Little Blitzen River Gorge

Hike along the Little Blitzen River in Oregon’s Steens Mountain wilderness into its scenic, glacier-carved gorge below the Steens Mountain summit. Enjoy seasonal wonders—butterflies, birds, wildlife, wildflowers, and fall colors. There are round trip day hiking to overnight backpacking options that range from 8-20.4 miles and 660-2,320 feet of elevation gain.

getting there

From Burns, drive OR-78 1.7 miles east toward Crane, turn right onto OR-205 and drive 61 miles south to Frenchglen, an unincorporated community. Continue south toward Fields on OR-205 for 10 miles, turn left onto Steens Mountain Loop Road (closed from November to June), and drive 18.9 miles to South Steens Campground and then 0.5 mile to the trailhead (5,480 ft).

on the trail

Day hike or backpack into the gorgeous Little Blitzen Gorge, a deep canyon in Oregon's Steens Mountain Wilderness.

Four-mile Camp

8 miles round trip, 660 feet of elevation gain

Walk 100 yards up road to the Little Blitzen River Trail. Hike 1 mile and cross the Little Blitzen River (5,400 ft). There is no bridge—it's a waist-deep ford or a log crossing in spring and early summer, and log-crossing or rock hop later in the season. Hike the trail as it continues along the north side of the river, at river level or just above on verdant, rocky slopes. At 3 miles, pass two deep pools in the river and enter a meadow with late spring/summer wildflowers among sage. At river level where the canyon is constricted, look for an inviting swimming hole under long branches of aspen and cottonwood trees. Look up while hiking to see pinnacles and columns as well as rough layers of basalt above smoother glacier-carved lower sections of gorge walls.  At four miles, reach Four-Mile Camp (6,140 ft), a good turnaround for day hikers or camp for backpackers. The camp is in a lush meadow with large cottonwoods and nearby corral ruins. The coral ruins are ~0.25 miles from camp, and from the gentle rise just beyond, see the grand headwall of Little Blitzen Gorge.

waterfall & Cirque

up to 20.4 miles round trip, up to 2,320 feet of elevation gain

Hike the Little Blitzen River Trail to Four-mile Camp, spend two nights at Four-Mile Camp, and day hike up to 12.4 miles round trip to a waterfall at the lip of a bowl-shaped cirque that is filled with wildflowers and rimmed with the headwall's cliffs. From Four-mile Camp, hike to the upper gorge on an increasingly rough trail over next 3.8 miles to a fork at a knoll that divided the canyon (6,800 ft). Take the right fork on a faint trail for 2.4 miles to a 20 foot waterfall and a bowl-shaped cirque (7,794 ft). The cirque is filled with alpine wildflowers and rimmed with headwall cliffs.

exploring nature

Enjoy seasonal wonders—butterflies, birds, wildlife, wildflowers, high desert and alpine plants, and fall colors. Look for junipers, aspen and cottonwood groves, low sagebrush, willow; choke cherry, bitterbrush, mountain mahogany, and sedges along with blooming late spring to early summer wildflowers like lupine, wild onion, Brown’s peonies, sticky geranium, groundsel, sweet cecily, false hellebore, and orange sneezeweed. And look for the many butterflies attracted to these plants during spring and summer. The Steens Mountain Wilderness is one of Oregon’s butterfly hotspots, home to over  65 species—many of them in the Little Blitzen River Gorge.


  • Guidebook100 Hikes / Travel Guide: Eastern Oregon, 3rd ed. by William L. Sullivan (Navillus Press 2015). 
  • The hike involves a stream crossing, 1.0 mile from trailhead, that can be easy or challenging depending on the season and conditions.
  • Hazards include ticks, rattlesnakes, poison ivy, and cow parsnip.
  • Long pants and boots are recommended when hiking along portions of trail with overgrown sagebrush, and for the increasingly rougher, steeper trail beyond Four-Mile Camp.
  • Suitable Activities: Backpacking, Day Hiking, Naturalist
  • Seasons: June, July, August, September, October, November
  • Weather: View weather forecast
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Length: 23.0 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 2,320 ft
  • 7,794 ft
  • Land Manager: Oregon-Washington BLM
    Steens Mountain Wilderness
  • Parking Permit Required: None
  • Recommended Party Size: 6
  • Maximum Party Size: 12
  • Maximum Route/Place Capacity: 12
  • USGS Fish Lake, OR
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