Camping At Alvord Desert & Alvord Hot Springs
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Camping at Alvord Desert: What to Know!

Camping at Alvord Desert (one of the largest playa lakes in the state) will take your breath away.

You’d think that a bunch of planning is involved, special gear is needed, or perhaps you’d need to get a permit to be able to camp at such an epic place…

Nope.

Camping at Alvord Desert couldn’t be any easier. And the best part? It’s pretty much free!

A white pick-up truck and black motorbike parked up besides a yellow tent in the Alvord Desert.
Camping is the best option!

Located in Southeastern Oregon, a 12-mile-long and 7-mile-wide dried-up lake bed was formed when water evaporated and left behind its salt minerals. What’s left is an alien landscape.

The dusty white crackled land that the majestic Steens Mountain backs is a playground for a few in-the-know people looking for a different type of adventure.

Consider yourself in the minority as this spot isn’t too popular and we’re here to share with you everything you need to know about camping at Alvord Desert.

Get ready to feel like you’ve been transported out of Oregon and onto another planet…


RELATED: 29 Awesome Things to Do on an Eastern Oregon Road Trip


When to Visit Alvord Desert

The seasons provide dramatically different experiences at Alvord Desert.

Nina in a yellow flowing skirt running through the Alvord Desert on a sunny day.
Frolicking in the desert in summer.
  • Spring: This is the wet season, and rainfall often collects across the playa. This makes traveling across the sand pretty difficult, so you may want to avoid spring camping at Alvord Desert.
  • Summer: We came around July, and it was hot but a bit cooler at night, so be sure to pack a few layers. Highs average around 85-90 degrees F, and lows can dip into the 50s at night.
  • Fall: This is the driest time of year, with pleasant daytime temperatures averaging between 60 and 80 degrees F. Nighttime temperatures can fall into the low 40s, so make sure you have a warm sleeping bag and plenty of cold-weather clothes. We’ve also camped here in the fall, and it was great!
  • Winter: If you’re thinking of arriving in the winter, you may want to think again. You’ll be freezing, and you’ll need to pack some serious gear to keep yourself warm at night.

How to Get to Alvord Desert & The Cost

First, how does one even get to Alvord Desert?

Although it’s a bit off the beaten path, it’s actually really easy to get to. Simply route yourself to Alvord Hot Springs and use their access road. This will be the wisest choice as other roads aren’t prominent or in good condition.

A beautiful hazy sunset over the mountains near the Alvord Desert.
A hazy sunset over the Alvord Desert.

It’s $10 to use this access road as it’s private. However, if you’re a guest of theirs, it’s included. (More info on this place below!)

Frog Springs is the other option and is free, but it’s a rougher road, so you’ll need an SUV at the least, ideally a 4×4.

If you’re entering through Alvord Desert Hot Springs, DO NOT turn left onto the desert from the access road. It’s where the hot spring water runs off to and it’ll sink a car. Drive straight for a while, then turn where you want.

Make sure your vehicle can handle the drive on the playa! We’ve driven on the Playa in an old VW, a motorcycle, and a huge truck. We’ve visited many times and always had a different vehicle with no issues.

Garrett making a rock pose while standing on a white car in the Alvord Desert.
Garrett living his best life on top of said old VW.

No need for a big 4WD vehicle or anything. However, large camper vans and other such vehicles may find it difficult to navigate the bumpy trail that actually leads to the desert.

TIP: Drop a pin at the desert entrance for yourself so you don’t have trouble finding it when it’s time to exit. You likely won’t have cell service, and the desert is disorientating.

Camping at Alvord Desert, Oregon

Camping on Alvord Desert is an experience, and the views are just jaw-dropping. Once you’re in the desert, you can pick a good looking spot at set up your camp.

Nina and Garrett sitting inside a tent with a jet boil in the Alvord Desert.
Tent set up, ready to play.

If it’s a windy night, I’d recommend camping closer to the Steens Mountain Range side as the mountains provide a bit of shelter from the ever-strong wind that rips through Alvord Desert, however…

The west side of the desert is mostly private land, so try camping on the north or south end (or the far east if it’s not too windy). Landowners can’t fence this area off, so it’s not obvious!

Other Things to Do in Alvord Desert

While you could just relax in your tent and take in the views (seriously, it’s that pretty here!), there are plenty of other things to do in the Alvord Desert and surrounding area.

Explore the Desert

Once you set up camp, you’re free to roam the desert by bike, foot, or car. You’ll see tire tracks from others who had a bit of fun swerving here and peeling out there…

Garrett and Nina laying in a starfish position on the ground of the Alvord Desert.
Our version of exploring the desert…

Have your fun, but also be respectful of anyone else out in the desert and of the potential farmers and neighbors on the outskirts of the desert.

Soak in the Hot Springs

Hot Springs? In a desert? I know, a bit bizarre and why would one want to dip into hot water when it’s hot outside, right?

Well, the desert does get chilly at night, and if you’re here later in the year, it’s downright cold. So, the Alvord Hot Springs will be a little oasis for anyone shivering and sporting a red nose.

