Central Oregon Hiking: The Badlands

Oregon Badlands Wilderness
courtesy Joe Bales

My kids love the name of this volcanic wilderness. “The Badlands! Just like in my game…” The name alone creates a sense of adventure. The volcanic vistas hide the vicious warlord armies and the mysterious cracks in the ground are a result of the deep magical spells cast over the dry dusty sand.  If you watch and listen closely, you may catch the old Junipers walking and talking to each other as the ancient Ent guardians watching over the land.

I love the inspiring adventures this wilderness has to offer with its versatile network of trails. All the wide, dusty paths offer a peaceful opportunity to tailor my adventure to what I need at that particular moment. Sometimes it’s a quiet contemplative walk and other times it’s a vigorous run that burns off the weighty stresses of life. And then there’s times when the kids and I just have a fun hike through the dangerous and magical “Badlands”.

The first trailhead off of Highway 20 is Flatiron Rock. When I need to get away from the craziness and find a quiet trail to run, I know Flatiron Rock will not disappoint me. Running this trail gives me the space to find that peaceful balance in my heart between struggling and content. Most of the time, the balance eludes me until close to the end of the run. Usually the only people I pass are pet lovers walking their dogs. If you’re looking for a quiet run or a nice trail to walk your dog, remember to bring plenty of water. You will both need it.

Oregon Badlands Wilderness
courtesy Joe Bales

The next sign on the left off Highway 20 is the Oregon Badlands Wilderness sign.  Follow the paved road to the Badlands Rock Trailhead. In about a quarter mile up the trail, you will be faced with three options: the Homestead Trail, the Badlands Rock Trail, and the Dry River Trail. These trails are great training hikes. When you need time to get out and think or make some decisions, these trails are a perfect place to get away by yourself. Like with many Central Oregon hiking trails, you can vary the distance to your liking and have fun. I’ve passed moms with their toddlers walking along the trail chatting with their friends, backpackers hiking across the wilderness and horseback riders just out for an afternoon ride.  One of the aspects we enjoy the most about these training hikes is identifying the older Junipers and respectfully honoring their relentless service to this magical wilderness.

Badlands Wilderness
courtesy Joe Bales

Our favorite trail in the Badlands Wilderness is the Dry River Canyon trail. My kids think this winding little trail is the most beautiful and exciting of all because they are able to scramble up and down the side trails to explore the rock cliffs and caves while we hike along the canyon floor. This is a great hike for a picnic lunch on a lazy Sunday afternoon. If you time it right, you’ll be able to catch the sun setting behind the mountains at the end of a wonderful day. Take a look at your calendar before you leave home because this hike is prohibited from February 1 to August 31 due to seasonal wildlife closure. Any other time, it is a fun adventure for the whole family. Enjoy!

Joe Bales
Joe Bales creates adventure with his children. He opens doors to amazing wilderness experiences and splashes excitement and intrigue into the journey. He wars against the sedentary lifestyle with spectacular outings, capturing attention and standing in awe of natural beauty. He tweets about his adventures @alpinehikerdad and blogs at
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