Steens Mountain / Alvord Desert Oregon BDR-X

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The BDR-X Steens Mountain & Alvord Desert is a loop off of the ORBDR Section 1 designed to showcase the striking contrast of Steens Mountain and the Alvord Desert, a 5000 feet elevation difference, in remote Southeast Oregon.

The total length is 229 miles and can be accomplished in two days. After the snow melts high on Steens Mountain and the roads open (around June every year) this loop can be ridden. It connects the Steens Mountain Loop Road, Moon Hill Road, Center Patrol Road in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and the Alvord Desert.

It’s hard to find a more diverse mix of surface terrain than this loop offers. Gravel roads, rocky double-track, dike roads, overgrown dirt roads, and open desert playa are all combined to make this BDR-X unique. Starting and ending in Fields, Oregon, this clockwise loop leads to Frenchglen, Diamond, The Narrows, and Alvord Hot Springs.


Important Notice:

There are a few important notes regarding the Steens/Alvord BDR-X Tracks:

STEENS/ALVORD BDR-X – SECTION DESCRIPTIONS

Section 1: Fields to Narrows – 118 Miles

Section 1 starts in Fields OR and heads north towards the historic town of Frenchglen. You can choose to stop in the town of Frenchglen to gas up and see the sights or bypass it if you wish to get straight to the dirt and have adequate range. Frenchglen has a hotel and a small grocery with fuel (not 24 hour pumps).

The Steens Mountain Loop Road is a beautiful ride on mellow gravel roads up to several scenic overlooks at deep glacier-carved gorges and from the summit ridge. The highest point is at over 9600 feet of elevation and looks down on the Alvord Desert and much of eastern Oregon. For this BDR-X the Steens Loop is ridden in a counter-clockwise direction so that the canyon and summit views are seen before departing the loop on the north side (note that the overall BDR-X loop is clockwise).

Moon Hill Road adds some spice to this section with more primitive dirt roads and riding challenges. This rough road descends to an area called Diamond where the Hotel Diamond is an option for lodging.

Soon the route enters the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and you’ll ride the historic Center Patrol Road which follows flat dykes through massive wetlands on the way to The Narrows RV Park. There you can gas up, get some food at the restaurant or store, and stay overnight in cabins or your tent.

Section 2: Narrows to Fields – 111 Miles

Section 2 starts eastward from Narrows on pavement, then gravel, and then heads south through some truly exciting dirt roads, including an optional advanced section.  You’ll eventually get to a wide gravel road where you’ll turn right and head south toward the Alvord Desert.

After a long but fast stretch of riding straight gravel roads, consider a stop at Alvord Hot Springs where you can take a dip in the hot springs and get refreshments. The hot springs property is privately owned and has camp spots and bunkhouses if you want to stay overnight. Just beyond the hot springs you’ll find a couple ways to get out onto the playa including the Frog Spring Alvord Desert Access. The playa is a wide flat dry lake bed that provides a unique riding experience like the Bonneville Salt Flats. While on the playa look up to the summit of Steens Mountain that’s almost 5000 feet above you.

After your time in the Alvord Desert, ride another 23 miles of wide gravel and pavement back to Fields to complete the BDR-X.

STEENS/ALVORD LODGING

Denio Junction has a small country store, restaurant, bar, gas station, and hotel all in one stop. There are 7 rustic rooms available. Call ahead to book well in advance. 

Address: ​51550 Denio Hwy 140, Denio, NV
Phone:(775) 941-0610

Fields Station has a small country store, restaurant, gas station, and hotel all in one stop.

There are three cabins with 8 rustic rooms available. Call ahead to book well in advance.

Address: 22276 Fields Drive, Fields, OR, 97710
Phone:(541) 495-2275

Visit Website »

The historic Frenchglen Hotel has five rustic rooms and serves breakfast, lunch to-go, and dinner. Call ahead to book well in advance.

Address: 39184 Highway 205, Frenchglen, Oregon, 97736
Phone:(541) 493-2825

Visit Website »

The historic Hotel Diamond has five rustic rooms and serves breakfast and dinner. Call ahead to book well in advance.

Address: 49130 Happy Valley Rd Diamond, OR 97722
Phone: (541) 493-1898

Visit Website »

One cabin that can sleep several. Campground, bathrooms with showers, convenience store, gas pumps, restaurant, Wifi, laundry, and more.