Nina soaking in the Alvord Hot Springs beside a decking and a small building in a field.
Alvord Hot Springs – Unassuming but also, pretty amazing!

Alvord Hot Springs is very simple, and if we’re honest with each other (we’re friends, right?), the hot springs are a bit rough-looking.

That being said, the views from the springs are amazing, and soon you’ll forget that you’re kind of sitting in a human-made hole in the ground with some corrugated metal as a mini shelter and a wooden bench.

Currently, it’s just $10 to visit the hot springs, but it might be $20 on the weekends.

Catch the Sunrise and Sunset

The sun will set behind the Steens mountain and then rise opposite – I suggest you watch them both!

A bright orange sunset seen from the cracked ground of the Alvord Desert.
Sunset over the Alvord Desert.

The playa is dusty, and it’s seriously a photographer’s paradise with so many angles, frames, and different lighting. It’s truly magical.

Stay Up and Star Gaze

Some of the best views from Alvord Desert come late at night after the sun has set. The stars in this remote area are seriously breathtaking, and you can even see the milky way on a clear night!

If You Don’t Want To Camp at Alvord Desert…

If you get to Alvord Desert and decide, eh, camping ON the desert may not be my thing after all (what?! really!?), Alvord Hot Springs has rooms to rent right outside the desert (around $70+ a night).

Go frolic on the massive salt flat, snap some photos, get those feet extra dirty and dusty, and come back to a place with four walls to lay your head at night.

Tire tracks leading across the cracked ground towards a sunset in Alvord Desert.
Camping here VS indoors… Not a hard choice for us!

The fun thing about it is that they have bunker-style rooms. So again, nothing fancy, but it’s all part of the experience, right?

Seriously though, camping in Alvord Desert is where it’s at, and I think you’ll do just fine spending a night on the playa.

Whether you’re using the Alvord Hot Springs or staying at their property, you’ll probably end up here at least to use their access road to the desert, as mentioned.

Nina in a bathing suit sitting on the edge of Alvord Hot Springs besides a metal shack with a view of mountains.
Contemplating life at Alvord Hot Springs.

You can check out more about Alvord Hot Spring here.

There’s so much more to do in this area. Check out what to do in eastern Oregon for some inspiration.

SPOILER ALERT: There are more alien landscapes and hot springs!

What to Pack for Camping at Alvord Desert

Luckily, you don’t have to pack much to enjoy the Alvord Desert. What you want to eat, what time of year you’re going, etc, does all play into it, though.

Nina in a red dress and sunglasses standing beside a mini-camp set up in the middle of the Alvord Desert.
All the stuff we brought for camping on Alvord Desert.
  • Tent. Unless you’re bringing a vehicle you can sleep in, a tent is the next best thing. The winds are intense here sometimes, so buying the cheapest tent at Walmart could find you at 3 am with your tent shredded by the wind. You don’t need anything fancy, but get something durable.
  • Gas burner. You’ll need one of these to cook anything, especially to boil water for your coffee so you can get up for sunrise!
  • Utensils and cookware. Whatever you’re cooking, make sure you’ve got the right utensils, plates, pots or pans, etc.
  • Food. Bring something good to enjoy under the stars and first thing in the morning. There’s virtually nothing in the area, so you’ll need to bring in everything you need to have decent meals and snacks. You can make it easy and carry items that don’t require cooking so you can forgo the gas burner.
  • Water. A lot of it. You never know, and bringing more water never hurt anyone. You must bring water here as there isn’t a water source, and hello, you’re going to a desert!
  • Layers! Even if you visit in the summer, it can get chilly at night, so pack plenty of layers to keep you comfortable. Just remember this is a desert, so there will be dust – maybe don’t bring your favorite black sweater!

Tips on Camping at Alvord Desert, Oregon

  • The desert isn’t frequented, but this doesn’t give you a free ticket to get wild. Take precautions driving in the desert, and keep an eye out for wildlife roaming, and people too!
  • Again, this area has a lot of private property. Please keep this in mind when in the area and be respectful to your neighbors.
  • Did you know you can get 100 extra karma points for bringing out your trash out? Seriously, pack whatever you bring in back out and let’s leave Alvord Desert the way we found it. There is often an issue at the Frog Spring entrance with trash and human feces, please don’t be that person. There’s a bin and bathroom too!
A tent and a white car on the Alvord Desert after sunset.
All set up – now we just need some craft beer!
  • There’s limited/no phone signal out here so get whatever info you need prior to getting out here and enjoy your digital detox.
  • Look up if there are fires in the area. The time we came in July, there was one nearby which clouded the Steens in the morning.
  • Speaking of fires, usually, no campfires are allowed from July to September.
  • The towns of Burns and Fields both have gas stations. Fill up before you head out here.
  • Field’s Station Milkshakes are all the rage, and the hype is REAL. It will be the best milkshake you’ve ever put in your mouth. They are the thickest, creamiest, and tastiest milkshakes in the State. You deserve one after a night (or a few) in the desert.

We hope this helps you plan a really cool Alvord Desert camping experience!

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