Steens mountain is located about 60 miles south of Burns off of Hwy 205 east of Frenchglen, Oregon. It is a large fault-block mountain with a relatively gradual slope on its west side, and very steep on its east. The main road is 27 miles one way from Frenchglen to the summit and is usually open from July 1 to October 31. The road ends 0.5 miles from the summit but the tremendous view makes the hike to the top worthwhile. The surface of the roadway can be variable but is generally rough and often heavily washboarded, and may not be appropriate for motor home traffic. It is gravel all the way with no guard rails so speeds should be kept below 35 mph. The “top” is nearly 10,000 feet in elevation so be prepared for bad weather or breakdowns on the mountain. Depending on conditions, a more primitive 32 mile gravel road from the east rim back down to Hwy 205 can be taken to complete a full 69 mile loop.
From Frenchglen, travel 3 miles east towards Page Springs Campground. Turn left on Fish Lake Road and proceed up the mountain. If time permits, Fish Lake, Jackman Park, South Steens Campgrounds, or anywhere with stands of aspen or mountain mahogany are likely to be productive. Near the top, look for the signs to Kiger Gorge and take this 0.25 mile detour to view the gorge. Return to the road and continue your ascent. Look for the sign to the East Rim viewpoint. This area provides stunning views of the Alvord Desert below. Return to the road and continue on to the top. Feel free to access the rim at any point along the way (take care to always stay clear of the edge and watch for loose rocks).
Summit: Park at the Steens Summit Trailhead and hike the half mile trail to the very top.
Loop: Many choose to retrace their steps and return to Frenchglen the same way they came up. Others choose to continue the loop past South Steens Campground and come out on Hwy 205 10 miles SW of Frenchglen. WARNING!!! Continuing along the loop instead of retracing your steps will bring you in contact with very rough roads and should not be attempted unless your vehicle has good clearance and a sturdy constitution.Directions
Habitat and Birds
This road travels from the valley floor to the top of Steens Mountain. You enter and exit several life zones along the way so the birding can be very productive and interesting. Make sure you stop at several locations along the way. Most of the campgrounds provide productive birding and comfortable camping in the summer. Owling in these campgrounds can produce Saw-whet, Short-eared, and Great Horned Owls along with others. Sage Grouse are often seen along the road and Rock Wrens are fairly abundant. Migrating hawks are abundant in the fall and can provide quite an aerial show as they ride the updrafts created by the mountain. In summer, Rufous Hummingbirds use thistle and wildflowers, while migrants of just about any ilk can be found along the slopes. Perhaps the most sought after bird on the Steens are Black Rosy-Finches. These nomads are unpredictable. Look for them at the major viewpoints and anywhere along the east rim. For your best chance at a Rosy-Finch sighting, get there early and plan to put in some time.