Just south of the Steens Mountain Range is another tiny chain of mountains with their own set of charms. It’s easy to dismiss the Pueblo Mountains as dry and barren, but come hike in the canyons and you’ll find colorful rock formations, green streamside trails, and a dusty southeastern Oregon beauty worth exploring.
The Little Cottonwood Creek Trail takes hikers through a scenic, low-elevation stream canyon. The perennial water supply keeps the area verdant, which attracts songbirds, deer, and other wildlife through the seasons. And while there is no official trail, it’s easy to follow the trail through the corridor.
The hike starts at the end of an access road up Little Cottonwood Creek, with a "Wilderness Study Area" marker to point the way. Hike along an old dirt road through stretches of sagebrush, walking along the north side of the creek for about a quarter of a mile. You’ll hit a deep gulch, at which point the trail splits from the old dirt road, crosses the ditch and then continues upstream through sagebrush flats. Cottonwood trees grow thicker here, so look for songbirds and sleepy short-eared owls in the branches above.
At roughly the one-mile point the trail lifts up a series of steep and crumbling old river beds. Pay extra attention to your foot placement at this point, as the gravel and dirt are loose and slippery. The next couple of miles crisscrosses numerous game trails, sticking tight to the north side of the creek. Keep an eye out for mule deer resting in the shade of alders, willows, and cottonwoods growing bank-side. There’s the option to hike up to the sagebrush flats above for an easier walk – just keep an eye out for sudden seasonally dry gulches that need to be hopped.
Although the trail doesn’t have a set destination, a good end-point is a tall, bright, rooster comb rock formation you’ll encounter just past the three-mile point. It’s a tall chunk of rock that extends from the north side of the canyon, almost blocking the route forward. There are shady thickets by the creek which make a good place to rest and have a picnic lunch before turning back.
Directions from "The Fields Station," the cool burger joint, market, and gas station in Fields, OR:
- Take Fields-Denio Highway (good paved road) 7.7 miles south and look for an unsigned dirt road. (It's 0.4 miles north of the junction with the Whitehorse Ranch Road.)
- Drive 0.6 miles from the turnoff to the Little Cottonwood Creek trailhead. This dirt road is mostly in good condition but has ruts and rocks that may be hard on low-clearance vehicles, so use extra caution.
- BLM maps for the area: https://www.blm.gov/tag/burns-district-office
- Contact Burns BLM District with questions: (541) 573-4411