Top Five Things to Do in Southeast Oregon

Trying to narrow down the best things to do in Southeast Oregon is no small feat. Southeast Oregon is HUGE. And along with being HUGE, there's a HUGE list of awesome things to do. The southeastern corner of Oregon borders Idaho, Nevada, and California. The largest county in this region based on total land area also happens to be the largest county in the state of Oregon, and the tenth largest county in the entire country.

With so much geography to cover, it's easy to understand why the list of things to do here is so extensive. While I've labeled this list as the "Top Five Things," keep in mind for each item I list, there's a dozen more that I could have easily picked from (and for each of those, probably a dozen more that I don't even know about).

1. Catch an intimate music show at the Historic Central Hotel in Burns, Oregon

More known for its stylishly chic hotel rooms, I recently discovered that the Historic Central Hotel (or the "CH" as the locals lovingly call it), also has an event space they call the "Grand Central." The space is often used for private parties, but if you're lucky enough to stumble upon a public event (as I was), you'll be in for a real treat. When I was in town last, the CH was hosting a small concert featuring the talented indie artist Emma Hill. Since I had arrived from a long day of hiking and road-tripping, it was the perfect way to relax and unwind after my day's adventure.

Historic Central Hotel in downtown Burns Oregon

2. Grab a breakfast burrito at Buzz'n

It's quite possible I'm writing this on an empty stomach, and the mere thought of this food truck's breakfast burritos has me salivating. Humbly located in a parking lot across the street from the Safeway grocery store, don't let the location and tiny food cart fool you - the chef behind Buzz'n packs a giant punch of flavor in all of her home-made and made-to-order recipes. The menu is small, but every single item is mouth-wateringly delicious and made with local organic ingredients. They've set up a quaint picnic area where patrons can enjoy their food right on site, or grab it to go before heading off for a day of southeastern Oregon adventuring. (Unfortunately both times that I visited Buzz’n, I scarfed down my burrito before I thought to snap a picture – it was that good).

3. Visit the Alvord Desert and Alvord Hot Springs

Ok, so I cheated here, this is technically 2 things. But you really can't check out one without the other. The desert itself was once a 100-mile long lake that dried up over 10,000 years ago. All that remains of it is Alvord Lake, which is now seasonal and at most only gets several feet deep. Around the edges of the desert are several geothermal springs, one of which feeds into the Alvord Hot Springs. Both the Springs and access to the desert are located on private property, but the owners are generous enough to make these areas open to the public for a small fee. This fee has slowly increased over the years, but at its current price of $8 per person to soak in the springs and $5 per vehicle to access the desert, it's still a steal for an experience unlike anything else in the Northwest.

Woman standing in middle of Alvord Desert in eastern Oregon
I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel like a rock star standing in the middle of the Alvord Desert.

4. Hike Steens Mountain

Steens has a wealth of options for visitors, from a road that will take you directly to the summit, to a plethora of hiking trails. Most of these are on the western face of the mountain but hidden on the eastern face of the mountain is my personal favorite called Pike Creek Trail. The access road leading up to the trailhead is owned by the same property owner as the Alvord Hot Springs, so if you park at the trailhead, be sure to pay for a parking permit at the hot springs office. This three-quarter mile road can get pretty gnarly due to mountain wash-out, so it's advisable to just hike the extra distance, and if you do so, you can simply park for free in a small pull-out at the base of the road. This five-ish mile hike has stunning views every step of the way and from every direction. Looking west on the trail provides canyon and mountain views. Turn around towards the east (which you'll have to do on the way back anyway), and you'll see the entire Alvord Desert spread out before you. It is truly a spectacular sight to see.

Dirt road to Steens Mountain with mountain and clouds in background
The Steens Mountain greeted us with a looming welcome as we drove toward its base on this scenic country road.

 5. Soak at the Crystal Crane Hot Springs

I was originally a bit hesitant when locals told me about Crystal Crane - how could it possibly measure up to its shining star sibling hot springs just an hour and a half away from it? I'll tell you how - by being completely different and offering an experience that's just as memorable. The Alvord Hot Springs are beautiful, rugged, and rustic which provide for its own unique experience, but Crystal Crane is the mini-resort of Oregon hot springs. There's cabins all around to rent out, a massive hot spring the size of a small lake, and private enclosed bathhouses. At the end of my first visit there, I quickly realized there's no such thing as too many hot springs.

People soaking in hot springs in Crystal Crane Oregon
Soaking in the Crystal Crane Hot Springs felt like a luxury after hiking Pike Creek trail.

I could go on and on, but for the sake of brevity, these are my top 5 things to do in Southeast Oregon. The best part about all five of these? They're all part of our Wild West tour that still has available dates through September. Unfortunately we can't always promise that a show will be happening at the "CH" while we're there, but we can promise that all of these destinations will leave you wanting to come back for more.