Visiting the Alvord Desert in Oregon: The Ultimate Guide

If you’re looking for a stunning place to see while you’re in Oregon, then you should bring your eyes over to the Southeastern region, where a breathtaking sight awaits you. From camping opportunities to hot springs to beautiful sights all around, the Alvord Desert is a one-of-a-kind place that you have to truly see to believe.

This guide will provide you with everything you need to know about this beautiful region, including how to get there, the fun activities available, and your camping options.



Alvord desert Oregon

Located in Harney County and deep within the shadow of Steens Mountain is a dried up lake bed we call the Alvord Desert. It’s known as a playa, which is when rain fills up shallow depressions in the land, and when the water evaporates, an abundance of salt minerals are left behind.

Alvord Desert is one of the largest of its kind in Oregon, spanning 12 miles long and 7 miles wide. It’s a unique landscape, often compared to crumpled paper that had been smoothed out. With the 5,000-foot high, 70-mile mountain range in the backdrop, it makes for a beautiful sight. The Alvord Desert geo coordinates are 42.5354, -118.4560.


Best Time to Visit The Alvord Desert

The Alvord Desert had cool winters, hot summers, and a good 7 inches of rain per year. Spring is also when rain tends to come in the most, but if you’re planning on camping on the playa, you’ll want to avoid any rainfall. I highly recommend Fall as an option, as it’s the driest time of the year. With mild days and cool nights, you shouldn’t have too much trouble traversing the landscape.

Here is what you can expect from the different seasons.

  • Spring: Highs between 50 and 60 °F and lows between 30 and 45 °F. Is the season with the most rainfall.
  • Summer: Highs between 85 and 95 °F and lows between 60 and 70 °F.
  • Fall: Highs between 60 and 80 °F and lows between 40 and 50 °F. Is the driest season.
  • Winter: Highs between 40 and 50 °F and lows between 20 and 30 °F


Alvord Desert Weather

Alvord Desert, OR
12:56 pm, Apr 22, 2024
overcast clouds 60°F
Low: 43° High: 62°
overcast clouds
Humidity Humidity 27 %
Pressure Pressure 1013 hPa
Wind 5 mph SE
Wind Gust Wind Gust 5 mph
UV Index UV Index 6.42
Precipitation Precipitation 0 inch
Dew Point Dew Point 27°
Clouds Clouds 86%
Rain Chance Rain Chance 0%
Snow Snow 0 mm/h
Visibility Visibility 6 mi
Air Quality Air Quality Moderate
Sunrise Sunrise 5:00 am
Sunset Sunset 6:43 pm
Weather Condition Comport Precipitation
Day Condition TemperatureTemperature PrecipitationAmount Rain ChanceRain Chance Wind HumidityHumidity PressurePressure
Today 11:00 am
overcast clouds overcast clouds
43° | 62°°F 0 inch 0% 7 mph 29 % 1013 hPa
Tomorrow 11:00 am
light rain light rain
48° | 68°°F 0.01 inch 21% 14 mph 28 % 1011 hPa
Wednesday 11:00 am
light rain light rain
55° | 68°°F 0.03 inch 83% 10 mph 40 % 1010 hPa
Thursday 11:00 am
light rain light rain
44° | 60°°F 0.04 inch 100% 15 mph 35 % 1008 hPa
Friday 11:00 am
light rain light rain
42° | 54°°F 0.04 inch 100% 13 mph 51 % 1009 hPa
Saturday 11:00 am
light rain light rain
39° | 54°°F 0.02 inch 62% 11 mph 53 % 1014 hPa
Sunday 11:00 am
light rain light rain
47° | 60°°F 0.03 inch 66% 17 mph 61 % 1015 hPa
Monday 11:00 am
light rain light rain
43° | 58°°F 0.03 inch 69% 15 mph 43 % 1014 hPa
1 to 8 of 0 results
Weather Condition Comport Precipitation
Day Condition TemperatureTemperature PrecipitationAmount Rain ChanceRain Chance Wind HumidityHumidity PressurePressure
Today 12:00 pm
overcast clouds overcast clouds
59° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 5 mph 28 % 1013 hPa
Today 1:00 pm
overcast clouds overcast clouds
60° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 5 mph 27 % 1013 hPa
Today 2:00 pm
overcast clouds overcast clouds
60° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 5 mph 26 % 1013 hPa
Today 3:00 pm
overcast clouds overcast clouds
61° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 5 mph 26 % 1012 hPa
Today 4:00 pm
overcast clouds overcast clouds
62° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 4 mph 25 % 1011 hPa
Today 5:00 pm
overcast clouds overcast clouds
62° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 4 mph 25 % 1011 hPa
Today 6:00 pm
overcast clouds overcast clouds
61° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 4 mph 33 % 1010 hPa
Today 7:00 pm
overcast clouds overcast clouds
58° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 4 mph 36 % 1010 hPa
Today 8:00 pm
overcast clouds overcast clouds
58° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 5 mph 35 % 1011 hPa
Today 9:00 pm
overcast clouds overcast clouds
56° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 7 mph 39 % 1012 hPa
Today 10:00 pm
overcast clouds overcast clouds
54° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 5 mph 42 % 1012 hPa
Today 11:00 pm
broken clouds broken clouds
52° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 2 mph 44 % 1012 hPa
1 to 8 of 0 results


