Oregon Badlands Wilderness

You know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men…..they often go awry. After putting together a multi-year hiking schedule, much of it will need to be rearranged after our first vacation. We had planned on spending the week in SE Oregon hiking some of the most remote trails in the State, but the weather had other thoughts. Many of the trailheads in that area become inaccessible if it rains which is what the forecast was threatening heading into our vacation week.

Our original plan was to visit family in Bend on Saturday then hike in the Oregon Badlands Wilderness on the way to Jordan Valley on Sunday. We were hopeful that the forecast would clear up and headed to Bend for the visit but by Saturday night the chance of precipitation had increased so we decided not to risk traveling all that way and not being able reach the trails. We instead turned to Plan B which was to spend the week on the Southern Oregon Coast in Gold Beach. Since we were already in Bend though we stuck with our planned hike in the Oregon Badlands Wilderness before heading home to repack for a trip to the coast.

It was a drizzly morning when we arrived at the Flatiron Rock Trailhead fifteen miles east of Bend along Highway 20.
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Our planned 13.5 mile hike was to start on the 1.9 mile Ancient Juniper Trail then take the Flatiron Rock Trail to Flatiron Rock. We’d then make a loop by taking the Castle Trail to Badlands Rock and the Badlands Rock Trail which we could follow to a junction with the Dry River and Homestead Trails. After taking a side trip on the Dry River Trail to visit the Dry River Channel we would use the Homestead Trail to get back to the Flatiron Rock Trail and return to the trailhead. Of course the best laid plans of mice and men……

There were a fair amount of wildflowers along the Ancient Juniper Trail as well as plenty of juniper trees. We’ve always enjoyed the uniqueness of junipers and that uniqueness was on display here.
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We also spotted a couple of rabbits and bluebirds along the way.
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The signage was good at the first junction pointing us in the direction of Flatiron Rock.
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After 1.5 miles on the Flatiron Rock Trail we came to the junction with the Castle Trail.
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Flatiron Rock was also at this junction. One of the highlights of the Oregon Badlands Wilderness are the explore-able volcanic rock formations that dot the landscape. We followed a path between the pressure ridges and explored.
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After wandering around Flatiron Rock we took the Castle Trail, which passed another explore-able rock formation, before arriving at Badlands Rock which towered above the surrounding area.
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We attempted to pass through Badlands Rock from the east side but a pile of large boulders made it impossible to get through without some extra effort.
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We went back around to the west end and after a fairly easy scramble managed to get inside the walls of Badlands Rock.
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At this point our plans began to go awry. Looking at the map we were using we were expecting a trail to bend slightly to the right after passing Badlands Rock but we didn’t see a trail sign and the openness of the area and profusion of old dirt roads and game trails have left paths all over. We had briefly taken a right hand turn at the rock formation along the Castle Trail and were now thinking that maybe that had been the correct path after all. We decided to head back to that spot and inspect it more thoroughly.

This time we explored the rock formation. It had some interesting features and a nice view of Badlands Rock.
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It also, apparently, had a Turkey Vulture living in it. As we were passing by, we heard a ruckus coming from the rocks and saw something moving in a crevice. A vulture popped out and stood on the rocks a short distance from us.
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We excused ourselves and headed back down to what we believed was the correct trail while the vulture circled overhead to make sure we left. Upon further review of the map and our GPS we decided that the trail we wanted was not here and was in fact back at Badlands Rock. We turned around and returned to Badlands Rock going a little further around it this time where we finally spotted a lone trail sign.
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We made our next mistake here following the pointer even though it didn’t seem to agree with what our map indicated. Instead of bending right it went left/straight but the only thing to the right appeared to be an old dirt track that made a sharp turn. We thought that the trail we decided on probably bent back around to the right just a bit further on, which it did convincing us that we were on the right track. We thought we were on a 2.7 mile stretch of the Badlands Rock Trail that led to the junction with the Dry River and Homestead Trails so we settled in and enjoyed the scenery.
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After awhile we started to feel like we should have reached that junction already. We were once again questioning our route when we did spot a sign post at a trail junction.
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The problem was we had no idea what the Tumulus Trail was. Our map did not show it (it didn’t extend out as far as we’d gone). We hummed and hawed for awhile looking at the map and GPS before finally deciding we had gone the wrong way at Badlands Rock. We didn’t know where the Tumulus Trail went and we weren’t sure about trying to navigate cross country, so we headed back the way we’d come, which turned out to be 3.3 miles in the wrong direction.

We picked up the correct path at Badlands Rock and headed south passing through a more open landscape to the correct trail junction. This area was full of birds.
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We turned up the Dry River Trail for .8 miles turning off at three boulders to find the Dry River Canyon.
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Once upon a time the canyon was home to a tributary of the Deschutes River. The rocks provided proof of the vanished river.
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We passed through the canyon for a ways then climbed out and cut cross country back to the Dry River Trail and returned to the junction with the Homestead Trail. It was another 2.2 miles on the Homestead Trail back to the Flatiron Rock Trail then an additional 1.2 miles to the car. When it was all said and done the GPS showed a total of 22.6 miles and it had taken us a little of 9 hours. We were leaving the trailhead about the time we had planned on being back home to repack for our trip to Gold Beach. Our plans had truly gone awry.

We ate dinner at Pilot Butte Drive In before leaving Bend then drove back to Salem to get ready for our next adventure in the morning. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157667960760550

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