11 Best Things to Do in the Alvord Desert (Oregon)

land sailing

The Alvord Desert is located in southeastern Oregon, near the Nevada border.

It is a unique place that is very different from the emerald green and humid Pacific coast.

It is very isolated and sometimes quite inhospitable, there are no big cities nearby, and the trip from Portland lasts all day. The adventure, however, is really worth it.

This is one of the so called “cold deserts”. Summers, however, are scorching with temperatures reaching up to 106°F (over 41°C) in the shade. Night temperatures are much more pleasant and refreshing in summer but quite cold in winter.

The desert itself is small. From north to south the plain stretches for 20 miles. Without counting the surrounding bushlands, however, it is just 12 miles. From east to west in its widest part it is just ​​7 miles.

If you are searching for luxury hotels and urban facilities, this place is not for you.

If you love camping and want to explore the hidden gems of America by campervan, however, the Alvord Desert is a must-visit.

1. Fields

fields station
Fields Station by Ramendoctor/CC BY-SA

If you have decided to spend a few days in Alvord Desert, you will need to visit Fields at least once.

The small community is located only a few miles southwest of the desert.

Here you will find everything you need, including food, water and other drinks, products for personal care and many others.

2. Borax Springs

borax lake hot springs
Borax Lake Hot Springs by Ben Amstutz/Flickr

Borax Lake (also known as Borax Springs) is one of the tourist attractions in the area.

It is located in the southwestern edge of the desert. You will see a number of abandoned mining facilities here, mostly old rusty wagons.

The area is practically open to tourists but you are not allowed to enter the water for many reasons.

One of them is the dangerously high temperature of the water (between 105 and 300°F!), not to mention the high concentration of arsenic and sodium borate in the lake.

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You can only observe the alkaline lake from a safe distance and don’t forget to follow the recommendations on the warning signs!

In some areas the ground is unstable so you should follow only the signed tracks.

3. Best place for land sailing

land sailing
Land Sailing by BLMOW/Flickr

Land sailing (also known as land surfing or land yachting) is an interesting sport that can be practiced successfully in very few places around the world, and most of them are in the United States.

Alvord Desert is one of them. The area offers perfect conditions because the ground is perfectly smooth here.

Whether you want to practice or just to observe, the experience is unique and you will really have fun.

4. Hike to the Steens Mountain

steens mountain
Steens Mountain by College Outdoors/Flickr

The route through the desert to the Steens Mountain is not that long, nor is particularly difficult.

The main problem could be the weather conditions. That is why it is most important to avoid the harsh summer and winter seasons, and instead focus your attention mainly on early to mid autumn, which is considered the best season in the area.

If you have stocked up with water, food, tents and sleeping bags, you could even cross the ridge and go to the amazing Wildhorse Lake on the other side!

5. The Pillars of Rome

pillars of rome
Pillars of Rome by Bonnie Moreland/Flickr

The Pillars of Rome are one of the most important landmarks in southwestern Oregon.

The 100-foot-high rock formation doesn’t bear this name by chance.

Seen from afar, the eroded rock resembles the ruins of an ancient Roman city.

You will find the place 28 miles (45 km) northeast of the Alvord Desert.

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Given the long distances and uninhabited surroundings, it is advisable to take advantage of your trip to this part of Oregon and to visit the rock phenomenon.

6. Counting the shooting stars

night sky
Night Sky by ODT/Flickr

Because of its favorable conditions, Oregon has always been a very popular place to observe the night sky.

Alvord Desert is definitely one of the top spots (Crater Lake is the other).

Due to the low relative humidity and low level of dust in the area, the sky is unusually clear at night.

This is a great opportunity to enjoy the Milky Way and the shooting stars (which are actually meteorites).

Conditions are good for most of the year, but mostly between late August and late November.

7. Enjoy the large herds of wild horses

wild horses
Wild horses by BLMOW/Flickr

Although the area is mainly deserted, it is a great choice if you want to organize your own photographic safari.

Here you can enjoy an impressive biodiversity. Cougars and bears are the largest and strongest predators in the area.

For your own safety, you should stay in your car if you see some of them.

In most cases, they are afraid of people and feel the human presence from afar but you should be very careful anyway.

The most common and easy to find are the large herds of wild horses.

If you want to take really impressive pictures of wild animals, you should find some of the herds in their natural habitat.

8. Enjoy the small green oases

small green oases
Small green oases by College Outdoors/Flickr

While exploring the trails towards the Steens Mountains in the western-most part of the desert valley, you will come across some small mountain streams, which form at some points small ponds surrounded by green vegetation.

This is one of the very few opportunities to find some pleasant shade in the dry and barren area.

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9. Go to the hot springs

alvord hot springs
Alvord Hot Springs by Wildernice/Flickr

Alvord Hot Springs is one of the tourist attractions in the area.

They are located at the foot of the Steens Mountains, on the western outskirts of the desert.

Here you can enjoy the hot mineral-rich water, which is an especially pleasant experience during the cooler months of the year.

The water comes from the springs with a temperature of 170°F (almost 77 °C), which is too hot for bathing.

After being mixed with cooler water in the pool, however, its temperature is much more pleasant, and you can take a dip without any problems.

The health benefits of soaking into the hot spring are numerous.

One of the most important and widely known of them is that the water stimulates blood circulation. In addition, it relieves arthritis and calms the nervous system.

10. Take some pics of the snow capped mountains

snow capped steens mountain
Snow Capped Steens Mountain by Sam Beebe/Flickr

As the Alvord Desert and Steens Mountain have very dry climates, you can hardly expect a thick snow cover in the area.

However, during the winter months it often snows here.

Although it is mostly thin, the snow cover sometimes lasts for a long time.

And while in the desert you can see only slight frostbite, the mountain range contrasts in white on the surrounding landscape.

11. Meet the sunrise

alvord desert at dawn
Alvord Desert at dawn by Unsettler/Flickr

According to many, the Alvord Desert is the most beautiful at sunrise.

In this part of the day it looks so clean, fresh and untouched.

Yes, it does mean that you have to get up very early in the morning, but if you travel in some of the warmer months, this is the only way to enjoy the beauty of the desert without being disturbed by the heat.