Editor’s note: Call destinations before you visit to make sure they’re open. Follow all COVID-19 guidelines, get vaccinated before you travel and remember to bring your face covering.
With its wide-open spaces and large number of wildly scenic, uncrowded trails, Eastern Oregon is a pup’s paradise. These spaces are best visited without snow during summer and fall, and the cooler temperatures in early autumn are especially blissful. Mountains, creeks, high-desert landscapes and off-leash parks — they’re all here for you, within a short drive for locals.
Ready to explore? Make sure to follow leash laws and practice good trail etiquette to keep the public lands pristine for all. As the state tries to stop the spread of COVID-19, it’s important to stay local with day trips near home and no groups more than 10 people. Check the park’s status before you go, as closures can happen with little notice, and pack everything you need (and please pack out all trash — no one likes finding bags of doggie waste). In addition to wearing a face covering when physical distancing is not possible, be sure to prevent crowding in popular areas like parking lots and trailheads. As you enjoy Oregon’s great outdoors, say a friendly word to fellow hikers and park rangers — we’re all in this together. Here’s where to head out if you live nearby one of these spots.
Near Enterprise, the Hurricane Creek Trail is a fairy-tale wonderland in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, with forests of pine and larch, wildflower meadows, creek crossings and waterfalls set against massive granite and limestone cliffs that make for a water-loving pup’s delight. You can spend two or three days backpacking the whole trail or just venture out for a few miles on a day hike. A popular day hike is the 6-mile round trip to Slick Rock Gorge. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.
Usually snow-free until late October, Maxwell Lake near Lostine is a full-day adventure for lake lovers in the Eagle Cap Wilderness — but know that the lakes may be frozen well into the summer, so make sure to fill up on water before you head out. Expect switchbacks on the 8-mile out-and-back trail, which includes creek crossings that may be challenging when the water level is high, after spring rains. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.
Located in the center of Pendleton just across from Pendleton High School, Let’er Bark Dog Park is the city’s only designated area just for off-leash dogs. It’s not fenced, but it does give pups space to run in a large grassy field next to the Umatilla River, below a gravel parking lot. It’s an easy spot to play a few rounds of fetch to break up a long road trip.
Mitchell and John Day Area
The pristine Strawberry Lake Trail is as enchanting as it sounds, an oasis in the dry, arid high-desert landscape. It’s best accessed July through mid-November when it’s typically free of snow, when you and Fido can traverse through pine trees along dirt and rocky trails for an easy 4-mile loop around Strawberry Lake — or go the distance with a 13-mile round trip to Strawberry Mountain. Keep an eye out for deer, elk and mountain goats on the rock ledges around the lake. The trail is deep in the Malheur National Forest, 25 miles southeast of John Day, with limited amenities nearby, so make sure to carry a paper map, your Ten Essentials, and plenty of food and water for both you and the pup.
If you and Fido are looking for true solitude and aren’t deterred by a rattlesnake or two, the Malheur River Trail offers unparalleled scenery alongside the rugged canyon of the Wild and Scenic Malheur River. Hear the wind whistle through the old-growth pine, larch and fir trees, and watch soaring eagles and osprey as you navigate a stretch of the 7.6 miles, which gets steep and rocky in parts. The trail is about 40 miles southeast of John Day.
All three units of the Painted Hills National Monument are dog-friendly and accessible with short, paved trails, making this awe-inspiring adventure a perfect one for the whole family. Since there’s little shade, trails get hot in the summertime, so be sure to bring lots of water (and your doggie dish), and never leave your pet in the car. Pets must be on leash at all times and are not allowed in the buildings. It’s also important for both people and dogs to stay on the trails, which pass through sensitive habitats — find more about the monument’s “Don’t Hurt the Dirt” practices before you go.
Taking its name from the German words for “thunder” and “lightning,” the Donner und Blitzen River Trail at the western slope of Steens Mountain is short at 1.8 miles out and back, but it packs a big punch. Traversing through a small gorge carrying snow melt from the Steens to Metolius Lake, the water and land are pristine and offer happy frolicking, as long as you and your pooch stay on the trail and are mindful of the fragile habitats. The trail is best accessed between April and September.
It may be surprising that an area as ecologically special as Steens Mountain is pet-friendly, but you can in fact bring Fido along the short but steep treks to two awe-inspiring viewpoints at Steens Mountain Summit: Kiger Gorge and East Rim. At 9,700 feet, the summit is Oregon’s eighth-tallest mountain and the largest fault-block mountain in North America, formed as several flows of basalt from 8 million to 15 million years ago accumulated and settled like a layer cake. If you and your four-legged friends want a more strenuous workout, go for the 2.4-mile challenging round trip to Wildhorse Lake. Find more inspiration in our beginner’s guide to the Steens.