Pets allowed
Allowed
Guided tours
No
Backcountry camping
Yes
Lodging
No
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

If you follow U.S. Route 20 east out of Bend, the road quickly turns from windy to straight and the landscape from lush to arid as you leave behind the mountains of eastern Oregon and enter the high desert. From the highway, the land seems to blend into a single endless sea of cracked earth, where dry air permits little more than ragged juniper and sagebrush to grow. Ten miles outside of Bend, the highway passes the 29,301-acre Oregon Badlands Wilderness Area. Although from your car it likely won't stand apart from the thirsty landscape, the Badlands are home to an interesting geological phenomenon.

The geological history of the Northwest is one of steady volcanic activity, where clouds of ash and streams of lava molded the landscape into what you see today. As you hike through the Oregon Badlands, you will see light dusty soil that was formed from ash that rained down after the eruption of Mount Mazama (now known as Crater Lake) and dark basalt deposits that were left there by streams of lava.

However, the wilderness area gets its name from the Badlands Volcano. The Badlands Volcano is a shield volcano, and unlike the better-known towering cone volcanoes, shield volcanoes are characterized by a broad low-rising dome and form as liquid lava slowly spreads and hardens. It is believed that the Badlands Volcano formed after a hole developed on a hardened lava flow. From the hole, lava spewed in every direction, and as it did the low-lying volcano that makes up the ground of the wilderness area was formed.

If the region's geological history doesn't interest you, the Oregon Badlands also provide ample opportunities for exploration and solitude. Fifty miles of trails wind through sparse juniper forests and past mounds of jagged rocks that have have been pushed out of the earth by shifting tectonic plates. The flat nature of the landscape means a short climb gives you a sprawling view of the surrounding high desert and a stunning panoramic view of the snowy, far-off Cascades.

For those looking to really get away, venture off the trail into unmatched seclusion, as well as a complicated maze of juniper, sage, and lava fields that will require a GPS to navigate. If you decide to bring a tent, the backcountry provides endless opportunities to set up camp and spend your night stargazing as you listen to nearby coyotes yip and howl.

For additional information, visit the BLM's Oregon Badlands Wilderness Area's information page. 

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Spring
Summer
Fall

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Solitude. Great Stargazing.

Cons

Easy to get lost.

Features

Backcountry camping
Wildlife
Big vistas

Location

Field Guide

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