Essential Tips for Your Visit

Here is what you should know before you visit:

  • Fires are not allowed.
  • Bring plenty of water.
  • Fill up on gas before heading out.
  • Screenshot important directions for the Alvord Desert. There is no cell signal in that area.
  • Check the weather, especially if you’re camping.
  • Watch out for ranchers and their cattle in the area.
  • Don’t leave anything behind. Leave no trace.


Getting to the Alvord Desert

If you want to see the Alvord Desert, you’re going to want to have directions on just where to go. Additionally, you should have a planning checklist so you won’t be caught unprepared.



If you’re heading from the north, take the Steens Mountain Highway and turn onto Folly Farm Road, which will be at Mile Marker 65. Stay on Folly Farm Road for a good 40 miles and soon you’ll see Alvord Desert Hot Spring on your left. It will be marked well.

If you’re coming up from the south, take US-395 North near Lakeview, continue driving for a good 5 miles before turning right onto OR-140 E/Warner Hwy. Continue onto this for 109 miles. Turn Left onto NV-292 N. From here it’s 25 miles until you take a slight right onto East Steens Road or Fields-Denio Road. You will continue for another 22 miles before you see the playa.


Planning Checklist

When going out into the desert, even for just a day, you need to have enough supplies to get you through the duration you’ll be there.

Here us what you’ll need before even starting your journey through the playa:

  • A backpack
  • A full tank of gasoline
  • Extra gasoline (for if you’re camping)
  • Plenty of water
  • A travel guide
  • Good shoes
  • A rental car or hotel if necessary
  • Sunscreen
  • An understanding of the forecast that day
  • Proper swimming attire (in case you want to use the hot springs)

It should be noted that the front desk at the Alvord Hot Springs also serves as a general store, so if you forgot water, you can most definitely grab it there.


Things to Do at Alvord Desert

Alvord Desert is a great place for outdoor activities for those who are looking for a nice change of scenery.

Whether you’re there just to cruise around the playa or you want to camp for a few nights, it’s important that you remember to clean up after yourself.


Camping on the Playa

Camping is one of the most popular activities on the Alvord Desert. It’s an incredible experience to be on the lake bed, gazing out at the flat horizon around you. There are a few things to remember: no fires, pick up after yourself, and always check to see if it’s going to rain. The last thing you want is to take your car out for a spin in the desert only for it to become stuck.


