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Warner Peak Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

The ridge North of Warner Peak from the Barnhardi road (David K.)
Pronghorn Antelope (David K.)
  • Start point: Hot Springs CampgroundRoad.JPG
  • End point: Warner Peak
  • Trail log:
  • Distance: 11 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2300 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Three Seasons
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Hike Description

The Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge is primarily an animal refuge, but also offers some nice hiking for humans. It is far away from Portland in South central Oregon. You get to see high desert that is totally different than Portland.

The primary large mammals you'll probably see are deer and pronghorn sheep and you might see bighorn sheep. There are many birds and small mammals. On the way there, down below, you go through the Warner Wetlands which is full of birds. I was driving along, looked out my window, and there was a bald eagle flying along at about the same speed as my car.

I was there early June 2010 and there were only small areas of snow. This is when the snow level around Portland was 4000 feet. Thus, this is a good area to go in the spring when there's too much snow around Portland.

Being East of the Cascades, there is much less precipitation than the West side. Very similar to the Deschutes River. It's also way South so sometimes the storms will be flowing through Portland but this area will be nice.

On the negative side, it can be very windy and in the summer it gets very hot.

The refuge is open year-round, but in the winter there's a lot of snow up above and the road to the trailhead is intermittently closed by snow. There is hunting in the fall - you might want to avoid this.

There are few hiking trails in the refuge. There are a number of jeep trails that are closed to vehicles or closed to vehicles from December 1 to August 1 that provide hiking access.

The best hiking is on a plateau, that is between about 7000 and 8000 feet elevation, 13 miles long in the North-South direction, and about 1 or 2 miles wide. There are no trails, but there isn't a lot of vegetation. There are some cliffs you have to negotiate. There are areas with sagebrush that's about a foot high with gaps between the plants, so you can find a way through. There are a lot of boggy areas you have to watch for after the snow melts.

Below the plateau there is a lot of sagebrush that's difficult to find a way through. Best to wear long pants or gaitors. It's best to take one of the jeep roads up to the plateau, then go cross country.

The Warner Peak Hike takes you to the highest point, Warner Peak. There is a communication facility on the top. This is the most common hike in the area. The hike starts at the Hot Springs Campground, which is very primitive - outhouses, fire pits, designated sites, and that's about it. There are several streams going through the campground you could get drinking water from. Most of the people in Hot Springs Campground are there for the hot springs. There are two pools - one is surrounded by a rock wall for privacy and is about 101 degrees in warmer weather, but is cooler when it gets really cold in the winter. The other pool is warmer with no privacy screen. Expect to see some people without clothes. When I was there mid week in June, I walked over in the afternoon and there was no one else to bother me.

If you want a longer hike, continue past Warner Peak. You can go another 6 miles to the end of the plateau. The topo map shows a trail, which is probably a jeep trail, that goes to Goat Creek, Guano Creek, and down to the Barnhardi Road, about 6 miles from the trailhead, which would be another spot to camp. I think there's an automobile campground here, but it's a long ways away down a primitive road so you probably won't find too many other people here. You can also make a backpack out of the Warner Peak hike by camping on the ridge or in South Degarmo Canyon to the North of Warner Peak. Another common destination is lower down in the Degarmo Canyon.

Another extension would be to go North from Degarmo Notch. It's about 4 miles to the end of the high plateau around Willow creek. There is a jeep trail that goes down from here and wraps around and eventually connects with the Barnhardi Road near Hot Springs Campground. I followed this jeep trail up, about a mile from Barnhardi, but it was fairly overgrown and difficult to follow.

Detailed Description for Warner Peak

The most parking is at the Hot Springs Campground trailhead. Probably the best place to park is next to the main hot springs. You can also drive past the hot springs and through the upper campground to the seasonal gate across the Barnhardy Road. This saves you a mile of walking round-trip but there is very limited parking at the gate. From the Hot Springs Campground, go southwest on the Barnhardy road, an old jeep road. After about 0.5 miles, you should reach a locked gate across the road. There used to be a sign at this gates that says "closed December 1 to August 1" but it was missing as of May 2016. There are no other signs. If the gate is open, you can drive up the road but it's high center in places and some of the muddier sections might benefit from a 4x4 - not really someplace you'd want to take a passenger car.

Go around the gate, step over Rock Creek, and proceed up the obvious road. After following this road for 1.4 miles, you'll come to an obvious junction, at to 6600 feet elevation, with another jeep trail heading west up the slope. Here you have a choice - turm right up the hill on the jeep track or go straight ahead, continuing on Barnhardy Road. Either way will eventually get you to the summit.

