This 5.6 mile trail is one of the most scenic day hikes in the Steens Mountain area. The Pike Creek Mine Trail winds its way up the dramatic, steep eastern face of the mountains, passing through a rich riparian corridor with a perennial stream and a bounty of native plants. Since most hikes in the area tackle the gentle western slopes, this path is a fun way of shaking up a day adventure in Southeastern Oregon.
Be prepared for a rugged hike with a nearly 2,000 foot elevation gain and a rocky, deeply rutted drive from Alvord Hot Springs to the trailhead. There is a maintained parking area on he northeast side of Pike Creek, but it may be necessary to bushwhack across the creek to find the old mining road-turned-trail, depending when in the hiking season you arrive. From here the trail will wind into the canyon for about a mile, before passing a wilderness sign-in box. Keep climbing through the canyon, with the river sparkling below, and sweeping views of the Alvord Desert.
The trail will drop into a grove of cottonwood trees along Pike Creek, and you’ll see ruins of an old uranium mining prospect (an old shed, rails, and other equipment) to the south. Cross the creek, clamber up a rocky section and then switchback up by the north bank of the creek. You’ll pass under dramatic overhangs, and then reach a junction.
Here you have the option of exploring a new trail that branches up the canyon, or ending the hike a few yards downhill at a shady picnic spot. If you choose to press on, turn uphill and traverse the north side of Pike Creek canyon, up through sagebrush and scrub. The views up here at 6,000 feet are stunning, allowing travelers to see for miles across the desert rocks and spires. You can see out to the headwall of the High Steens escarpment when you hit the trail end at Pike's Knob, a wide red tower in the middle of the canyon. The most adventurous among you will scramble up Pike's Knob for the best view, and you may even see bighorn sheep and many other wildlife species in the area.
Hikers are cautioned to make safety preparations before heading down this trail. Cell phone reception is not available in much of the area, and drinking water is scarce. Since recent trail improvements, this hike has seen more visitors, but it’s advisable to bring extra water and rations when trekking through desert areas. Year-ground gas is only available in the towns of Fields and Burns, although gas may also be available in Frenchglen in the summer.
The hike is on BLM land, and it’s free to park and walk in to the trailhead. However, there is a $5 day use fee to drive in and park at the trailhead parking area, which must be paid at the Alvord Hot Springs just down the road at
46008 Alvord Ranch Ln, Princeton, OR.
Directions from Burns:
-- Drive east on OR Hwy 78/E Monroe St. toward Crane
-- Turn right onto Folly Farm Rd/Fields-Denio Rd toward Fields after 64.6 miles
-- In 39 miles, turn right onto an unmarked gravel/four-wheel drive road. The turn is 3.6 miles past Alvord Ranch.
-- If you have a four-wheel drive vehicle, go 0.6 miles past the metal cattle guard to the unmarked trailhead. If you don't have a suitable vehicle, park near Fields-Denio Rd. and walk the additional 0.6 miles up the road.
You can contact the good folks at Burns BLM District with questions: (541) 573-4411.
Learn more about the nearby Alvord Hot Springs: https://www.shareoregon.com/en/listings/124955-soak-in-the-alvord-hot-springs
Learn more about Crystal Crane Hot Springs: https://www.shareoregon.com/en/listings/125075-soak-at-crystal-crane-hot-springs
Learn more about Malheur National Wildlife Refuge: https://www.shareoregon.com/en/listings/125270-bird-watching-in-malheur-national-wildlife-refuge