Renee Patrick is no stranger to serious mileage. An experienced long-distance hiker, she's logged more than 10,000 of them in the last dozen or so years, conquering the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail. She transfers that love of the wide open to her work for the Bend-based Oregon Natural Desert Association. ONDA advocates for the protection of a huge swath of the state's public land: the high desert that stretches from central Oregon's sagebrush sea to the stunning Owyhee Canyonlands. Patrick, more specifically, coordinates the unofficial trail that cuts through this vast territory: the 750-mile Oregon Desert Trail.
The ODT is not, Patrick cautions, for the casual backpacker. Much of the trail is unmarked and some stretches aren't even, well, trail. "ODT stays on public lands," says Patrick, "which means following private fence lines in certain places—respect the fence!—and navigating by GPS in others." When Patrick feels the need to commune with the trail she stewards, she packs her sleeping bag, a tent only if wet weather is forecasted (she's a "cowboy camper" who prefers to sleep by starlight), some high-calorie provisions, and a lot of water.
The landmarks and sweeping vistas of the entire ODT are too plentiful for one slideshow, so here, Patrick shares a selection from the trail's westernmost half. It's a stretch (sections 1–12 in ONDA's guide) that travels through the Oregon Badlands Wilderness, the Deschutes and Fremont National Forests, and Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge. Patrick navigated the entire route over several treks in the spring and fall of last year. For aspirational hikers who live west of the Cascadian rain shadow, the trail's closest access point—it's western terminus—is located at the Badlands' Tumulus Trailhead a mere 20 miles from Bend. 350-some-miles later, Patrick sets the halfway point at the tiny town of Frenchglen, which boasts a cozy hotel (a state heritage site) that's perfect for propping up some tired and dusty feet—and crossing one epic adventure off your Oregon bucket list.