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Petroglyph Lake Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Looking north from Knoll 5936 along Poker Jim Ridge, Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge (bobcat)
Narrow-leaved paintbrush (Castilleja linariifolia), Poker Jim Ridge (bobcat)
View south across the Warner Lakes to the Rabbit Hills from Poker Jim Ridge (bobcat)
Approaching Petroglyph Lake, Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge (bobcat)
The "lizard", Petroglyph Lake (bobcat)
The cross-country loop hike along Poker Jim Ridge and then to Petroglyph Lake (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Hilltop Reservoir Trailhead
  • Ending Point: Petroglyph Lake
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 4.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 285 feet
  • High Point: 5,936 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Spring through fall
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No


Hike Description

There is an easy way to access Petroglyph Lake in the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge: Simply park at the gate on the old jeep track that leads to the lake, and follow it 1.8 miles directly your destination. However, the cross country loop described here allows you first to take in spectacular views over the Warner Lakes and along the rim of Poker Jim Ridge. Then you can descend to the lake and admire the 65 or so panels of petroglyphs along its low rim. Rock art experts assign the petroglyphs here to three groupings: more recent and more hastily sketched spirit representations, perhaps done as part of a vision quest or just itinerant doodling; more ancient and deeply carved abstract representations; and “lizard style” representations. The figures were scratched with stone implements in the desert varnish, the natural patina that accumulates on rocks over time. No traditional explanation has been handed down as to the petroglyphs' true meaning.

Bear in mind that this route is entirely cross-country. Wear good boots and long pants, and keep your bearings. This is a wildlife refuge: Keep your dog on leash at all times.

Cross the road, and head in a north-northwesterly direction towards the rim of Poker Jim Ridge. You’ll be hiking through clumps of low sagebrush, horsebrush, buckwheat, fescue, and cheatgrass – the latter will leave irritating spikelets in your socks. Death-camas blooms here in the spring. The wind whips up over the rim at times keeping the plants very low-growing. Sage grouse squat low to the ground on your approach and then may whirr up startlingly. Cottontail rabbits scuttle off. Once you arrive at the edge of the plateau, you’ll get a magnificent view down to the Warner Lakes. These shallow lakes are the remnant of a single, deeper Pleistocene lake. The large lake below you is Campbell Lake. To its west are Upper Campbell Lake and Flagstaff Lake. North of Campbell Lake are Stone Corral and Turpin Lakes. Far to the south are the Rabbit Hills and the outline of Crane Mountain.

Keep hiking north along the rim. Your destination is a juniper-dotted knoll in the near distance. In late spring/early summer, there are a number of blooms among the clumps of sagebrush: Indian paintbrush, lupine, groundsel, and parasitic broomrape. When you reach the knoll, look north to the steeply sloping face of Poker Jim Ridge where it extends above the Warner Valley. Then circle around the ramparts at the summit to get a view east across a broad sloping plateau. You’ll see two lakes not far away: The nearest one is Petroglyph Lake, your next destination.

Descend the knoll where the slope becomes easier, and make your way cross-country towards Petroglyph Lake. Make for its northern end, keeping to the left of a low rock scarp. Soon you’ll see the lake again. Keep your eyes open for antelope here; they like to congregate by the lake, but they won’t stay long upon your approach. When you reach the northern end of the low rock rim above the lake, you can hook up with a user trail that takes you along the rocks. The petroglyphs are most numerous at this end of the rim. In the center of the rim, the rock is quite weathered and doesn’t have the smooth surfaces or “varnish” suitable for illustrations. There are a few more petroglyphs at the south end of the rim. Stay a while here and envision a former people camped by the lake and spending time chipping away at the rock – for entertainment or spiritual purpose?

Once at the south end of the rim, align yourself with the steep northern edge of Hart Mountain to the south. You’ll see the refuge headquarters buildings glinting in the sunlight far to your left. Make your way across the landscape trying to avoid the russet clumps of cheatgrass. Wild onions bloom among the sagebrush. There’s a low scarp to the left. As you continue, adjust your angle to hike towards the bare patches of scree on the east slope of Hart Mountain. Once you reach a crest, you’ll see your vehicle and can make straight towards it, passing to the west of a depression with a seasonal lake.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Dogs on leash
  • Do not touch the petroglyphs!
  • Wear long pants to protect your legs


Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Eastern Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill

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Page Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.