Address: 33468 Sod House Lane Princeton, OR 97721
Phone: (541) 495-2006

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Take a soak in the Alvord hot springs. The hot springs have a small store, restroom, bunkhouses and campsites.

Address: 36095 E Steens Rd, Princeton, OR 97721

Phone: (541) 589-2282

STEENS/ALVORD FOOD

Denio Junction has a small country store, restaurant, bar, gas station, and hotel all in one stop. 

Address: 51550 Denio Hwy 140, Denio, NV

Phone: (775) 941-0610

Fields Station has a small country store, restaurant, gas station, and hotel all in one stop.

Address:22276 Fields Drive, Fields, OR, 97710

Phone: (541) 495-2275

Frenchglen’s only store has a small display of historic ranch items like old branding tools and turn-of-the-20th-century toiletries. Cold drinks, film, sunscreen, good coffee, snacks, and canned goods are also for sale. The store is only open in the summer, and the dates may change each year.

Address:39184 OR-205, Frenchglen, OR 97736

Phone: (541) 493-2564

Frenchglen’s only store has a small display of historic ranch items like old branding tools and turn-of-the-20th-century toiletries. Cold drinks, film, sunscreen, good coffee, snacks, and canned goods are also for sale. The store is only open in the summer, and the dates may change each year.

Address:33468 Sod House Lane Princeton, OR 97721

Phone: (541) 495-2006

STEENS/ALVORD FUEL

Denio Junction has a small country store, restaurant, bar, gas station, and hotel all in one stop.  87 Octane Only

Address: 51550 Denio Hwy 140, Denio, NV

Phone: (775) 941-0610

Clear Premium available

Fields Station has a small country store, restaurant, gas station, and hotel all in one stop.

Address: 22276 Fields Drive, Fields, OR, 97710

Phone: (541)-495-2275

Visit Website »

87 octane only

Address: 39184 OR-205, Frenchglen, OR 97736

Phone: (541) 493-2564

87 octane only

Address: 33468 Sod House Lane Princeton, OR 97721

Phone: (541) 495-2006

Visit Website »

STEENS/ALVORD MOTORCYCLE DEALERSHIPS

Cascade Moto

Tigard, OR 97223

WEBSITE

Cascade Moto is Portland, Oregon's ADV headquarters. Both our Triumph and BMW showrooms stock new and used adventure bikes, parts and apparel, ADV accessories, and more. Both of our locations are near the start of the WABDR and ready to help you make your next ride the best yet. Come stop by our shop and tell us about your next adventure!

STEENS/ALVORD PACKING LIST

This packing list serves as an example and is not intended to be a complete list for your backcountry riding needs. Feel free to customize this list to work for you.

  • Helmet
  • Boots
  • Goggles
  • Gloves (2 sets)
  • Protective gear (pressure suit, Leatt brace, knee braces)
  • Jacket
  • Pants
  • Balaclava or neck gaitor
  • Water bladder or bottle
  • Hydration pack
  • Ear plugs

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Below are answers to some of the Frequently Asked Questions about the Steens Mountain & Alvord Desert Oregon BDR-X.

The Steens Mountain & Alvord Desert Oregon BDR-X is a 265 mile, two to three day backcountry adventure and dual sport motorcycle loop. The recommended starting and ending location is Fields, Oregon in a clockwise direction. The route follows remote and primitive roads along some of the most beautiful, unique, and isolated parts of SE Oregon! The route is extremely remote in places so plan for accordingly. The route takes you through small towns and unique attractions to see along the way.

This BDR-X can be ridden from start to finish generally from early July to the end of September. Snow in the Steens Mountains keeps this area closed to travel generally until early July.
The Steens Mountain Loop Road is usually open by mid-June but sometimes opens later during heavier snow pack years. The lower roads and campgrounds often are open by the start of June. To find out the status of campgrounds and roads, call the Burns District office at 541-573-4400 and check ODOT Trip Check.

 

In favorable conditions the route is considered intermediate on a fully loaded adventure bike. Terrain can become increasingly more difficult when roads become wet to the point of becoming impassable if very wet and muddy or more challenging when very dry for long periods of time due to soil becoming loose and sandy. Roads in some parts are very primitive and unmaintained with large rocks, ruts, potholes, small stream crossings, and other riding challenges. 

