Oregon Badlands

Junipers in the Badlands

  • Easy (Ancient Juniper Trail)
  • 3.3-mile loop
  • 200 feet elevation gain
  • Open all year
  • Use: hikers, horses

  • Moderate (to Flatiron Rock)
  • 6.5 miles round trip
  • 160 feet elevation gain
  • Easy (to Dry River channel)
  • 3 miles round trip
  • 60 feet elevation gain

The badlands just east of Bend are a lonely desert labyrinth of jumbled rock and sandy openings. Among the surprises in this maze are passageways atop fortress-shaped Flatiron Rock and a cave in the dry channel of a prehistoric river.

The fresh-looking lava here erupted 10,000 years ago, puddled up in a prairie, and then buckled into thousands of ten-foot-tall pressure ridges—in much the same way that paint can wrinkle when it dries. The low spots filled with volcanic sand after Mt. Mazama’s cataclysmic eruption powdered the area 7700 years ago.

Bring lots of water, avoid midday heat, wear a big sun hat, and choose loose, long-sleeved clothing. If you stray from the old roads that serve as trails in this area, it’s easy to be disoriented, so pack a compass or GPS device. Because this is a designated Wilderness, group size is limited to 12.

Start by driving Highway …

The next recommended hike visits a channel of the vanished Dry River. During the Ice Age a tributary of the Deschutes River drained a vast lake on the present site of Millican. The stream cut through Dry River Canyon and snaked across this lava landscape. Dry River Canyon is now closed to visitors most of the year (February 1 to August 31) to protect nesting falcons. Out in the badlands, however, you can hike to a different part of the old river’s channel, where petroglyphs in caves remain from the people who fished here thousands of years ago.

Drive Highway …

This chapter is an excerpt from 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Central Oregon Cascades.

Dry River's channel