Desert Trail: Drinkwater Pass to Austin Jct.
Desert Trail: Malheur Segment
The Malheur Segment of the Desert Trail starts at Drinkwater Pass on Highway 20 and ends at Austin Junction on Highway 26.
From Drinkwater Pass the route climbs up into typical sage, grass and juniper high desert. After a few miles it drops back down and eventually follows the Otis Valley/Prairie-Drewsey Road for a few miles. I actually enjoyed walking through this ranch country along the gravel road. The road will take you into the Ponderosas in the foothills of the Blue Mountains. This is a real treat for thru-hikers! Once into the trees you will be in a new world. The route follows forest roads and logging roads for miles. Once you hit the Crane Creek trail the rest of the route is a mixture of trails, cross-country, and FS roads.
I hit this area just as the last drifts were melting off the roads so there was virtually no traffic. During hunting season it would be a different story.
The most adventurous and difficult part of this segment is the hike along the Little Malheur River in the Monument Rock Wilderness. There was a lot of downfall and I was unable to find the trail at all at times. On the plus side, I had the whole trail to myself, except for all the wildlife! I saw many elk and deer, several times at close range. It was really fun. Just be patient and you will make steady progress. The trail becomes a trail again up ahead! At the other trailhead you’ll follow Forest roads all the way to Austin Junction. Along these roads I saw snowshoe hares, a coyote, and a bobcat on the road, and had an elk in my camp one evening.
Thru-hikers may want to swing into Drewsey near the start of this segment. When I was there in 2012 there was a nice little cafe, and a Post Office. Verify they are still there before making the walk. At the other end Austin Junction had an awesome cafe and some basic food supplies. There is also a Post Office in Bates somewhere nearby.
If you leave Drinkwater Pass hydrated and with water, and take advantage of water sources along the way, you shouldn’t have any problems finding water even if it’s not a beautiful mountain brook. I recommend treating or filtering all water.
You can read my journal entries of this segment here. (Due to a reroute, start at the second paragraph.)
As roughly plotted digitally it is 70.54 miles long. Allowing for real-world twists and turns it is closer to 84 miles. This is a route, not a trail and there are no markers.
This segment is plotted on Google Maps below. You will also find maps that you can view online or print.
If you hike this segment of the Desert Trail, please report your experience below, including water sources, routefinding etc.
I have information on each of the new Desert Trail segments from Highway 78 in Oregon to Canada as seen below. For a rough digital map of that stretch of trail, click here.
Warm Springs: Highway 78 to Drinkwater Pass
Malheur: Drinkwater Pass to Austin Junction
NF John Day Wilderness: Austin Junction to FR 52
Wallowa: FR 52 to I-84
Umatilla I-84 (Exit 243) to Timothy Springs
Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness: Timothy Springs to Dayton
Wheat Land: Dayton to Hooper
Columbia Plateau: Hooper to Spokane
Mt. Spokane: Spokane to Newport
Selkirk Mountains: Newport to Canada
View Desert Trail: Malheur Segment in a larger map where can download the .kml file if you want and convert it for use with most GPS units.