Extreme heat is possible in the southern and central high desert portion of the Oregon BDR so pack plenty of water! Heat can transform natural road material into more soft and deep sandy surfaces. Additionally, rain, snow, and cold temperatures are possible at both ends of the riding season. Heavy rains can turn dirt roads into deep, slick mud. It is best to prepare for any weather eventuality. Heavy snow pack on the Steens can delay opening of the roads.

Yes. However, when run in the counterclockwise direction, the climb up Stone House Rd is more challenging than going down. Please be prepared for two-way traffic everywhere on this route and always remember to Ride Right to avoid head-on collisions around blind corners.

Two to three days is the typical time it takes to complete the Steens & Alvord BDR-X. The time each person takes to ride it can vary based on many factors including your preparedness, riding skill/stamina, breakdowns, weather, side trips taken, and many other factors. There are two towns with services (gas, food, lodging) at the beginning and end of each section. It is suggested to ride a section per day but not a requirement. 

Street legal motorcycles with a license plate can ride the route.

A few of the public campgrounds are identified on the Steens Alvord BDR-X map and gps tracks as a small tent icon and are listed on the webpage. There are several campgrounds along the Steens Mountain Loop and dispersed camping is allowed in the Alvord Desert. There are paid camp spots at The Narrows RV Park and Alvord Hot Springs. Dispersed camping is NOT ALLOWED in the mountains due to sensitive areas and camping must be done in established campgrounds only.

There is no camping allowed in the Otley or Jenkins access areas.

In the national forest campgrounds campfires are allowed, but check with local Ranger Stations to determine if campfires are allowed before you build one. In most cases, campfires are only allowed in fire rings. If you are dispersed camping, we don’t suggest building fires. Instead, bring a camp stove for cooking and boiling water to avoid the risk of fires in Oregon’s arid landscapes. Be sure to fully extinguish fires so they are DEAD-OUT. Use water to ensure a fire is fully extinguished and the ground is left cool and wet.

The longest gap between fuel stops is 109 miles from Narrows to Fields in Section 2. If you skip the gas pump in Frenchglen, Section 1 will be 140 miles with lots of elevation gain.

The ORBDR-X is very remote. Because of this fact, lodging opportunities are slim but there are some along the way which may require booking well in advance. Lodging is available at Denio Junction, Fields Station, Frenchglen Hotel, Hotel Diamond, The Narrows, and Alvord Hot Springs. Carrying a minimum of “emergency” camping gear is important in Oregon as lodging can be unavailable and you can also get stuck at any time due to wet backroads from rain squalls.

This route cannot be ridden without the use of GPS tracks.  Be prepared and bring a navigation device with the latest ORBDR-X GPS tracks loaded. Free GPS tracks are available for download on this site. The route can also be navigated using a smartphone GPS navigation app like Gaia, Rever and others. The ORBDR-X expedition documentary film is a great source of information about the route and is available via on-demand video platforms like YouTube and Vimeo. 

Any GPS unit capable of handling 15 track logs with a minimum of 1500 points each is suitable for use on the ORBDR-X. Garmin models that work best for this application are: Zumo XT, Zumo 590/595/395/396, Montana, and 276Cx. Many other GPS units are compatible with the GPX file format, check the owner’s manual of your device for more information.  You can also import the tracks into a GPS navigation app, like Gaia GPS, but make sure you have the premium version of the app, so you can navigate via offline maps.

Cell phone service is very limited on this route so a satellite communication or tracking device is recommended for emergency situations. 

Any bike that has a license plate, can run knobby tires, has adequate suspension, can carry the gear you will need, and has enough fuel range. Most adventure or dual-sport motorcycles will be suitable for the trip.  Even very experienced riders on our team reported being challenged on larger bikes by some of the technical sections of the route during the filming expedition. Choose the bike that you are the most comfortable riding in challenging terrain and that you are not afraid to drop a few times.

DOT approved knobby tires are strongly recommended.  Riding this route without at least a 60/40 tire (60% dirt, 40% road) could be dangerous.

Segments of this route can be ridden two-up for those experienced in riding off-highway with a passenger and luggage. However, we strongly advise against riding the technical sections of this route two-up.

No. Please don’t go off the route anywhere where it’s gated or signed for seasonal or permanent closures, and don’t venture onto private property. Do not leave the main road in the Moon Hill Road section.

