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Oregon’s Steens Mountain: An Airborne Oasis

Steens looks like your average mountain, but hike up high and you'll find a hidden paradise.

QUICK TAKE: Steens Mountain NRA, OR

DRIVE TIME: Steens Mountain is about 400 miles (8 hours) southeast of Portland and 250 miles (41/2 hours) southwest of Boise, Idaho.

THE WAY: From Burns, Oregon, drive 60 miles south on OR 205 to Frenchglen. Turn left onto North Steens Mountain Loop Road immediately south of town, or proceed 10 miles on OR 205 to the South Loop Road. Trailheads are located off this bone-jarring 66-mile road. Uplands access is blocked from about Halloween to July 1.

TRAILS: The Desert Trail runs 45 miles across Steens, but spur trails provide access to many more miles of hikeable terrain. Map and compass skills are mandatory.

ELEVATION: Steens Mountain tops out at 9,733 feet. The Desert Trail drops to 4,025 feet at Frog Springs.

CAN’T MISS: The views of half-mile-deep Big Indian Gorge and the hanging valley that cradles Wildhorse Lake are two points you won’t want to skip.

CROWD CONTROL: July, August, and weekends draw the most visitors, particularly on trails off South Loop Road, and in popular Big Indian and Little Blitzen Gorges.

PIT STOP: After your trek, drop by the historic Frenchglen Hotel (541-493-2825) for comfort and food. Soak tired muscles in the Alvord Hot Springs pool 22 miles north of Fields.

WALK SOFTLY: Damage to the high desert takes a long time to heal. Use existing trails and campsites when possible, and stick to durable surfaces when bushwhacking.

MAPS AND GUIDES: USGS 30 x 60-minute quad Steens Mountain gives the big picture; use 7.5-minute topos for details (800-435-7627; www.usgs.gov). For trail guides: Desert Trail Association, P.O. Box 34, Burns, OR 97220; http://juniper.madras.net/dta.

MORE INFORMATION: Bureau of Land Management, Burns District Office, HC 74-12533 Hwy. 20 W, Hines, OR 97738; (541) 573-4400; www.or.blm.gov/Burns. No permit required.

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