Strawberry Mountain Wilderness

the view from near
Rabbit Ears high on the ridge above Little Strawberry and High lakes in Grant County south of Prarie City
in the headwaters area of the John Day River, in the central part of Eastern OregonIt's one of Oregon's least-travelled Wilderness areas. It tops out at just slightly over 9,000 ft.. Shown in the picture are 9,038 ft. Strawberry Mountain (it's the peak on the left), and also the range's largest lake, 6,263 ft. high Strawberry Lake.

The peak was topped with a Forest Service Fire Lookout station up to 1966 or so (see picture of the lookout below: credit Gary Laurance). It was one of Oregon's 3 or 4 highest lookout towers.

The dry country of the John Day River and its deep valley are far below, at about 3000-3600 feet elevation-- that's where the towns are: Prarie City, Canyon City, John Day, Mt. Vernon and Dayville... We're in Grant County, the nearest big city is Bend, Oregon, population 80,000, over three hours drive away-- when the weather is good.



The Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Area was formally designated as an Oregon "Wild" area on 2/09/1942, making it among the older Oregon Wilderness areas. At a size of 33,033 acres, it is one of Oregon's smaller Wilderness areas.

Below, a family enjoys the fishing and evening light at Little Strawberry Lake,* 6,900 ft. high, in the drainage of Strawberry Creek....This lake, like many of the others within the Wilderness, lies in a glacial cirque; this is one of the attractions of the Strawberries-- the beautiful glacial U-shaped gorges.... the Strawberry Range is one of the few places in the Pacific Northwest where five of Merriam's seven classic life zones can be found, and the zones are compressed into just a few miles of one another. The forest cover in the Strawberry Range is extensive and unusually varied. Despite the basic dryness of the region, the forests include many pines such as ponderosa pine, western white pine, and lodgepole pine, while at higer elevations Douglas fir and white fir are found. At the highest elevations, you'll find wonderful groves of Alpine fir, Engelmann spruce and Whitebark pine. A truly unusual tree is also found-- the Mountain Mahogany, a scrubby but pictureque tree found in isolated groves on dry shoulders and benches at around 7,000 feet (this tree is found in profusion in the desert ranges of Nevada, hundreds of miles to the south). Notable wildlife to be seen include Rocky Mountain elk, the reestablished California Bighorn Sheep, coyotes, bobcats, pine martens, black bear, mink, beaver, golden eagle, and of course mule deer. Cougar sightings have occurred.

* The revised dates of use for the Strawberry Mtn. Lookout tower are compliments of a reader who personally knew some of the lookout personnel in the 1950s. New input is always solicited. Thank you. At page bottom you will find a section about the history of this area that was provided by a gentleman who grew up in Prarie City in the 1950s.

Gold! An interesting historical fact about the Strawberry Range is that its western end harbored some of Oregon's richest gold deposits; in fact, it is alleged that for a brief time in the 1800s Canyon City was one of the largest, most bustling cities in the State!

(for history buffs, here are the names of the major mines: Golden West Mine, Iron King Mine, Great Northwestern Mine, Haggard and New Mine, Ward Mine, Marks-Thompson Mine (right near a hot springs), and the Chambers Mine high on 7400 ft. Baldy Mountain-- all mistakenly marked as "abandoned" on a 1975 map except for the Marks-Thompson Mine. Update: late 2009. I have been contacted by the owner of some of these mines, who states that most are on private land, off-limits except by direct permission, and furthermore are potentially quite dangerous. He further adds that some are still sporadically being worked by their owners). Below is a picture I took up above Little Strawberry Lake during a late June trip. The elevation was about 7,600 feet.

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Here are some relevant historical factoids about this remote corner of Oregon, as provided by a reader.

"Strawberry Butte was originally named Logan* Butte because
from 1865 to 1869 a military camp, Camp Logan, was located on "Strawberry
Creek" a couple miles from the spot where the creek exits the mountains.
But pioneer homesteaders found wild strawberries on the mountain and they
called it Strawberry Butte (or mountain) - and that is the name that stuck.
(The butte is not really a mountain. It is actually an up-lift.)"

*Logan was an important figure in Oregon pioneer history, being, among other
things, a leading Indian agent.

"The an old Indian (Native American) trail came out of Logan Valley on the
south side of the range, past Slide Lake, down Slide Creek, and over to what
is now the Blue Mountain Hot Springs* (now closed to the public) at the head
of the valley. The Indians bathed and tanned hides in the hot spring.
(Actually, the Indians fished, hunted, gathered berries and roots all
through the area. They were what is now called the "Burns Piautes" but they
called themselves the 'wadatoka' if memory serves. Wada was their name for
the cattail roots they dug around Harney Lake. The Burns/Harney Lake area
is where the local Paiutes had their winter quarters. (Indian tribes often
called themselves after what their main food supply was [you are what you
eat], so there were the wada eaters, the salmon eaters, the deer eaters,
etc., etc.)"

*Fish were planted in those lakes (Strawberry, Little Strawberry and Slide)
in the 1920s. They were packed in in tanks on horses' backs."

* The owner/photographer of vacationed at the old Blue Mountain Hot Springs resort in the 1970s. He regrets that this locale is now closed to the public as it was big, quaint and reeking of the nostalgia of the old hot springs resorts of the turn of the Century (1900)....There are at least two other hot springs on the flanks of the Strawberries, neither of which seems to be commercially developed at this time..... A better-known old hot springs resort, also in Eastern Oregon, is trying to make a comeback into the modern times: here is my story about it: Medical Hot Springs

The Strawberry Range as seen from the northeast. We are coming down from Dixie Pass on a mid-summer evening. Strawberry Mountain is the snow-tipped peak on the right. This is a classic Eastern Oregon vista of brownish, grassy valley dotted with juniper trees, with pine-forested mountain ranges beyond.. Elk love this kind of country. I'm not an elk, but I do, too!

Page last revised 11/24/2021