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Oregon Outback Road Trip to Lake County

Reach for the stars at night and hike, rock hound and soak during the day.

When the Oregon Outback in Southern Oregon was designated the world’s largest Dark Sky Sanctuary in 2024, the experts at DarkSky International recognized this amazing place to see galaxies reaching far beyond the imagination. But there’s even more to see in the exceptional backcountry in Lake County. You’ll find history, sunstones, hot springs and more. Here are some suggestions for a road trip to this beautiful, remote area. For more about the area’s dark skies, visit our guide to Southern Oregon stargazing.

Day One: Hot Springs, History and Hikes in Lakeview

Start your road trip in Lakeview — a rural town 96 miles east of Klamath Falls — with mountain views, friendly townspeople and all the best parts of living the slow life. 

Check into the Neon Cowboy Roadhouse & Hot Springs, where you will swim in the naturally hot, spring-fed pool with open views of the mountains — a perfect spot to watch the sunset. While there, enjoy the restaurant and game room. The roadhouse offers accessible as well as dog-friendly rooms. RV travelers may want to opt for the Junipers Reservoir RV Resort, which sits on the edge of a juniper forest with views of surrounding meadows just 10 miles from Lakeview. 

Start your day with freshly baked goods at The Bottom of the Barrel Bakery. Get your bearings in Lakeview and learn more about the natural and human history of the area. At the MC Chuck Wagon Western Heritage Exhibit, walk around the historic building’s covered porch, peering into window displays with recordings featuring famous rodeo announcer Bob Tallman. Less than a mile up the road, visit the Hi Desert Craft Rock Shop, where you can find rocks, gemstones and small gifts.

For lunch fuel up at Downtown Cafe & Bakery, which offers sandwiches, salads and pizza. You’ll need your energy for one of the area’s hiking or mountain biking trails. Noni’s Trail starts in town with an easy climb rewarding you with views of town from above. At Rogger Meadow Trail, hike through grassy meadows where you will see many birds in the wetlands. Mountain bikers will want to hit the Oregon Timber Trail, great for all levels. Its Fremont Tier starts in Lakeview with 207 miles of terrain to grind.

If you’re not stargazing that evening, stop by the historic Alger Community Theatre with its vintage neon sign. It hosts events throughout the year — don’t miss the annual Lakeview Cowboy Poetry Gathering in October. Dinner options downtown include pizza, Chinese and Mexican food.

Day Two: Hot Springs and Sunstones in Summer Lake

The next leg of your trip takes you to a hot-spring retreat at Summer Lake Hot Springs. Stay in one of the guest houses or cabins, or bring your tent or RV. Relax in a hot-spring-fed bathhouse that is great for kids, or gaze at the night sky as you soak in the natural outdoor pools.

When you are ready to venture out, head 71 miles southeast to the town of Plush. You may see some antelope running near Hart Mountain, and you can mine for sunstones for free in their natural setting at the Sunstone Collection Area. Bring your buckets and shovels, and collect these translucent-goldish stones that formed in lava millions of years ago. If you get hungry, you can grab a snack at the Hart Mountain Store

As you head back to Summer Lake, stop in the town of Paisley, where you can enjoy a meal and history at one of Oregon’s oldest pubs. The Pioneer Saloon and Restaurant started serving drinks in 1883 and still dishes up great sandwiches and pizza with a full bar.

Day Three: Volcanic Fissures, Caving and Log Cabins in Christmas Valley

On the third day, you’ll head north 60 miles to Crack-In-The-Ground in Christmas Valley, where you will hike an ancient volcanic fissure over 2 miles long and up to 70 feet deep. You may want to bring a coat, because the temperature can be up to 20 degrees cooler than the surface. Note that the road out is a very bumpy washboard grade.

Next head west and grab lunch at Fort Rock Restaurant & Pub for burgers, sandwiches and salads. Your destination is nearby Fort Rock State Natural Area, an old tuff ring set in what was a shallow sea in prehistoric times; there are multiple hikes. Make reservations ahead of time to visit Fort Rock Cave, the site of an archaeological discovery of sagebrush sandals 9,000 to 10,000 years old. It’s a National Historic Landmark, only open for guided tours. 

Finish your day’s adventures and rest your head at your final destination, the Cowboy Dinner Tree, just 30 miles south. Book ahead to stay in your choice of rustic cabins. You’ll also need reservations for the renowned ranch-style cooking; bring your appetite for a hefty steak or chicken dinner with all the fixins.