Big Indian Gorge

  • Moderate (to boulder)
  • 8.2 miles round trip
  • 960 feet elevation gain
  • Open June to mid-November
  • Use: hikers, horses

  • Difficult (to cottonwood camp)
  • 13 miles round trip
  • 1270 feet elevation gain

Snow fell so heavily on Steens Mountain during the Ice Age 10,000 years ago that glaciers crept 10 miles down the western slopes. The rivers of ice gouged seven colossal 2000-foot-deep gorges, each with the U-shaped cross section typical of glacial valleys. Because the climate has become relatively dry since then, the canyons still have their elegant curving silhouette, and not the V-shape of valleys cut by rivers.

One of the most accessible of these scenic canyons, Big Indian Gorge, has a modern campground at its mouth. To be sure, you’ll still have to trudge along an old road for the first 1.9 miles, and then negotiate three creek crossings, but that’s the price of admission to this quiet world of quaking aspen groves and wildflowers in the Steens Mountain Wilderness.

Fill your car’s gas tank before leaving Burns. Then drive …

This chapter taken from the book 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Eastern Oregon.