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Tyson Gillard | 03.11.2015

I grew up in Central Oregon, and I think I made my first trip out to Fort Rock when I was about 12 years old, but honestly it was so long ago I can barely recall it. Because the trip was such a distant memory, I wanted to reconnect with this incredible portion of Central Oregon known as the Oregon Outback. A few weeks ago I made the nearly two-hour drive with my daughter and parents from Bend around Newberry Volcano to this land of wonder. It's a massive swath of landscape in the high desert where few people live and few people visit ... and this is what makes the Oregon Outback so special.

There are plenty of stops in the Oregon Outback that deserve some attention if you are designing your own trip to the area. Like any good road trip, the journey should ideally be flexible enough to allow you to take in and enjoy the unexpected. To get you started, however, we've outlined six incredible adventures and destinations:

  1. Fort Rock State Natural Area. A 100,000-year-old volcanic tuff ring jetting out of an ancient lake bed, this formation is home to some of the oldest Native American artifacts in North America.
  2. Fort Rock Homestead Museum. This cluster of historic structures and artifacts provides unique insight into the harsh and fascinating life of the Outback farmer.
  3. Hager Mountain Lookout Tower. One of Oregon's most isolated buttes, a night's stay at this historic lookout tower will leave you with memories that will last a lifetime!
  4. Thompson Reservoir Campground. An ideal campground with sites shaded by ponderosa pines and incredible trout fishing opportunities in the nearby reservoir.
  5. Thompson Reservoir, Easy Bay Campground. Great boat ramp access onto this lonely reservoir and open vistas of Yamsay Mountain.
  6. Summer Lake Hot Springs. Here, the stresses of daily life will simply evaporate you as you soak on the edge of one of the state's largest alkaline lake beds.

Other incredible adventures/destinations in the area include Hole-in-the-Ground, Crack in the Ground, and the Silver Lake Cowboy Dinner Tree.

Silver Lake Cowboy Dinner Tree

One of the Oregon's true Wild West experiences, the Silver Lake Cowboy Dinner Tree serves up some of the best and biggest steaks (30 ounces!) in the state, has some of the friendliest hosts, and is a must-stop for any visitor in the Fort Rock/Silver Lake area. While dining next to a wood-fired stove in the festooned cabin you'll have two choices for dinner, a 26- to 30-ounce top sirloin steak or a whole roasted chicken. Seriously, come prepared with an appetite as their pre-set meals aren't for lightweights.

From June 1 through October 31 the Silver Lake Cowboy Dinner Tree is open Thursday through Sunday from 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.; from November through May it is open from Friday through Sunday from 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Reservations are required and only cash is accepted. Call 541.576.2426 for reservations and pricing. It is located 5.1 miles south of Silver Lake on E Bay Road/NF-28, roughly a 45-minute drive from Fort Rock.


I grew up in Silver Lake and still own property there. I now live in Portland, but every time we get a chance, we can't wait until I get back to Oregon High desert!
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