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This 59-mile loop departs from Frenchglen and climbs to the very top of Steens Mountain, which rests in the clouds at nearly 10,000 feet. Along the way, you’ll have ample opportunities to view wildlife and take in the grandeur of a national treasure.

Remarkable Rocks

Steens Mountain is an example of a fault-block mountain, formed when massive internal pressure forced the east edge upward along a fault line. From the valley floor of the Alvord Desert to the east rim of the fault-block, Steens Mountain rises 5,500 feet in less than 3 miles! From the east rim overlook, the Steens Mountain drops over a vertical mile to the Alvord Desert floor. Four distinct notches in the Mountain—including oft-photographed Kiger Gorge—were formed when glaciers punched through the ridgetops. From the mountaintop, you can see hundreds of miles. There are five major glaciated canyons on the Steens. The Kiger Gorge overlook offers the visitor a breathtaking opportunity to stand at the headwall of a classic textbook example of a massive “U” shaped canyon.

The Dry and the Moist

Steens Mountain acts as a great moisture collector, creating vastly different ecosystems from the valley floor to the mountaintop. While the upper west slope of the mountain may receive as much as 25 inches of precipitation, the Alvord Desert in its shadow receives less than six inches per year. Making your way to the summit, take note of changing plant life. Sagebrush dominates in the lower, drier environs, giving way to dense stands of juniper, then quaking aspen and mountain mahogany as the moisture levels increase. Cattlemen, as well as Irish and Basque sheepherders, were once drawn to the upper mountain in the summer to graze their stock on the lush meadows that thrive there.

Abundant Wildlife

Many animals are drawn to Steens’ unique “skyisland” habitats. Bighorn sheep can sometimes be spotted negotiating rocky escarpments; pronghorn antelope, mule deer and elk also call the mountain home. Raptors, including golden eagles, the largest raptor on Steens Mountain, can often be seen riding the updrafts in search of prey. The end of the tour loop winds through wild horse country. The South Steens Wild Horse Herd descended from mustangs that escaped from early explorers, Indians, settlers, miners, and ranchers. The herd of nearly 300 animals is managed by the Bureau of Land Management to preserve their wild, free-roaming nature. Spotting one of these wild mustangs is an exclamation point on a remarkable drive.

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Wildhorse Lake

Drive safely.

Keep in mind many of the routes listed here travel through remote areas where gas stations are few and far between. And since road and weather conditions can be hazardous, even into summer, we urge you to call 800-977-6368 or check Trip Check before starting out.

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  1. Dick T says…

    Sounds like a great trip!

    Written on May 12th, 2013 / Flag this Comment
  2. Bill Guy says…

    I enjoy this magnificent area of our state! From French Glen to Fields this area is beautiful! The Kiger Canyon takes your breath away with its immensity. The view of the Alvord Desert from the summit is hard to comprehend in its magnitude.

    Written on June 20th, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  3. Jen Greisel says…

    We visited the lower area surrounding the Steens back at the beginning of April. Diamond Craters to The Pete French Round Barn to Mann lake and the Alvord Dessert/hot springs and then further east. it was an amazing trip. I loved the Steens and cant wait to get down there when they are accessible!!

    Written on July 2nd, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  4. Patti helander says…

    Sounds wonderful. We are planning on going in September. Where did you stay when you were there?

    Written on July 5th, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  5. Shirley Oglesby says…

    We would love to take this trip….last year at this time I was getting over heart failure…..I am so glad to be alive that we decided to see as much as we can by car, and enjoy the beauty. I call it my “bucket road trips”

    Written on July 10th, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  6. Bert Key says…

    Will the last week of September be a good time to catch the leaves turning colors?

    Written on September 9th, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  7. Richard Howell says…

    Over the years I’ve driven a fair number of wilderness roads, but, having just completed the drive for the first time (on September 8, 2014), I must say that the Steens Loop is one of the really great drives of this sort that I’ve ever been on I previously had known nothing of its existence, and It was only by accident that I heard about it while touring through eastern Oregon. But I’m going to tell everyone in the part of the world that I inhabit all about its wonders.

    Written on September 12th, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  8. Scott Ransmeier says…

    Can anyone comment on what the road itself is like?

    Smooth, rutted, rocky, graded?


    Written on March 24th, 2015 / Flag this Comment
  9. Christine Foy says…

    Is it a good time to go – late June – and is there any good swimming spots – lakes, creeks, hot springs, falls?

    Written on June 17th, 2015 / Flag this Comment
  10. Peter Nelson says…

    Sucks they put a road to the top. I think it be’d a lot nicer with a more wilderness style. Drive 8 hours there, and then sit in the car more hours to drive to the top? No thanks. : (

    Written on September 28th, 2015 / Flag this Comment

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