interpretive Site is located within the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge at the base of Hart Mountain. It's a great spot to head for to get informed about the wetlands, have a picnic lunch and admire the views of Hart Lake below. At the site, there is a short, half-a-mile long hiking trail that leads to some wildlife viewing shelters. The trail has interpretive signage about the flora and fauna you'll see on the way.
The Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge covers almost three hundred thousand acres of varied terrain to the east of the Warner Wetlands. The refuge was created in the late 1930s to help conserve the herds of pronghorn antelope native to the region. The species, which was once in danger of extinction, roams freely across the sagebrush-covered plains and foothills.
There's lots more wildlife to see in the refuge too and you could spot coyotes, bighorn sheep or mule deer. The refuge is accessible by car or on foot.
If you're heading to the Warner Wetlands for some wintertime bird spotting you may well want to pack your skis as well as your binoculars. Just thirty miles south of the wetlands is the Warner Canyon Ski Area.
The ski hill is ideal for all levels of skier, though maybe not challenging enough for experts, and perfect for snowboarding. The ski area has a lift to carry you up the hill plus a lodge and is open from around the middle to the end of December, depending on if there's been sufficient snowfall.