The Best Trail to See Oregon’s High Desert Wildflowers

Spring has sprung and the time to go flower peeping is now.

Oregon’s high country is emerging from heavy winter snow, and with so much moisture in the soil, it’s bound to be a banner year for wildflowers. One surefire place to find those pops of color in the state’s high desert is at the Spring Basin Wilderness.

The first time I explored Spring Basin was nearly five years ago to the day. I’d heard so much about Oregon’s newest desert wilderness and wanted to see what the hype was about. I got up early and drove from Bend, some two hours to the northeast. As I set out, the sky was ominously dark, threatening to rain. But by the time I reached the town of Antelope, former home to the infamous Rajneeshpuram community, the sky had cleared and the weather was looking ideal for a day of hiking.

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I glimpsed Spring Basin as I crested the Clarno grade. From here, the John Day River and a wavy sea of mountains came into view, leaving me spellbound by the sheer vastness of the terrain I’d soon set out to explore. I parked at the trailhead and found the Spring Basin Canyon Trail immediately in front of me. Within 25 minutes, I had gained the canyon rim and as I looked over the other side, spotted an immense field of balsamroot in bloom, blanketing the hillside in bright yellow. Since this initial hike, I have made a point of visiting Spring Basin every spring and have always found the wildflowers to be abundant.

Spring Basin has a lot to offer: 10,000 acres of grassy rolling hills, rock outcroppings, and dramatic cliff bands to explore. With views of the nearby John Day River and 50 million years of geology on display, there is reason to visit this desert gem any time of year. Though nothing beats the basin in the springtime when the desert explodes with blooming balsamroot, phlox, purple sage, hedgehog cacti, and more. Whether you’re up for a day hike or wish to backpack into the more remote recesses of this intricate wilderness, Spring Basin is a must-see.

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By Ben Gordon, Stewardship Director, ONDA

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