The open and varied terrain of the Hart Mountain area is arguably set up to offer some of the most appealing day hikes in Southeast Oregon. There are deep canyons, dramatic outcroppings, unexpected splashes of water and desert wetlands to explore, sometime all in one hike.
One great, compact, and relaxed afternoon way to explore the area is to walk the Shirk Lake Hike. It’s a nice pick if you’re new to the area, as it’s a short 2.7-mile, round-trip there-and-back hike across easy terrain. It also has an historical site to explore, wide open meadows to traverse, and a rewardingly cool lake at the trail’s end. At 5,200 ft. elevation, it's usually best to visit from June to September.
The trail runs across BLM land, starting at an abandoned ranch house. This is Shirk Ranch (obviously signed by a steel gate with the name on it), a rambling bunch of historic remains. Start off your adventure by explore the bunk house, main house, root cellar, water tower, and blacksmith shop. The buildings were constructed in 1881 are listed National Historic Register, so please don’t take home souvenirs. The trail follows the levee southwards towards the lake.
It’s a short and simple – but beautiful – walk through soft green meadows, mud flats, and sage uplands. There’s great bird viewing across the flat landscape, as songbirds and waterfowl rest in these wetlands. The trail skirts the lake in a westward arc, making dip and detours toward the water’s edge.
Cool your feet in the lake’s waters, and enjoy the flurry of wildlife around you. The path ends at Shirk Lake’s southern outlet at a sandy slough, but it’s equally satisfying to end the trip lakeside with a picnic.
Be aware that the dirt and gravel road to access the site can be rough, so a high-clearance vehicle is recommended.
You can contact the Lakeview BLM District with questions: (541) 947-6399.