Tell a Bend local that you went snow hiking in the Badlands and chances are they’ll give you a raised eyebrow and an Ohhh?! look. That’s because this vast high-desert landscape is as epic and mythical as it sounds. Oregon Badlands Wilderness is not your normal winter destination. Off the beaten path about a twenty-minute drive east from downtown Bend, a winter hike here definitely has the element of true adventure. In fact, winter may be the best time to visit this exposed desert terrain.
Do a 5.5-mile out-and-back hike from Flatiron Trailhead all the way to its namesake rock. The hike is best done in early morning, wearing good snow boots or very good hiking shoes. Take the Flatiron Rock Trail, and follow the boot prints (see note in italics). Passing old and gnarly juniper trees, you’re likely to be hiking in solitude, winding along vast landscape with wide views of Central Oregon.
At the intersection of Flatiron Trail and Castle Trail you’re at Flatiron Rock. Look for a well-trodden spur trail to the left, leading up to this lunar-like formation. Walk along it and enjoy peek-a-boo and full views of the sun-kissed Cascades, including uber-famous, almost ethereal Mount Hood. Take a seat on an outcropping and take in the volcanic vista. Return the way you came. Badlands to the bone!
BONUS FOOD & BEER: After the hike and en route back to town, stop for lunch and (you guessed it!) craft beer at the new and spacious Worthy Brewing (495 NE Bellevue Dr, Bend). Walk its tiled mosaic Beermuda Triangle and sit down to some fish tacos and the Vanilla Cream Lights Out Stout! (Ask about their Hopservatory tours.)
Badlands Wilderness is located east of downtown Bend. The parking lot is rutted, so a four-wheel drive is a must in winter. Here’s a map to the trailhead. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen, and wear good hiking boots or snow boots. Some people snowshoe the trail. Important: Do not do this hike if the weather is unsettled or winter-stormy. White-outs here would be dangerous. You want to have good, clear conditions for safety and visibility. Dog-friendly!