Updated: Dec 13, 2020
In the high desert of eastern Oregon, lies a place known as the Owyhee Canyonlands. Known for its isolation, rugged river canyons, and brilliant night skies, the Owyhee is the perfect place to escape the trappings of modern life.
Adventure Rating: Baja
Trip Length: 524 miles, 5-10 days.
Season: May - October. Avoid after heavy rains (4-5 days at least), as the eastern Oregon mud is a thing of the devil!
Technical Rating: Green
Typical Terrain: The majority of the terrain consists of wide dirt and gravel roads, and some lesser travelled BLM roads (dirt). There is some pavement along the route, primarily at the beginning and end of the route near Burns.
Recommended Vehicle: Stock truck or SUV with 4x4 and all terrain tires.
Adventure Vans: Most of the route, especially around Steen's Mountain and the Alvord Desert can be managed by a Sprinter 4x4. Many trails, especially the eastern and southern sections of the route are remote and highly susceptible to erosion damage. You may or may not be able to manage these sections, depending when they were last graded.
The Owyhee-Alvord adventure route begins in the cowboy town of Burns, Oregon. Highway 205 is a two lane paved highway that heads south towards Steens Mountain, which dominates the surrounding desert plateau. As you turn off the 205 and onto the Steens Mountain Loop, pavement soon gives way to gravel. A small handful of magnificently steep canyons have been carved into the mountain and provide for great photo ops! Once at the top of the mountain (requires some hiking), at over 5,000 feet below you, the Alvord salt flat comes into view. Upon descending Steens Mountain loop, you'll soon be on the pavement of Highway 205 again. Fields is your first opportunity to refuel, and we recommend taking advantage of the opportunity given the isolation and limited services in this part of Oregon. From Fields make your way north on a wide gravel road. Alvord hot springs is one of many fabulous hot springs along the route, which you'll soon pass. The Alvord salt flat is one of the more popular places (especially for camping) that outdoor recreationalists gather in this part of the state, and is also a favorite among stargazers. At the northern end of the Alvord, lies Mickey Hot Springs, another great place to relax and re-engergize. From the Alvord desert, the route heads east, with a quick jaunt down highway 95. As you leave the pavement behind, you'll soon be heading into the emptiness of the Owyhee Canyonlands. While this portion of the desert is littered with dirt roads and double track, there's a good chance you won't see another human until you reach Rome Station. We recommend paying close attention to your gps, as a means of staying on the route. From Rome Station, the route parallels the Owyhee River below, as it snakes across the desert mesa. Be sure to take advantage of the viewpoints of the river canyon along the way. There's even an opportunity to drive down into the canyon that's been noted on the map and gpx track. The final leg of the journy departs the Owyhee River canyon, and heads west back towards Burns. The isolation is striking, and perhaps even overwhelming to those that haven't experienced this type of solitude. Dusty dirt roads work there way over hill tops and mesas, until reaching Crane. Those seeking a more resort-like atmosphere may want to stop by the Cyrstal Crane Hot Springs. From Crane, the Steens Highway leads back to Burns.
Dispersed camping is permitted throughout BLM managed land. As there are no designated campsites along the route, we recommend exploring the surrounding trails and finding a location that suits your needs. The Alvord Desert salt flat is by far the most popular place to camp in the area.
Recommended Points of Interest
Steens Mountain viewpoints
Alvord Desert salt flat (experience the sunset and sunrise)
Mickey Hot Springs
Alvord Hot Springs
Owyhee Canyonlands viewpoints
Willow Creek Hot Springs
Maps + Navigation
>> Always check with local land managers for road closures and conditions.
Gaia GPS (Neotreks Land Use layer, Gaia base layer)
Download GPX files
TIP: To expose alternative routes and points of interest in Google Maps, open the sidebar and select the desired layer.