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Mount Vernon, OR: Aldrich Mountains

Climb peaks and sniff wildflowers on a challenging Malheur National Forest overnight in eastern Oregon.

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Eastern Oregon delivers a hiker’s trifecta: wide, open spaces, epic scenery, and very little company. And nowhere are these qualities more evident than the almost completely overlooked Aldrich Mountains, where intrepid backpackers will find 7,000-foot peaks, herds of elk and bighorn sheep, and outstanding displays of yarrow, balsamroot, larkspur, and geranium in mid-June. Begin this 20.8-mile out-and-back with a stiff 1-mile climb on the Field’s Peak Trail (#212). Take the .8-mile spur at mile 1 to reach the range’s highest summit, then backtrack and turn east on the McClellan Mountain Trail. The trail wanders up and down across slopes—views stretch across the John Day Valley to the Strawberry and Blue ranges beyond—through rocky saddles, and around peaks for 7.6 miles. Scout a campsite near tiny Bear Flat Spring, then retrace your steps in the morning for a day of peakbagging. An easy 1.1-mile scramble at 4.1 miles from camp leads to great views atop McClellan Mountain; hike another mile for the .9-mile spur to similar vistas on Moon Mountain.

To Trailhead

From John Day, go 18 miles west on US 26. Turn south on Fields Creek Rd./FR 21; drive 8.6 miles and turn left on FR 115. Go 0.4 mile, then turn right on FR 2160. Veer left on FR 41 and proceed 1.2 miles to the trailhead.

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1 Comment

  1. jeffrey-b

    This isn’t easy country. It is high desert, so it’s extremely hot in the summer and brutally cold in the winter. The area has also seen numerous large fires in recent years, so shade is at a minimum in many areas where trees once stood. The Strawberry range had a bad one this year.
    Beware hunters in the fall. This area has some of the best elk hunting in Oregon, especially in the Strawberry Mountain area, which attracts lots of bow hunters. Rifle hunters usually prowl the Aldrich mountains for antelope and mule deer, so wear bright colors if you go there in September or October.
    This area is very remote, not for beginners. It is also very beautiful, so enjoy it if you can get there. Visit John Day and the Kam Wah Chung Museum if you are in the area, or take a dip in Strawberry Lake, which is accessed south of Prairie City. The John Day Fossil Beds are also nearby, so make sure you see the Painted Hills as well.
    Ignore the militia in Harney County. They are not from around here, so don’t think they represent the area’s residents. The militants are appreciated about as much as the Westboro clowns.

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