Pike Creek Canyon
The dramatic east face of Steens Mountain hides many deep and seldom visited canyons, but only one has an established trail. The Pike Creek trail follows a decaying roadbed along one of the more persistent streams in the Alvord Basin. It is here in the driest region of Oregon you will find a creek that does not dry up and harbors a rarely seen population of small Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. This endangered species of fish survive the brutal summer months retreating up the stream as necessary. Pike Creek is lined with Cottonwood, Willows, and Mahogany along the creek-bottom, while Juniper and Sagebrush typical of the high desert line the canyon-sides.
The boulder at Pike Creek and Pike Rock
The route begins at the giant boulder with a juniper sprouting from it. You can cross Pike Creek here by jumping the stream where you'll find the trail on the other side. Immediately obvious is Pike Rock looming above the mouth of the canyon, a distinctive outcropping at 5800 feet. Below Pike Rock and across the canyon you will see a series of caves cutting into and through weathered crags. These are apparently pilot holes dug as part of the exploratory mining undertaken at various points along the old roadbed. A mile further up this old road you will find a more developed mining site with an old shack alongside the cliff. According to William Sullivan's Eastern Oregon Guide this was a prospect site for Uranium, likely due to the fact that rocks along Steens Mountain's eastern base have risen from deep within the Earth's crust to the surface over the last several million years.
Beyond the mine site, the road crosses to the north side of Pike Creek and switchbacks up the hillside then resumes a short distance up the canyon. Following shortly after the switchback, a faint trail leaves the road (which will shortly dead-end). The trail meanders another mile up Pike Creek to its headwaters at the canyon's headwall. Expect to cross several boulder fields, find a tastefully decorated juniper, and be generally amazed by the crags protruding from the canyon walls. High above the south ridgetop, is a complex of monoliths at 6400 feet as seen in the profile image.
This canyon runs 2.5 miles to the headwall with roughly 1500 feet of elevation gain. Following the road only travels a mile with 500 feet of elevation gain.
The turnoff to Pike Creek is 2 miles north of the Alvord Hot Springs, or approximately 25 miles north of Fields along the East Steens Mountain Road. Once turning west onto the Pike Creek 4x4 road, it is a very rough mile up to the end of the road where it intersects with Pike Creek at the mouth of the canyon. Although this is not a designated camping area, there are several good camping spots along the creek. The trail runs along the south side of the creek for the first mile, and is easy to locate from the creek.
There aren't many trees in this part of Oregon, dont be cutting any cottonwoods down for firewood. Driving off established roads is prohibited by the BLM. Steens Mountain is a very popular hunting area, expect hunters from September through November at the various campsites along the east face.
There are multiple firepits, and large boulders to provide cover for camping at the trailhead. This isn't an established campground, although a primitive one can be found a few miles north at Mann Lake.
Alvord Hot Springs is a mere two miles to the south, and many people opt to camp alongside the road here. Most basic supplies and gas can be found at Fields Station to the south.
The Pike Creek Castle Steens Mountain East Pike Creek AreaBurns BLM page
William Sullivan's 100 Hikes in Eastern Oregon
ODFW document regarding Lahontan Trout in the Great Basin