It’s the dead of winter, but today the sun is out and you’d like to go riding. Where can you go to find trails that aren’t icy or muddy? In Central Oregon, a very good answer is the Badlands Rock Trail in the Oregon Badlands Wilderness.
Located only 15 miles southeast of Bend, the Oregon Badlands Wilderness is 45 square miles of junipers, sagebrush, and bunchgrass accented by fascinating rock formations. The terrain is relatively flat, the tread is sandy, and the trails are open year round. All of the trails are well signed.
The Oregon Badlands is one of Oregon’s newest wilderness areas. Its trails are mostly old roads created by the ranchers who once grazed their cattle on these BLM lands. All of the trails are open to hikers, horseback riders, and off-leash dog walkers, but are off limits to mountain bikes and motorized vehicles.
The Badlands Rock Trail starts at the Badlands Rock Trailhead and runs 2.7 miles to its namesake formation. Badlands Rock is large basalt outcropping (technically a pressure ridge) that was created when molten lava flowed out of a lava tube and cooled, then was pushed up and fractured by more lava flowing out beneath it.
If you want to ride an 8-mile loop, when you reach Badlands Rock turn left and follow the Castle Trail. It will take you to Castle Rock, then on to Flatiron Rock. Like Badlands Rock, Castle and Flatiron are basalt pressure ridges, but both have deep fissures that resemble moats in the tops of the outcroppings. You can tie your horse and scramble up the rocks and down into the moats, which run all the way around the inside of the rock formations and offer nice views out over the treetops.
At Flatiron Rock, turn left on the Flatiron Trail and follow it to the junction with the Homestead Trail, then turn left again and follow the Homestead Trail to its intersection with the Badlands Rock Trail. Turn right here and you’ll soon be back at your trailer.
Ride Statistics: It’s 5.5 miles out and back to Badlands Rock. Or you can take the Badlands Rock/Flatiron Rock Loop for an 8-mile ride with only 100 feet of elevation change. The trails offer good riding in fall, winter, and spring, but can be hot and dusty in summer. There is no stock water on the trail.
Getting to Badlands Rock Trailhead: From Bend, drive east on Hwy. 20. Just before the 18-mile marker, turn left on a paved road marked by an Oregon Badlands sign. Follow the road 1 mile and turn left into the trailhead parking area.
Trailhead Facilities: The Badlands Rock Trailhead has room for 4-6 trailers, depending on where hiker cars are parked. No fee. No facilities.