Unless you’ve spent a lot of time there, you might be under the impression that Oregon is a rainy tundra full of hipsters. To be honest, that’s sort of true. But this western state has a hidden gem lying in the southern region, where you’ll find a beautiful high desert chock full of incredible wildlife and adventure. Here are just a few of the amazing hikes nestled in Oregon’s Outback.
Hart Mountain serves as a barrier between the Warner Valley Wetlands to the west and the sagebrush-grasslands to the east. The high desert habitat is a stomping ground for both pronghorn antelope and California bighorn sheep. Due to their prevalence in the area, the National Antelope Refuge was created. Hikers are welcome to explore the refuge and surrounding area, along with the stunning antelope hot springs atop the mountain. The region is also teeming with beautiful Oregon sunstones.
Big Indian Gorge
The Big Indian Gorge Trail is arguably one of the most gorgeous landscapes in the Outback, and possibly even the state. The sweeping eight-mile trail passes through numerous meadows and aspen groves. The backdrop of the gorge itself provides breathtaking views along what amounts to an intermediate level hike. There are three stream crossings along the way as you make your way to a bevy of waterfalls and glacier-sculpted gorges. The path becomes rather impassable at times in the winter, so plan for a spring or summer trip.
The Pueblo Mountain range is one of the least explored ranges in Oregon. From the outside looking in, the barren landscape seems dangerous and off-putting. Tucked away inside you’ll find the exact opposite. Green stream canyons interspersed with large, colorful rock formations create a sight that’s out of this world. There are little to no campsites within the mountains, though you’ll find a few trails dispersed throughout. The peak of the Pueblo Mountains sits at 8600 feet and provides sweeping views of the high desert tundra. The surrounding low hills, lush meadows, stream canyons, and rocky ridges make one heck of a picture perfect moment.
Drake Peak is a mountain hike that is best taken alone or in combination with the surrounding ranges, forming the “Drake Peak Five.” On its own, it’s a whopper of a climb, as each of the peaks breach 8000 feet in elevation. If you choose to tackle them on your own be prepared for a somewhat dodgy adventure with sketchy trails but plenty of incredible wildlife. Winding through Drake, Light, McDowell, Twelvemile and Crook Peaks provides excellent views of the nearby Hart Mountain and Hart Lake, as well as Mt. Shasta to the southwest.
Orejana Rim is so seldom explored that it often doesn’t even show up on maps. Finding a designated trail in the area can be a challenge, so be prepared with a compass on hand as you head out into the wild. The region is renowned for its open country and rows of cliffs. Much of the region sits on a plateau of roughly 5000 feet in elevation, chock full of rolling hills and ridges. The western portion of the rim and canyon area is where the escarpment lies. In the spring you’ll be captivated by the thousands of wildflowers dotting the landscape amidst sagebrush and desert bunchgrass.