This route includes a few instances where the track follows an easement road through private land. In many, but not all cases, the land owners have installed “private land” signs and it is important that riders acknowledge these signs and stay on the designated track. If you are unsure of the land ownership adjacent to the roads, such as outside of national forest lands, it’s best to stay on the track to avoid trespassing. In all cases riders should not ride off the roads which creates new trails and damages vegetation. Please remember that riding off the designated roads can jeopardize our right to use these roads for recreation.

Yes. There may be gates and/or barricades along the route. When you encounter gates, leave them as you found them. If they were open, leave them open and if they were closed, close them again after you pass through. If you pass by ranches, be courteous and ride respectfully. In spring and early summer there may be temporary closures when crews are repairing washouts, downed trees, and other road hazards. If roads are closed due to wildfires, do not ride around the signs as that can put you or fire crews in danger and can get you a hefty fine. Check the BDR website for route updates before you go.

There are gates at either end of Steens Mt Loop Rd that open in July (usually July 1st). Riders can call the Burns BLM Office 541-573-4400 for information about the opening of the Steens Mt Loop gates.

Please abide by posted road closure signs. Ignoring these signs is a sure-fire way of getting a road closed for good. That said, sometimes locals will post unofficial “road closed” signs on public roads for their own personal reasons. Additionally, land managers may not have removed a “closed” sign from a seasonal road – even though the sign right next to it clearly displays the open/closed dates. In these cases, use your best judgment – if in doubt navigate around the closed road and report it to BDR. And please remember never to engage in arguments with local land owners.

Each state has its own recreational fishing requirements and restrictions. To learn about the required licenses and stamps for fishing (and hunting) in Oregon, visit: https://myodfw.com/fishing/licensing-info

We do our best to post the most up-to-date information about the route on ridebdr.com/ORBDR.  We depend on the BDR community to inform us about route and road conditions, so if you encounter any road closures or severe conditions that are worth reporting, please contact us with the information.

There is also a dedicated ORBDR Facebook group page.  We recommend that you join the group prior to your trip to read trip reports and comments from other riders about their experience on the route. Search for: Oregon Backcountry Discovery Route (ORBDR).

Oregon is a habitat for many animals like deer, antelope, and bear as well as smaller animals like coyote, porcupines, and snakes — all of which make their way to the road at some point. Be alert everywhere you go as animals can and will cross your path along the route – especially at dusk.

Antelope are known for wanting to race motorcycles, but don’t encourage them. Slow down as soon as you see animals as, for some reason, they like to cross in front of bikes instead of running away from them. Look out for wild horses when you are in open range land.  Appropriate food practices while camping is an absolute must for your safety and the animal’s safety. 

Yield to all animals whether wild, domestic, or livestock by slowing down or stopping. Many locals in rural areas keep their dogs off-leash on their property and dogs love to chase motorcycles – be cautious and considerate.

All of the roads used on the BDR-X are open to vehicles. If you do decide to drive this route you will want a 4×4 with high clearance as the route has deep puddles, large rocks, huge ruts and steep loose grades. Always stay to the right and go slow around blind corners to avoid head-on accidents with others using the roads. We recommend traveling the loop clockwise to minimize head-on traffic.

It is absolutely essential that you Ride Respectfully and follow the tips outlined in our Ride Respectfully campaign.  Remember, it’s up to all of you to preserve our access – we can easily lose access to many of these roads if we don’t practice proper etiquette. Always represent BDR and the ADV community in the best light.

Rating the Routes by Difficulty

We often get requests to provide the difficulty ratings of the BDR. We do not officially rate roads or routes because the difficulty can change from day to day depending on weather, changes in road conditions, and road damage caused by a variety of forces including wind, storms, flooding, snow, logging, forest fires and more.

The difficulty experienced by an individual also depends on their off-road skills, level of fitness, stamina, bike size and amount of weight carried on the bike. For these reasons we can’t provide a rating system like a ski resort or OHV park.

We can help you a bit by ranking the existing Backcountry Discovery Routes from most difficult to least difficult. Here is the list: CABDR-South, NEBDR, AZBDR, WYBDR, UTBDR, COBDR, NVBDR, WABDR, NMBDR, IDBDR, MABDR.

So CABDR-South is the most difficult especially if you ride the expert sections and MABDR is the easiest in general terms. Although MABDR is the easiest there are still a few challenging rocky sections and the several water crossings that can get very difficult if the water is high.

Be sure to also review the FAQ’s for each route and our General FAQs prior to embarking on your trip.

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