The High Desert


When traveling to Oregon, I’m sure you are dreaming of beautiful greenery throughout the state due to all the rain. But, have you considered the desert? Yes, you read that right… the desert… in Oregon. 


While many of us have driven through deserts found much more south of Oregon, you are met with endless road looking at nothing. Well, maybe the occasional hill or cactus, but in Oregon the desert is much more vast.


Meet The High Desert. Starting at the eastern edge of the Cascade Mountains and stretching out toward Idaho and Nevada, the high desert region makes up roughly a quarter of all land in Oregon. It rises to more than 9,700 feet above sea level at Steens Mountain and dips to just over 2,000 feet along the Owyhee River on the eastern border.


Did you know that nearly half of Oregon is high desert? The high desert is divided into six regions: John Day River Basin, Central Oregon Backcountry, Greater Hart-Sheldon Region, Steens Mountain Region, Owyhee Canyonlands, and Oregon Desert Trail.


Due to the vast high desert, the best place to grab some grub before hitting the road would be in Bend. Check out this restaurant guide to find the best local cuisine to Central Oregon. VIEW MORE


Anchored by Bend, Oregon’s biggest city outside the Willamette Valley, the high desert is a playground for hikers, horseback riders, mountain bikers and rock climbers. Millions of birds flock seasonally to desert wetlands, drawing bird watchers and hunters. And wide swaths of wilderness provide a home to mustangs, strutting sage grouse, rogue antelope and herds of bighorn sheep.


It’s a stark contrast to the lush rainforests and snowy mountains in the west – the dusty flipside of Oregon’s great beauty.


Alvord Desert

The Alvord Desert lies like a crumpled piece of paper smoothed over a flat surface with mountains towering 5,000 feet above and directly to the west. The Alvord Desert was once a giant lake extending 100 miles from end to end with an estimated depth of 200 feet, a robust headwaters of a Snake River tributary. Today, the primary portion of this alkaline flat desert is roughly 20 miles long and 7 miles wide.


Painted Hills

Distinguished by varied stripes of red, tan, orange, and black, this area preserves a sequence of past climate change. Spring often brings yellow wildflowers that grow in open areas and sometime even in the ripples of the hills. Winter can blanket the hills in a white coat, concealing the vibrant hues until the snow melts, revealing interspersed stripes of gold and red.


Cove Palisades

The Cove Palisades State Park is a recreational destination for the entire family. Located in our high desert region, the weather is sunny and warm in the summer months and chilly but generally mild in the winter. The park is situated among towering cliffs that surround beautiful Lake Billy Chinook.


Owyhee Canyonlands

Carved by desert rivers winding toward the Pacific, Oregon’s Owyhee Canyonlands is the last great unprotected expanse of the American West. Its craggy red-rock canyons, blue-ribbon trout streams and rolling hills make up a diverse wild land nearly the size of Yellowstone, home to a rich array of wildlife.

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