Visitor’s Guide
to the Central Oregon Backcountry

With rolling plains of sagebrush, dramatic river canyons and dense forests of old-growth juniper, the Central Oregon Backcountry provides visitors with a wide-ranging introduction to Oregon’s high desert.
This wild country is within a short 1- to 2-hour drive from Bend, Redmond, Prineville, Sisters and other Central Oregon communities. Whether you are looking for an easy day-hike or a weekend adventure, you can use our visitor’s guide to the Central Oregon Backcountry to plan your trip.


Great Horned Owls and Western Screech Owls

Great Horned Owls and Western Screech Owls


South Fork Crooked River and Birds

South Fork Crooked River and Birds




The Oregon Swallowtail butterfly is the official state insect of Oregon and a true native of the Pacific Northwest. The Swallowtail can be seen in the lower sagebrush canyons of the Columbia River and its tributaries, including the Snake River drainage area.  Source: State Symbols USA

Latin name: Papilio oregonius

Safety Tips

Following these suggestions will help you travel safely through the high desert of eastern Oregon and enjoy fragile places responsibly.   

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Where to Stay

Camping and Lodging

Central Oregon is a popular tourist region with many amenities. Visit Bend maintains a comprehensive directory of all your options in Bend, from camping, to hotels and motels, and vacation rentals and AirBnBs.

Primitive camping is allowed on Bureau of Land Management land unless otherwise marked. If you’re looking to camp with a few more amenities, we’ve listed a few of our favorite campgrounds below.


Tumalo State Park Campground

4 miles from Bend

Nestled along the Deschutes River, Tumalo State Park features 23 full hook-up and 54 tent sites, 7 yurts and a hiker/biker area, as well as restrooms and showers. Tumalo State Park is the closest campground to Bend, and about a 30-minute drive from the Oregon Badlands, or 45 minutes to Whychus-Deschutes.

Season: Year-round

Chimney Rock Campground

17 miles south of Prineville via Highway 27

Located in the heart of the Wild and Scenic Lower Crooked River, Chimney Rock features 16 first-come, first-served campsites with picnic tables and firepits. Hiking and fishing opportunities abound on Bureau of Land Management land around the campground, and hikes in the Oregon Badlands and Whychus Deschutes are just a short drive away on lonely country roads.

Season: Year-round

Smith Rock State Park Campground

just off Highway 97 in Terrebonne

Overlooking scenic Smith Rock and the Crooked River canyon, this popular campground features a walk-in bivouac area for tents, as well as restrooms and showers. Smith Rock State Park is within a short drive of the Whychus-Deschutes proposed wilderness and just steps from great hiking and rock climbing in the park itself.  

Season: Year-round

Where to Eat

Worthy Brewing, 495 NE Bellevue Dr, Bend

This craft brewery on the east end of Bend is a great place for a brew and hearty meal after a hike in the Oregon Badlands. And, Worthy Brewing is the only brewery we know of with its very own observatory, or “hopservatory” as they call it, where you can enjoy a beer while gazing at the sun, moon and stars.

Rainshadow Organics Farm Market, 71290 Holmes Road, Sisters 

Featuring seasonal veggies, pastured meats, and organic flour and grains, pickles, local cheese, as well as artisan gifts, the market at Rainshadow Organics farm is a hidden gem that you won’t want to miss if you’re visiting the Whychus-Deschutes proposed wilderness. Make time to linger on the wraparound porch, with comfy seating and views of the farm and Smith Rock, or join them for farm to table lunches on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 12-2pm. Reservations are strongly recommended. Please email with reservations.

Redpoint Climbers Supply, 8222 US-97 #101, Terrebonne

With cozy seating, free wi-fi, and tasty espresso, beer, and kombucha on tap, Redpoint Climbers Supply is more than just a gear shop. Stop in for a coffee and a granola bar before a hike to Steelhead Falls or Scout Camp, or for a beer after a long day of adventures.

Terrebonne Depot, 400 NE Smith Rock Way, Terrebonne

Featuring fresh, locally grown foods served up in a restored 100-year-old train depot where you can still watch trains barrel by while you eat, a meal at the Terrebonne Depot is an experience not to be missed.

Recommended Hikes and Activities

To see how we define hike difficulty, please see our Hike Difficulty Ratings.

Greg Burke   Website

Alder Springs

Located on Lower Whychus Creek, Alder Springs is an oasis in the high desert. The trail starts at the top of the Whychus Creek Canyon, where you’ll enjoy wide open panoramic views of the Cascades, towering rock formations, and the rushing waters of Whychus Creek below and descends gradually through grasses and rabbitbrush to...

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Frank Israel

Scout Camp Trail

The Scout Camp loop trail on the Middle Deschutes River is one of the most spectacular hikes you’ll find in Central Oregon. About a third of a mile from the trailhead, the trail descends steeply into the Deschutes River Canyon. On the way down, enjoy the fascinating geology of the canyon walls and views...

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Mike Stahlberg

Flatiron Rock

The Flatiron Rock trail offers a wonderful introduction to the Badlands, winding through inflated lava and old-growth juniper woodlands for about 2.5 miles to one of the most prominent rock formations in the Badlands. From the trailhead, hikers have the option of taking the Ancient Juniper trail, a short and pleasant route that links...

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Stargaze at the Pine Mountain Observatory

This University of Oregon run astronomy research facility is open to the public on Friday and Saturday evenings from late May through the last Saturday in September, weather permitting. It’s situated at 6,300’ elevation, an hour outside of Bend.

Another option is to check out the Oregon Observatory at Sunriver.

Visitor Info

Learn about the Confederated Tribes of The Warm Springs

Visitors to The Museum at Warm Springs will experience firsthand the sounds of ancient songs and languages, the mastery of traditional craftsmen and the sights of rich and colorful cultures that make up the Confederated Tribes of The Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon. their histories and traditions are told in an exciting, permanent, interactive exhibit, bringing to life the fascinating story of the Tribes.

Visitor Info
river otter High desert museum

Get Close to Native Wildlife at the High Desert Museum

This unique museum covers both the natural and cultural history of the West’s High Desert region. Visitors enjoy close-up views of native wildlife such as river otters, bobcat, and birds of prey, as well as interesting exhibits about Native American history and culture, and western art. You can tour an authentic homestead and sawmill, and even chat with historic characters who share tales from Oregon’s settlement era. 

Visitor Info


Land Manager Contact Info 
Bureau of Land Management – Prineville District
Jeff Kitchens
District Manager
3050 N.E. 3rd Street
Prineville, OR 97754
Phone: (541) 416-6700