The Alvord Desert is nothing like the rest of Oregon, its climate and landscape providing a unique area of the state for visitors. If you’re not familiar with the Alvord Desert, the floor is a dry, cracked lake bed with desolate desert stretching for miles.
Right next to the desert is Steens Mountain, offering beautiful views and unpredictable weather. In this area you can do different outdoor activities. Like exploring, hiking, visiting hot springs, stargazing and more.
If you haven’t taken a trip to the Alvord Desert, we recommend adding it to your travel wish list. We’re excited to get into the details with this travel guide that gives you all the information you need to have a great trip to this desert! Let’s dive in!
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What is the Alvord desert?
The Alvord Wilderness is located in southeastern Oregon, approximately southeast of Steens Mountain. The Alvord Desert is made up of a 12-mile-long, 7-mile-wide dry lake bed with cracked soil called playa.
The desert used to be a lake 100 miles long and 200 feet deep. The desert sees very little rain, usually around 7 inches of rain a year.
There are also a variety of hot springs located around the outside of the desert. The Alvord Wilderness is not a popular tourist destination due to its isolated location in Oregon, however it is the perfect place to visit if you are seeking peace and quiet.
Things to do
Visit The Hot Springs
One of the main attractions of the Alvord desert are the hot springs. There are a variety of hot springs around the perimeter of the desert. However, you can only go swimming at one, which is Alvord Hot Springs. It is privately owned and day passes are $5. It is located at the foot of Steens Mountain on the western side of the Alvord Desert.
The other hot springs in the area, which you can visit but not swim in, are Borax Hot Springs, Buckbrush Springs, Tule Springs, and Mickey Hot Springs.
When you visit the Alvord Wilderness, you can camp right on the beach. You can set up camp and spend the night directly on the surface of the desert. It’s usually best to camp on the edges of the dry basin, as it will provide more protection from any unpredictable weather that comes your way.
The west side of the desert has private property around the edge that does not have fences indicating that it is private property, so make sure you are not trespassing. Also, when you camp, make sure you leave the place better than you found it by taking all your trash and belongings. Another thing to note is that campfires are not allowed when you are camping here.
There are also some campgrounds in the area that you can stay at. Like the Jackman Park Campground located on the slope of Steens Mountain. This camp is surrounded by nature with rivers, desert, glacier-carved gorges and the beautiful Steens Mountain. This campground has 6 campsites, fire pits, and picnic tables. It is by order of arrival. There is also a bathroom available.
You can also stay at Mann Lake Campground, which is located at the base of the east-facing part of Steens Mountain. The camp does not offer any services, however, it has two vault toilets. It is recommended that campers bring everything they will need and tie everything down, as weather conditions are unpredictable and the wind can blow your things away. If you stay at this campsite you can also go fishing in the lake and enjoy the beautiful views.
You can also stay in the heart of Steens Mountain at South Steens Campground. Anyone can use this camp, however it is designed with riders in mind. Horses are not allowed on the family side of the camp, but there are horse-specific camps that have tie-out posts and small corrals. On the family side of the campground, campers have access to picnic tables and grills.
When you visit the Alvord Desert and spend time in nature with very little light pollution, it’s a great place for stargazing.
In fact, it’s considered one of the best stargazing spots in all of Oregon! Since it’s located in a remote area of Oregon, you’ll get a great view of the constellations. So when you visit, definitely plan on stargazing!
There are a number of hiking trails within Steens Mountain that you can do when visiting the wilderness. Like the Pike Creek Trail, which is on Steens Mountain below the summit. The Pike Creek Trail hike totals 2.5 miles and runs from the head of Wildhorse Canyon to Wildhorse Lake. The hike starts high up and goes down and is steep and rocky. Keep in mind that going back will be more challenging as you will be ascending back up the mountain.
how to get there
To get to the Alvord Desert, you’ll either drive from Fields, Oregon, which is to the south of the desert, or you can drive from Burns, which is to the north. You will take Oregon Route 78 for about 65 miles from Burns or about 20 miles from Fields. It will then turn onto Field-Denio Road.
Once you’re on Field-Denio Road, you’ll be driving on an unpaved dirt road, and you’ll have multiple access roads throughout the desert that you can use to get there.
You can also drive to Alvord Hot Springs where there is a private maintenance road guests can use to get into the desert or anyone can pay $5 to use it.
Or, you can continue on Fields-Denio Highway to Frog Springs, which is 0.8 miles further south, but more difficult to drive.
Where to stay
As mentioned above, there are a number of campsites in the surrounding areas and on Steens Mountain. You can also camp directly in the Alvord desert itself.
Alvord Hot Springs
The Alvord Hot Springs also offers lodging on its property. They have barracks that fit 2 people. The ones with air conditioning are $90 a night and the regular ones are $70 a night. They also have campsites that are $40 for 2 people.
Since the Alvord Wilderness is in a remote part of Oregon, the closest towns are Burns and Fields. Burns is about a 2 hour drive from the desert and Fields is about 30 minutes.
Hotels in Burnes
Best Western Rory and Ryan Posadas
Americas Best Value Inn Burns
Rory and Ryan’s Inn
Click here for more Burns hotels!
Best time to visit
The Alvord Desert found at the base of Steens Mountain has a cold desert climate. The weather can be unpredictable in this region.
Although you can visit at any time of the year, fall and early winter are generally the best times to come to this area.
Fall is the driest time of the year and the temperature will be around 60-80ºF during the day and 40-50ºF at night.
In the winter the temperature ranges from 4-50ºF during the day and 20-30ºF at night.
In the summer, the weather is usually much warmer, and if you are camping on the beach, be aware that there is no shade to stay. The weather ranges from 85-90ºF in the summer and drops to about 50 -70ºF at night.
Spring has the most storms and precipitation compared to other seasons. The weather is about 50-60ºF during the day and drops to 30-45ºF at night.
Tips to visit
no cell service
There is little to no cell service in the Alvord desert. Therefore, make sure that you do not depend on your phone for anything. Like light, directions or even time. If you don’t have a travel watch yet, click here to read our post on the best travel watches.
Long distance from gas stations
Be sure to fill up your car with gas before you hit the desert, and you may want to bring gas containers with extra gas. The closest gas stations are in Fields and Burns, Oregon, which are open year-round, and a gas station in Frenchglen, Oregon, which is only open in the summer.
Be sure to come prepared when you visit the Alvord desert. It is quite isolated and the nearest city is about 22 miles away. So be sure to bring enough food, water, gasoline, clothing for different weather conditions, and essential gear.
The Alvord Wilderness is a unique part of Oregon with a climate and landscape you won’t find anywhere else in the state. It is a great destination for those who want to get out into nature that offers a handful of activities.
Like visiting hot springs, camping, stargazing, hiking, etc. We hope our travel guide has helped you plan his vacation now that he knows everything he needs to know to visit this Oregon wilderness! Happy travels!
Can you drive in the Alvord desert?
Yes, you can drive in the Alvord desert. However, it is recommended that you only drive on it from July to December during the dry season so that your car does not get stuck in the mud from recent rains.
When should I go to the Alvord desert?
The best time of the year to go to the Alvord Desert is in the fall and early winter. During this time of year, the weather is the most comfortable. You won’t be too hot, you won’t be too cold, and the chance of storms is much less.
Whose is the Alvord desert?
No one owns the Alvord desert, it is public land. However, Alvord Hot Springs is privately owned by the Davis family.
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