JEEP TRACK ROUTE (this is Hike #90 in Sullivan's guide)

Head uphill and after a while you go through a gate that prevents vehicle travel year-round. Aout a mile from the turn you reach the high point of the jeep road, at 7,260 feet elevation. From here we go cross-country, following the canyon downhill in a southwest direction. There are no trails, but it's easy going - dirt with some sagebrush that's about a foot tall. This is the North fork of the Degarmo Canyon. After a while the canyon veers directly west. After 0.8 miles, at 6,800 feet elevation, a tributary canyon comes in from the southeast. We want to go up this canyon. This would be a decent area to camp. There is drinking water from the stream. If you go up this tributary a ways, you'll get some shelter from the wind. Lots of boggy land to avoid. As soon as possible, find a way to go up the ridge to the southeast. There are some cliffs to avoid. Find a place with a slope you can walk up. There are areas with taller sagebrush you should avoid. After about 0.5 miles, at 7,000 feet elevation, you get to the top of the ridge at DeGarmo Notch. You could probably do this last bit a little easier - get off the jeep road a little sooner, at 7100 feet elevation, and then traverse the slope to the saddle and then around - avoid the hike down to 6800 feet elevation. You'de avoid 100 feet of gain, then 400 feet loss, then 300 feet gain. You are now two miles from the summit. Another possible deviation here is to just continue down the North fork of the Degarmo Canyon. It's about 2 miles to the junction with the South fork at about 6,000 feet elevation. There are places all along to camp. Eventually you reach some Ponderosa Pine which offer some wind protection. The only negative is that you just get views of the canyon which is fairly steep. I would rather go up higher for better views. From the Notch, contour your way south and up to a broad saddle at 7,500 feet elevation and proceed along the ridge south to toward the the high point, Warner Peak, 8017 feet elevation. It's easy to distinguish - it's the one with the radio tower on top. You're best off staying high on the ridge, if you go down lower you'll run into boggy ground. If want to return on the same route, make sure and take a good look back and remember where you came from. It's not obvious when hiking back from Warner Peak and it would be easy to get off on the wrong route and end up doing a lot of scrambling through sagebrush or falling off cliffs. There's a peak slightly lower, to the Northwest of Warner Peak, that would make another good destination.

BARNHARDY CABIN ROUTE (also Hike #90 in Sullivan's guide)

From the junction with the jeep trail, continue straight south on the Barnhardy Road. You'll descend gently into Barnhardy Basin and after 0.9 mile reach the old line cabin that sits in a grove of aspen trees there. You'll also see the Oregon SNOLITE site - the large red pole in the meadow in front of the cabin. The cabin is worth a visit and offers great photo opportunities of old, weathered wood. From the cabin, head northwest up the gully behind the cabin. You can work your way through the aspen groves but the hiking is easier if you go up the slope a bit on either side of the gully. After a 0.9 mile hike and a 500 foot climb, you'll reach DeGarmo Notch. From there, proceed to the summit as described above. Again, if want to return on the same route, make sure and take a good look back and remember where you came from. It's not obvious when hiking back from Warner Peak and it would be easy to get off on the wrong route and end up doing a lot of scrambling through sagebrush or falling off cliffs.

DIRECT ROUTE (Scramble #67 in Bond's guide)

This is the most direct way for those who are primarily interested in bagging the summit. However, it's also an easy return route if you've climbed the peak by either of the other two routes. From the cabin, continue south on the Barnhardy Road for about another 2.5 miles until you come to a stout wooden gate made of logs. There is also a sign here that says "Skyline Trail, Guano Ck, Hot Springs." Turn right (west) here and go cross-country toward a prominent rocky, dirt-filled, brush-free chute now directly ahead of you. Climb directly up the chute until just below the top of the ridge and then turn left (south) and walk up to the summit. You'll gain 1,000 feet in elevation in about 0.75 miles. You can clearly see both the chute and the summit from the wooden gate.

BACKPACKING OPTIONS

If you're backpacking, there's a couple problems - water and shelter. It gets awfully windy up here. There is little water on the ridge.

One place to camp would be about one mile North of Warner Peak, along the stream, which is the South Fork Degarmo Canyon. The stream had lots of water in June but probably dries up in the summer. There are flat places and a few trees for shelter. The wind generally comes from the West, so this North running canyon would offer a little protection. It can be very boggy, so you might not be able to find a dry place.

Another place to camp would be on the ridge. There are places flat enough to camp. Get drinking water from South Degarmo Canyon below, or possibly from a stream or snowbank on the ridge. You might find a place with a little wind protection.

Another place to camp would be further below on either the South or North Fork Degarmo Canyon, maybe 2 miles. There are some Ponderosa Pine trees for protection. The views aren't as good, and it requires a lot of scrambling through progressively taller sagebrush and lots of boggy ground, so this might not be the best choice. In the backpacking log there are a number of entries for Degarmo Canyon, I assume this is where they were going. On the way up, I passed someone who recommended camping down there, which is where they had just come from.

Hike back the way you came. I tried a shortcut back, avoiding the wasted elevation gain getting up to Degarmo Notch, but walked through a lot of sagebrush down below that was worse. I think you're best off hiking over to the Degarmo Notch road and taking it down.

For current info call:

    Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge Lakeview OR (541)947-3315 
    

Fees, Regulations, etc.

Trip Reports

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 100 Hikes / Travel Guide: Eastern Oregon by William L. Sullivan (Second Edition, Hike #90)
  • 75 Scrambles in Oregon Oregon by Barbara I Bond (2005 Edition, Scramble #67)

More Links

Contributors

Map

There is a map available at the HQ, not very much detail
I did this by hand, more detail
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