Facts and Statistics

oregon 1The Oregon Desert Trail (ODT) is a route stretching from Oregon Badlands Wilderness all the way to Lake Owyhee Reservoir close to the Idaho border. It covers 800 miles. It is being managed by Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA). It was mainly created to bring to attention to the beautiful landscape of eastern Oregon and preserve the wildlife in this region. The maiden thru-hike was completed in 2013 by a Bend resident Sage Clegg that took around six weeks. Sage collected information and trail conditions to ONDA to make the route usable for other hikers.

About the Trail

oregon 2This trail is divided into four sections. These are the Central Oregon Volcanic, West Basin and Range, East Basin and Range and Owyhee Canyonlands. All the geographical sections are completely marked out with GPS points. The trail can be hiked from either terminus.

The ODT is composed of a network of trails that have been under development from June 2013. All the trails pass through the Oregon High Desert. As indicated above, the trail is around 800 miles, with two termini. One is near Bend, Oregon while the other is at Lake Owyhee State Park, near the Idaho border.

The route uses existing trails and cutting through tracts of public land. Most of the land is under Bureau of Land Management. The land is set in the wilderness, which takes you away from the busy city life, to a quiet connection with nature. The west section of the trail is located towards the northern frontier of Oregon Badlands Wilderness heading south. In southern Oregon, it cuts through large parts of public land that include Fremont National Park, Steens Mountains, Pueblo Mountains, Trout Creek Mountains, and Owyhee River Wilderness.

oregon 3It traverses the small cities of Christmas Valley, Fort Rock, Plush, Paisley, Fields, Frenchglen, Adrian, Rome, and McDermitt. From Central Oregon, the trail heads southeast and enters Fields. The route meanders eastwards, within 24 km of the state corner moving along West Little Owyhee River downstream. The trail then heads northwards. The Oregon Badlands section is composed of sage, pine, and tumulus.

Several things set apart the ODT from other similar ones like the Pacific Crest Trail. Some of the things that make it one of the best are that, it provides clear solitude, since it is set away from traffic. It is a quite challenging and dry trail; therefore, you should be adequately prepared. Most of the trail is not adequately marked out making it a conceptual trail. If you are a beginner, then this is not a trail for you. It needs extensive planning, water access is limited, and there are few resupply locations. Additionally, as a hiker, you will have to rely on your own navigational skills.

The route is challenging composed of long stretches without water. This requires you to cache supplies or arrange collection points to make the hiking comfortable for you. Some sections of the trail are allowed for bikers. So if you prefer bicycling to walking, feel free to bring a bikepacking mountain bike. However, some are not practical. Bikes are not completely allowed in the wilderness areas.

Trail Conditions

oregon 4By nature, this trail provides a remote hiking experience. It is composed of desert environment that is sparsely populated. You are most likely going to encounter groups of pronghorn antelope as well as sage grouse that know how to camouflage from people. If you are a fan of stargazing, then you are definitely going to have a good time. If you pay attention, the southeastern section of Oregon has one of the few undisturbed night skies in the whole country. There is minimal light pollution, which translates to clear skies and good views of the Milky Way.

The ODT concludes towards the periphery of the Great Basin. This is an area characterized by internal rain drainage, instead of going to the sea. It is characterized by long stretches of Block Mountains. They include Abert Rim rising to an elevation of 2,490 feet from the floor of the valley and stretching 30 miles. Still in this region, you will come across Steen Mountains, stretching more than 50 miles, at an elevation of more than 5,000 feet from the desert floor. The ODT traverses these highlights and many more.

Hot springs are another feature of this trail. The trail passes close to the developed Hunters Hot Springs and Summer Lake Hot Springs. Others are Alvord Hot Springs and Hart Mountain Hot Springs. The Owyhee Canyonlands present several pools where you can soak and cool off after a long day of hiking at the ODT.


oregon 5This trail presents backpackers and thru-hikers with different challenges. The ODT requires hikers to possess extensive knowledge in compass and map reading, or comfortable using a GPS device. These are necessitated by the fact that the route is yet to be clearly marked as well as containing stretches of cross-country travel.

However, if you are looking to break from the traditional trail experience, this is the hike for you. The desert gives you freedom and solitude, you can make your own routes, and fully immerse in a trail that is rugged. There are very few hikers in this area. Therefore, there are no crowds to deal with.

Water is a challenge along this trail. Although there are snow packs after winter, water is never a guarantee. Be prepared to hike for long distances without finding a source of water. The most important aspect of hiking the Oregon Desert Trail is probably water availability. However, as the trail gets developed, reliable information will soon become available for hikers access reliable and sources of water along the trail including water-caching guidelines.

Bottom Line

oregon 6Finding real solitude these days is quite hard on major trails, due to an increasing popularity in distance hiking. However, this is not the case with Oregon Desert Trail. It offers real solitude, plenty of hot springs to soak and relieve the aches and pains of the day, plenty of wildlife and desert habitat species and several trail towns along the way, full of hospitable people. Additionally, you get a chance to hike on a trail full of historical findings. It is an iconic trail that requires hiking experience and good planning.

Youtube User ‘Alex Siefert’ Hikes The Oregon Desert Trail


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About the Author

Hi, I’m Brian Bradshaw. I’m a super duper mega hiking enthusiast, with a love for everything that has to do with outdoors, hiking, gear, footwear and more.

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