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Steens Mountain rises up from the sagebrush desert to nearly 10,000 feet. This 59-mile/95-kilometer loop includes the highest road in Oregon, traveling around and up this grand Great Basin landmark.

From Frenchglen

Steens Mountain is one of Oregon’s great scenic and geologic wonders, a 30-mile/48.2-kilometer fault block that is a small mountain range rather than a single peak. This tour route scales the Steens, climbing thousands of feet and topping out just shy of the summit at 9,734 feet.

From Frenchglen, the first 5 miles/ 8 kilometers of the route along North Loop Road traverse the southern end of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Page Springs Campground sits alongside the Donner und Blitzen River (German for “thunder and lightning”). It’s designated a Wild and Scenic River from here to its headwaters atop the mountain.

The Climb

The tour route begins its climb in earnest, ascending from arid sagebrush to small lakes and a shady respite of quaking aspen. Some of the graffiti scratched into the tree bark was made decades ago by Basque shepherds, many of whom first arrived in Oregon in the late 19th century and settled in the southeastern corner of the state.

Just shy of the rim is Kiger Gorge, a classic U-shape glacial valley about a half-mile/0.8 kilometers deep. Glaciers once scoured down this mountain, scrubbing away softer sediments and creating distinct notches in the bedrock.

From Kiger Gorge, the road turns south and skims along the rim. At the East Rim Viewpoint, peer off the precipice to the Alvord Desert 1 mile/1.6 kilometers below. On a clear day, you can see beyond Oregon to Nevada, Idaho and California.

The Descent

From the summit, the tour route eases down the mountain’s western slope. Overviews and short trails offer looks into the picturesque canyons of Big Indian Gorge and Little Blitzen Gorge. You’ll once again cross the Donner und Blitzen River en route back to OR-205, the High Desert Discovery Scenic Byway. Watch for wildlife along this stretch, particularly the wild horses that roam these wild lands.

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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.

Share your thoughts Comments

Have something to say? Your Comment

  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?

    Thanks!

    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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