Oregon Badlands Wilderness Area

badlands and buckwheatThis is the first in a series of posts from our recent trip to central and southeastern Oregon. I’d been wanting to hike the Oregon Badlands Wilderness Area for some time, but it seemed like we were always in the Bend area during the hottest of summer months, and hiking the desert in 98-degree weather was not at the top of my wish list.

This time was different. On our way east to Steens Mountain in early June, the weather was perfect – a cool 50-degrees, light breeze, partly cloudy – so, we stopped to hike six miles on the Badlands Rock Trail.

gate to badlands trail
Gate at entrance to Badlands Rock Trail

As our feet crunched along the sandy trail of volcanic ash and eroded lava, we admired the sagebrush and juniper landscape dotted with bright, hardy, spring desert wildflowers. Meadowlarks called incessantly, but hid successfully in plain sight. Insects buzzed among the foliage. Distant mountains cast a purple hue on the horizon.

badlands and hills

The Oregon Badlands formed from a lava flow that originated up the Newberry volcano about 80,000 years ago. A lava tube developed a hole in its roof, allowing lava to flow upward and outward in all directions, forming what is now known as the Badlands shield volcano. The soils are mainly ash that came from the eruption of Mt. Mazama which made Crater Lake 7,700 years ago.

keith on badlands trail

The plants and animals that inhabit the Badlands must adapt to desert conditions with less than 12 inches of rain a year. We saw many species of wildflowers:

The star of the Badlands Rock Trail is, of course, Badlands Rock at the 3-mile mark.

badlands rock
Badlands Rock

We noticed that many of the larger junipers were growing out of rock formations. It appears they find suitable niches of soil and water in the cracks and crevices of the volcanic basalt.

juniper rock

It was a fabulous hike on easy terrain, but arid and open. The wide sky and distant hills drew our gazes upward, while the unique volcanic rock formations, desert flowers and small critters gave us plenty to see on the ground. Other trails lead to unique features including “Castle Rock”, “Flatiron Rock”, ancient juniper trees, craters, and caves. We returned on the same trail this time so we could head further east and south for more desert adventures, but we will return someday.


The Oregon Badlands was designated a federal wilderness area by Congress and President Barack Obama in 2009. The 29,180-acre wilderness has about 50 miles of trails for hiking and horseback riding. Many are unmarked so use of a map and compass are essential.


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