The Alvord Desert is nothing like the rest of Oregon, its climate and landscape provide a unique area of the state for visitors. If you aren’t familiar with the Alvord Desert, the ground is a cracked dried-up lake bed with desolate desert stretching for miles.
Right next to the desert is Steens Mountain which provides beautiful views and unpredictable weather. In this area, you can do a number of different outdoor activities. Such as exploring, hiking, visiting hot springs, stargazing, and more.
If you haven’t taken a trip out to the Alvord Desert, we highly recommend adding it to your travel bucket list. We’re excited to go into detail with this travel guide giving you all the info 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 Desert is located in southeastern Oregon, about southeast of Steens Mountain. The Alvord Desert is made up of a 12-mile long and 7-mile wide dried-up lake bed with a crackled floor that is called a playa.
The desert used to be a lake that was 100 miles long and 200 feet deep. The desert sees very little rain, usually about 7 inches of rain annually.
There are also a variety of hot springs located around the outside of the desert. The Alvord Desert isn’t a popular tourist destination due to its isolated location in Oregon, however, it’s the perfect spot to visit if you are looking for some peace and quiet.
Things to Do
Visit The Hot Springs
One of the main attractions of the Alvord Desert is the hot springs. There are a variety of hot springs around the perimeter of the desert. However, you can only go swimming in one, which is the Alvord Hot Springs. It’s privately owned and day passes are $5. It is located at the bottom of Steens Mountain on the western side of Alvord Desert.
The other hot springs in the area, which you can visit but can’t swim in, are the Borax Hot Springs, Buckbrush Springs, Tule Springs, and Mickey Hot springs.
When you’re visiting Alvord Desert, you can actually camp directly on the playa. You can set up camp and spend the night directly on the desert surface. It’s usually best to camp on the edges of the dried-up basin since it’ll provide more protection from any unpredictable weather that passes through.
The west side of the desert has private property around the edge which doesn’t have any fences to indicate it’s private property, so make sure you aren’t trespassing. Also, when you camp, make sure that you leave the place better than you found it by taking all of your trash and belongings. Another thing to keep in mind is that fires are not allowed when you are camping here.
There are also a few campgrounds in the area that you can stay at. Such as the Jackman Park Campground located on the side of Steens Mountain. This campsite is surrounded by nature with rivers, wilderness, glacier carved-gorges, and the beautiful Steens Mountain. This campground has 6 campsites, fire grates, and picnic tables. It’s first come first serve. There is also a restroom available.
You can also stay at Mann Lake Campground which is located at the base of the eastern facing part of Steens Mountain. The campsite doesn’t offer any amenities, however, it does have two vault restrooms. It’s advised that campers bring everything they’ll need and that they tie everything down since weather conditions are unpredictable and wind can blow your things away. If you’re staying at this campsite you can also go fishing in the lake and enjoy the beautiful views.
You can also go stay in the heart of Steens Mountain at South Steens Campground. Anyone can use this campground, however, it is designed with horse riders in mind. Horses are not allowed in the family side of the campground but there are specific campsites for equestrians that have tie posts and small corrals. On the family side of the campsite, campers have access to picnic tables and grills.
When you’re visiting the Alvord Desert and you’re spending time in nature with very little light pollution, it’s a great place to do some stargazing.
It’s actually 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 to do some stargazing!
There are a number of hiking trails within Steens Mountain that you can do when visiting the desert. Such as the Pike Creek Trail which is located in Steens Mountain below the summit. The Pike Creek Trail hike is 2.5 miles total and goes from the head of Wildhorse Canyon into Wildhorse Lake. The hike starts high up and descends and is steep and rocky. Keep in mind that looping back will be more challenging since you will be ascending back up the mountain.
How to Get There
To get to the Alvord Desert you will either drive in from Fields, Oregon which is south from the desert, or you can drive from Burns which sits north. You’ll take Oregon Route 78 for about 65 miles from Burns or about 20 miles from Fields. You’ll then turn onto Field-Denio Road.
Once you’re on Field-Denio Road you’ll be driving on an unpaved dirt road and will have multiple access roads along the desert that you can use to get there.
You can also drive to the Alvord Hot Springs where there is a privately maintained road that guests can use to get to the desert or anyone can pay $5 to use it.
Or, you can continue on Fields-Denio road to Frog Springs which is .8 miles farther south but is rougher to drive on.
Where to Stay
As mentioned above, there are a number of campsites in the surrounding areas and in Steens Mountain. You can also camp directly on the Alvord Desert itself.
Alvord Hot Springs
The Alvord Hot Springs also offers lodging on their property. They have bunkhouses 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 Desert is located in a remote part of Oregon, the closest towns are Burns and Fields. Burns is about a 2-hour drive to the desert and Fields is about 30 minutes.
Hotels in Burns
Best Time to Visit
The Alvord Desert that sits at the base of Steens Mountain has a cold desert climate. The weather can be unpredictable in this region.
Although you can visit any time of year, fall and the beginning of winter are generally the best times to come to this area.
In the fall it’s the driest time of 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 a lot hotter, and if you are camping right on the playa keep in mind that there isn’t any shade to stay in. The weather ranges from 85-90ºF in the summer and falls to about 50-70ºF at night.
The spring has the most storms and rainfall compared to other seasons. The weather is about 50-60ºF during the day and drops to 30-45ºF at night.
Tips for Visiting
No Cell Service
There is little to no cell service out in the Alvord Desert. So, make sure you aren’t relying on your phone for anything. Such as light, directions, or even time. If you don’t have a travel clock yet, click here to read our post on the best travel clocks.
Long Distance From Gas Stations
Make sure you top off your car with gas before you get to the desert, and you may want to bring gas containers with extra gas with you. The closest gas stations are in Fields and Burns, Oregon that both are open all year, and a gas station in Frenchglen, Oregon, which is only open in the summer.
Make sure you come prepared when visiting the Alvord Desert. It’s pretty secluded and the closest town is about 22 miles away. So make sure you bring enough food, water, gas, clothes for different weather conditions, and essential gear.
The Alvord Desert is a unique part of Oregon with a climate and landscape you won’t find anywhere else in the state. It’s a great destination for those who want to get out into nature that offers a handful of activities.
Such as visiting the hot springs, camping, stargazing, hiking, etc. We hope our travel guide helped you plan your vacation now that you know everything you need to know to visit this Oregon desert! Happy travels!
Can you drive on the Alvord Desert?
Yes, you can drive on the Alvord Desert. However, it’s recommended that you only drive on it from July to December during the dry season so your car doesn’t get stuck in the mud from recent rainfall.
When should I go to the Alvord Desert?
The best time of 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, too cold, and the chance of storms are much lower.
Who owns Alvord Desert?
No one owns the Alvord Desert itself, it’s public land. However, the Alvord Hot Springs is privately owned by the Davis family.