Bend’s Oregon Natural Desert Association fights for Oregon’s various desert habitats. That includes establishing the Steens Mountain Wilderness (the first designated wilderness in Oregon’s high desert) and building the Oregon Desert Trail. Here’s where ONDA’s in-the-know staff likes to hike and backpack in their own backyard.
Black Canyon to Sutton Mountain Summit, John Day River Basin
Length: 3 miles, Difficulty: Easy
Tucked into the east side of Sutton Mountain, Black Canyon holds plants found nowhere else in the world. The main canyon takes you up steep grassy hills, with expansive views from the 4,694-foot summit.
Leslie Gulch, Owyhee Canyonlands
Length: Up to 5 miles, Difficulty: Easy (difficult farther up the gulch)
Leslie Gulch is filled with geological wonders, from red-rock spires to honeycomb formations. Take the Juniper Gulch Trail for a straightforward out-and-back, or continue up the gulch for views of the surrounding Owyhee Canyonlands and Lake Owyhee. (And keep an eye out for California bighorn sheep!)
Alder Springs, Whychus-Deschutes
Length: 3 miles round-trip to Alder Springs or 6 miles round-trip to confluence with Deschutes River, Difficulty: Moderate
This hike to crisp, clear desert oasis Whychus Creek takes you through canyons, salmon and steelhead-filled waters and towering ponderosas. Be prepared to wade across the creek and continue on an unmaintained trail if you want to reach the Deschutes.
Little Blitzen Gorge Trail, Steens Mountain
Length: 6–18.5 miles round-trip, Difficulty: Easy–moderately difficult
This day hike or overnighter through Steens Mountain Wilderness follows the Little Blitzen River up a U-shaped gorge, punctuated by wildflowers, wildlife, and waterfalls.
Warner Peak, Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge
Length: 11 miles round-trip, Difficulty: Moderately difficult
Wildlife and wide-open spaces are the draws for hiking Warner Peak, which rises above the headquarters of the Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. The hike begins and ends at the aspen-shrouded Hot Springs Campground—the ultimate spa treatment after a long trek.