Cruise Around the Playa

Land sailing on Alvord Lake playa

On the lake bed you can take a nice, peaceful drive on a perfectly flat crop of land, watching the mountain ranges pass by. If you don’t have time to stop and do any activities, I always suggest you at least do a few turns on the playa. Just remember that you shouldn’t go if it has rained recently. You could very well get stuck.


Relax in the Hot Springs

The Alvord Hot Springs are one of the desert’s biggest attractions, and for good reason. They’re extremely comfortable, especially on cool days or nights. It’s where you can watch the sunset in relaxation while not having to worry about being cold. If you go to their front desk, you’ll find that you can actually camp right next to the hot springs. If you decide to camp there, you’ll get 24/7 access for the remainder of your stay.


Go on a Nice Hike

Pike Creek Trail Alvord Desert
Pike Creek Trail on Steens Mountain over the Alvord Desert

Due to it being on flat land, there are no hikes on the desert itself. There is one nearby, though, called the Pine Creek Trail. You can find information about it at the Alvord Hot Springs, as well as a wilderness pass. It’s a 5.6 mile trail that leads to a summit overlooking the mountains and the Alvord Desert itself. If you see this panoramic view for yourself, you’ll know what I mean when I say it’s a sight like no other.


Go Star Gazing

Star gazing at Alvord Desert Oregon
Milky Way at Mickey Hot Springs, Alvord Desert

One of the worst things about living in the city is the light pollution; you can barely see anything in the sky. Thankfully, the playa has very little light pollution, allowing you to roll out a map, lay back, and enjoy the sights of the stars and even the Milky Way.


Alvord Hot Springs

Alvord Hot Springs in Southeastern Oregon
Alvord Hot Springs in Southeastern Oregon
Soaking pools at Alvord Hot Springs
Soaking pools at Alvord Hot Springs

The Alvord Hot Springs are made up of two concrete pools. Pipes funnel 170 °F water from underground and into the pools, where warm water will mix with the cooler and make it fantastic for relaxation while you watch the sunset. Both pools are about the same size, able to fit 4 to 6 people comfortably.

A warning before you go, though: always test the water before you jump in. These pools aren’t perfectly temperature regulated in the same way you would find a hot tub to be, so there’s a chance that the water will be burning hot. There are valves you can use to change the temperature, but it’s a very slow process, so you might have to dump cold water into the pool in order to balance things out.


Hot Springs Information

The Alvord Hot Springs have their own rules and regulations, as well as their own amenities. Here’s what you’ll need to know if you want a chance to enter the hot springs.



We’re currently a little unsure about the fees pertaining to the hot spring. If you comb through blogs, you may find people being charged around $5–$8 for usage. However, the prices seemed to have fluctuated, as a couple blogs and people I’ve spoken to say they were charged as much as $20 per person. So, if you’re determined to enter a hot spring, make sure to bring at least $20, and do so in cash. They can’t process credit cards yet.



The hot springs are available year round and are open 24/7 for overnight guests. If you’re simply there for day usage, know that it stops at sunset.



At the hot springs, you’ll find the front office, which has plenty of information about the area, activities you can partake in, and even a nearby hiking trail. The office also doubles as a general store. You can buy everything you need for camping or simply a day out on the lake bed. Snacks, water, beverages, propane, and even souvenirs, in case you’d like to take a token to help remember this landmark. And, of course, they also have bathrooms.


Hot Springs Lodging

The Alvord Hot Springs do indeed have lodging if you need it. They have bunkhouses, and each bunkhouse costs $80 dollars a night and allows for 4 people to rest. You should also note that the costs of staying are an additional $30 per adult after 2 people. Also, children under 12 can stay for free.

While bunkhouses are great for protecting you from the elements, bedding is not provided, so make sure you bring your own.

If you happen to have an RV, there are also RV sites available at the hot springs.



Camping Adventure Under Starry Sky, Alvord Desert OR
Camping Adventure Under Starry Sky, Alvord Desert OR
Morning camp on the Alvord Desert Playa, Oregon
Morning camp on the Alvord Desert Playa, Oregon

Camping has to be one of the site’s most popular activities. After all, everyone should camp out in the desert at least once in their lives. It’s all about deciding where to camp that raises an issue, but it always depends on your personal preference.

