Lake/Harney Scenic Byway - Oregon Scenic Drives

The road less traveled offers Oregon's best-kept secrets.

Tour the "Oregon Outback" on this 200-mile scenic byway from Burns to Lakeview. Traverse vast rangelands, national forests and mountain ranges. Explore wildlife refuges, fossil beds, rock and mineral fields, geologic formations and scenic wonders all along the way. The entire route is usually open from July 1 through October 31. However, portions of the road are unpaved, steep and narrow, and not recommended for motor homes, trailers and cars with low clearance.

Burns and Hines
Begin in the towns of Burns and Hines, where hospitality comes in oversized proportions. Drive east on Hwy. 78 to a number of historic sites, Crystal Crane Hot Springs and the thunder egg fields along Buchanan Road. After exploring the region, head south on Hwy. 205 to begin the scenic byway tour.

The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
South of Burns and Hines, Hwy. 205 leads to Wright's Point and Sunset Valley, passing several rock and agate-hunting fields. About 25 minutes from the towns, the highway cuts between massive Malheur and Harney lakes. Malheur lake is a major resting and feeding stop on the Pacific Flyway and is the focal point of the 183,000-acre Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Turn east at Narrows and follow the road along the lake's south shore to the refuge headquarters.

Diamond Valley
About 15 miles south of the lakes, turn east off Hwy. 205 onto a 20-mile side road through Diamond Valley. Just before the town of Diamond, another road leads to Diamond Craters and the historic Peter French Round Barn.

The Bureau or Land Management Steens Mountain National Back Country Byway
Back along Hwy. 205, continue south toward Frenchglen. From here, those with high-clearance vehicles can enjoy this breathtaking 66-mile route (generally not completely opened until mid- to late-July and closed by late-October).

The Byway crosses four miles of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge arriving at the base of Steens Mountain, a 30-mile-long fault block. Follow the Loop Road and view four huge U-shaped gorges, along with a dramatic east lace that rises abruptly one mile above the Alvord Desert. Golden eagles may be seen soaring above the rim and wild mustangs roam the land. As the Byway loops back toward Hwy. 205, it winds along the "hogback" between the Big Indian and Little Blitzen Gorges, eventually plunging down the lace of another fault scarp below the "rooster comb" area at the far west end.

The Bureau or Land Management Lakeview To Steens National Back Country Byway
Seven miles south of Frenchglen on Hwy. 205, the Lakeview to Steens Back Country Byway begins its westward trek on Harney County road 412. After crossing Catlow Valley, the route enters the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge. The refuge headquarters is located beside Rock Creek, about 15 miles from the east boundary.

Hart Mountain is home to antelope, deer and a productive herd of California bighorn sheep. The road next forges a steep route down the west escarpment of Hart Mountain, offering spectacular views of the Warner lakes and beyond to the Warner Mountains.

The Warner Wetlands Area of Critical Environmental Concern at the foot of Hart Mountain contains a series of wetlands, lakes and connecting channels which are unique in North America. In wet years, the area is home to hundreds of thousands of migrating waterfowl and other birds. The route is now paved as it passes through Plush, then into the Warner Mountains along Deep Creek on State Hwy. 140, passing the Warner Canyon Ski Area four miles east of Hwy. 395.

Lakeview and Lake County
Six miles south on Hwy. 395, Lakeview is the home of Hunter's Hot Springs geyser. It is also known as "The Hang Gliding Capital of the West." Abundant Lake County recreation opportunities include rock hounding for sunstones and thunder eggs, as well as fishing and camping at nearby Lake Abert, Summer Lake and Goose Lake.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 11 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »