Malheur National Forest Overview

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Malheur means "misfortune" in French and serves as a reminder of the many dangers faced by the early explorers of eastern Oregon's Blue Mountains. Rugged ridgelines and forbidding rock faces urged them to turn back, but beguiled by the beauty of the land, they pushed forward instead, discovering the wild Malheur River that rips through steep canyon walls.

Ancient volcanic activity—molded and augered by millions of years of erosive rain and wind—has created a modern-day recreational playground in the 1.5-million-acre Malheur. Hikers can visit ashflow tuffs like Arch Rock, a scenic arch with several small rockshelters eroded into the outcrop. Rock climbers descend on the region to ascend the intricate walls of lava rocks. The Strawberry Mountain range is laced with secluded alpine lakes that lure ice fishermen on Nordic skis in the winter. Hikers can explore vast wilderness areas and vast forests of ponderosa pine, lodgepole, Douglas fir, aspen, spruce, and larch.

As the forest approaches the desert of southeastern Oregon, the landscape's metamorphosis encompasses prairies of bunchgrass, sagebrush steppe, and scattered juniper. The high desert grasslands of sage and juniper surrender to pines and firs as the elevation escalates from around 4,000 feet to 9,038 feet at the top of Strawberry Mountain.

Hike the Blackeye Trail
Watch the swinging tree branches lest you get a black eye along this 2.4-mile trail in the Long Creek Ranger District; light use makes it a great wildlife-viewing trail. Rocky Mountain elk, black bear, coyote, cougar, and bobcat have all been spotted from this trail. It is moderately difficult and elevation ranges from 5,600 to 6,400 feet. This trail connects to the Tempest Mine Trail and also accesses the Vinegar Hill Scenic Area. To get there: from John Day, travel east on US Highway 26 for approximately 30 miles to US Highway 7, at Austin Junction. Drive north on US Highway 7 for one mile to County Road 20. Drive northwest on County Road 20 for approximately 2-1/2 miles to Forest Service Road 2010. Drive north on Forest Service Road 2010 for approximately 8 miles to Forest Service Road 2010219.

Explore Glacial Wilderness
Explore the signature U-shaped valleys carved by glacial ice in the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness. Over 100 miles of trails weave their way through the wilderness at elevations ranging from 4,000 to 9,038 feet at the summit of Strawberry Mountain. Stands of lodgepole shelter larger herds of mule deer that come out to graze on grassy knolls and meadows. Also consider exploring the Monument Rock Wilderness, where you'll find the 7,815-foot Table Rock and the headwaters of the Little Malheur River.

Horsecamp at Oregon Mine
The Oregon Mine Forest Camp in the Bear Valley Ranger District is situated near Murderer's Creek, providing water for thirsty horses. Facilities of this camp, which sits at an elevation of 4,300 feet, include a buck and pole corral. The forest rangers ask that you use certified weed-free hay and that you carry out any that you don't use. To get there: From John Day, travel west on US Highway 26 to Forest Service Road 21. Drive south on Forest Service Road 21 to Forest Service Road 2170. Travel west on Forest Service Road 2170 to Oregon Mine Forest Camp.

Drop Flies for Steelheads
The main stem, middle fork, and south fork of the John Day River boasts a splendid summer steelhead run. In the spring, expect a steady stream of Chinook salmon. If you're after smallmouth bass, the Silvies River, which flows into the Harney Basin, is the sole source in the forest for the frisky fish. The stem and the north branches of the Malheur River offer bull, rainbow, and brook trout.

Climb up to Monument Rock
It is believed that pioneer sheepherders erected the lichen-covered stone monument at the top of Monument Rock. Situated at the southern edge of the Blue Mountains, Monument Rock Wilderness is nearly 20,000 acres of remote forest with impressive stands of aspen, ponderosa, lodgepole, and juniper. There are 15 miles of maintained trails that penetrate this magnificent landscape, often skirted by elk sedge, pinegrass, wheatgrass, huckleberry, bluegrass, and an abundance of assorted wildflowers. Elevation ranges from about 5,200 feet to the 7,815-foot top of Table Rock.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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