Here is what you need to know about camping within the Alvord Desert.


Best Time For Camping

When camping in a desert of all places, you need to be careful about the weather; this is especially true in the case of lake beds. Always check the weather for rain, because rain on a lake bed tends to make things pretty muddy, and it can even lead to your car getting stuck and your camping supplies being ruined. This is why I don’t suggest going during the rainier months, like in spring.

The summer can make it too hot to camp during the days, while the winter can leave the nights almost unbearable. You’re going to want to go during the fall, where it’s the driest. I always suggest going from July through November, where the temperatures are most optimal.

Not to mention, during the fall there are less crowds, so you won’t have to worry about too many camping spaces being taken up.


Camping Options

When at Alvord Desert, you only have a couple options when it comes to having a good camping place: paid camping at the Alvord Hot Springs or free camping on the playa. They both have their advantages. One has access to the hot springs, while the other is, well, free.

Here’s the details on both options.


Alvord Hot Springs Camping

Camping at the Alvord Hot Springs is only $40 for 2 people, which is quite a good deal, if you ask me.

Not only would this area give you a camping space to set up, but you can also enjoy 24/7 access to the hot springs, as opposed to the significantly shortened day-only access non-campers get.

While they do have an option for camping at the Hot Springs themselves, you can also head down to the playa and do your camping there; basically anywhere your heart desires, you can set up there. The front desk will give you the code to the gated area road leading to the playa once you’ve paid to camp.


Free Camping on the Playa

Camping on the playa by itself is pretty easy, so long as you know where to go and when not to speak to the front office about it. See, there are at least two access roads leading into the playa that are not gated, meaning you don’t have to pay at the front desk.

Both of these roads can be found less than a mile left of the hot springs front desk. They may be a little harder to spot at night, but once you do, you’ll be able to fit your car through easily.

From there, you’ll be able to get onto the lake bed with ease. With that, you can begin camping wherever you want, including smack dab in the middle of the desert. However, it’s strongly recommended you simply camp at the edge of the desert.


Should You Camp on the Edge or Middle of the Playa?

As previously stated, it’s highly recommended that you camp on the edge instead of in the middle of the playa, if you choose to camp there at all. There’s a couple reasons for this, with one being the fact that it gets very windy. If you aren’t prepared, your tent could get blown away, and if you’re deep into a place as flat and barren as the Alvord Desert, then you’re going to have a difficult time getting it back at all.

The edge of the desert will protect you from the harsh winds. It will also protect you from a danger of a different sort: cars.

As stated prior, one of the many activities you can go for in the Alvord Desert is driving, and some people like to ramp things up. It’s not uncommon to find reckless drivers or people racing their cars across the desert. Because of this, people who camp in the middle of the playa are in danger of being hit by one of these speeding vehicles. When you’re on the edge, that risk lowers significantly.


Rules for Camping on the Playa

If you’ve decided to camp on the playa, there are some things you need to keep in mind that are not important just for you, but also for keeping the lake bed as beautiful a landmark as it is.

These are non-negotiable, meaning these should be your top priority in what not to do in these cases.

No Campfires on the Playa. This means no fires period. If you want a nice campfire, the camping plots at the hot springs can provide one for you, but you are not allowed to light any campfires while out on the lake bed itself.

Be Mindful of Private Property. If you’re camping on the edge of the playa, there may be a chance you’re getting a little too close to a private property nearby. A good rule of thumb is to simply stay away from any access roads and you should be good to go.

LEAVE NO TRACE! This is 100% non-negotiable. It’s up to us to preserve the beauty of the land, and so it’s important that we leave no trace. It essentially means “clean up after yourself”, but on a more serious degree. No cigarette butts, tissues, wrappers, or even feces. You have to throw that out on your way out of the desert.


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