12 Photos That Show Off The Jaw-Dropping Beauty Of Oregon’s High Desert

by | Mar 29, 2020 | Adventures, Camping, Central Oregon, Eastern Oregon, Featured, Hiking, Interesting, Photography, Photos, Southern Oregon, Travel

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Vast, sweeping landscapes that take your breath away. Trails into high mountain lakes with pristine and chemically pure water. Snowy mountains reflected in icy lakes, and pillars of rock shooting up out of the earth. This is Oregon's high desert, and it's a place worth exploring. Here are 12 photos that showcase how unique, desolate, beautiful, and breathtaking our high desert landscape is.

Photos Oregon's High Desert Region That Oregon Life

1. Klamath Lake (Also seen at the top of the article)

Mt. McLoughlin features prominently in the background of this fall photo of Klamath Lake, while pelicans swim the smooth waters. Photo by JATomlinson Photography.

Klamath Lake is a huge freshwater lake in Southern Oregon's high desert, measuring over 90 square miles. The lake sits in a basin and is surrounded by mountains on all sides. On one side of the lake the mountains and hills are brown and don't have many trees, and on the other side the mountains are tall, usually covered in snow, and surrounded by beautiful forests. This is the second largest lake in Oregon, and it's not far from Crater Lake.


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This lake is popular to sailboat on, but not for swimming as the shallow water gets warm in summer and causes algae blooms near the shore. There's an abundance of places to get up high to get sweeping views of the lake on every side or to capture wildlife and birds such as pelicans and bald eagles.

Klamath Lake in Southern Oregon. Hiking and mountain biking are popular in the mountains along the shores of this lake. Photo by JATomlinson Photography.

2. Lake Of The Woods Sunset


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This popular lake is a great place to catch the stunning view of Mt. Mcloughlin. It's halfway between Medford and Klamath Falls in Southern Oregon and is a popular destination for people from both cities. Mt. Mcloughlin is also a popular destination for hard core hikers and climbers, and there are dozens of small lakes throughout the region where you can catch the mountain reflected in the water.  Four Mile Lake is a nearby lake at the base of Mt. Mcloughlin with the best view.

3. Fort Rock


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Fort Rock is an otherworldly location that you need to visit to get the full effect. Nearby, the world's oldest sandals were found. This entire area used to be a lake, and Fort Rock was an island. Incredible.


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Check out this view from above. The landscape is so empty and vast that you feel small, especially when you get up to Fort Rock and it juts straight up out of the landscape. You can hike on Fort Rock, though you should wear good hiking shoes and take plenty of water and fuel for your car as there's not much around.


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Perhaps one of the best thing about Oregon's high desert are the desert sunsets such as this one taken at Fort Rock. The most spectacular sunsets come on the heels of summer evening thunderstorms, a frequent occurrence in some regions of our high desert.


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4. Paulina Lake Near Bend


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This pretty little lake is a reminder of the region's volcanic beginnings and features primitive hot springs along the shore. Paulina Lake And East Lake sit within the caldera of the Newberry volcano.

5. Crater Lake 'The Gem Of The Cascades'


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We hope you're not tired of us sharing photos of Crater Lake, because we're enamored with this high desert location. The sunsets here are incredible at any time of year, but especially during thunderstorms. When there's snow on the ground in winter the white really helps the colors of this ethereal place stand out.

6. Steens Mountains And The Alvord Desert

Photo by Unsettler via Flickr CC2.

The Steens are another place we just can't get enough of. Visiting this place leaves you with a sense of awe and wonderment. How can such a beautiful place sit in such isolation? Most Oregonians never venture this far east in our beautiful state. Check out these mustangs enjoying their remote surroundings:


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7. Oregon's Stunning Painted Hills

Located just 9 miles northwest of Mitchell, the Painted Hills display an eye catching array of colors, including tan, red, black, and Orange. Photo by Dru! via Flickr CC2.

This spectacular place shows off colors of tan, red, black and orange, and the best time to visit is after a good rain when the colors are their most vibrant.

One of the Seven Wonders of Oregon, the Painted Hills are a must see for every Oregonian. Photo by Viajay Gunda via Flickr CC2.

8. Pillars Of Rome Oregon

Pillars Of Rome Oregon Photos

Pillars Of Rome Oregon. Photo by Charles Knowles via Flickr CC2.

This is another high desert location in Oregon that looks like it comes straight out of an alien landscape from a science fiction movie.

Pillars Of Rome Oregon Things To Do

Pillars Of Rome. Photo by Scott Butner via Flickr CC2.

9. High Mountain Lake In The Sky Lakes Wilderness

Sky Lakes Wilderness Oregon Klamath

Sky Lakes Wilderness. Photo by Michael (a.k.a. moik) McCullough.

There are dozens of pristine lakes high in the mountains in the Sky Lakes Wilderness and Mountain Lakes Wilderness. All of these lakes are hike in (or horse ride in) only. The water in these little lakes is pure and calm, and you'll really get a sense of remoteness when you visit. The journey into many of these lakes is steep and long, but well worth it if you're up for the hike.

10. Three Sisters Wilderness


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There's a magic here that really can't be explained unless you visit yourself, so for now, photos will have to do.


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11. Hell's Canyon, America's Deepest River Canyon

Where to see Hell's Canyon Oregon

Hell's Canyon. Photo by the Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington via Flickr CC2.

This post really wouldn't be complete without the incredible Hell's Canyon.

Hell's Canyon Oregon That Oregon Life Things To Do Oregon

12. Strawberry Mountain Wilderness

Strawberry Lake. Photo by Ben Amstutz via flickr CC2.

The Strawberry Mountain Wilderness East of John Day Oregon is a magnificent place to hike in to.


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It's not uncommon to see mountain goats climbing the side of the mountain above Strawberry Lake.


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These are just a few of the wonderful locations in Oregon's stunning high desert. Have you been to any of these places? What's your favorite Oregon high desert location? Share your Oregon high desert photos with us.

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Written By Jessica Tomlinson

Jessica Tomlinson is a native Oregonian currently living in Southern Oregon. She has been blogging since 2006. She loves nature, photography, hiking, camping, and exploring Oregon's wilds.

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