Seeking Spring in Central Oregon

James Parsons

Spring is fast approaching in the high desert.

As the daylight hours grow longer, signs of the shifting season can be seen popping up across the region. The desert will soon be met with a succession of wildflower blooms, starting with tiny yellow goldfields in March, white-petaled sand lilies in April and pale pink bitterroot in May. Along with this quintessential springtime phenomenon, ancient junipers green up in response to increased sunlight and snowmelt-fed rivers rush through secluded desert canyons, making the Central Oregon Backcountry one of the most spectacular areas in the high desert to experience the start of spring.

Here are three trails to visit to welcome the return of warmer days.


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


Sarah Graham, Sage Sustainers Member

Sarah Graham, Sage Sustainers Member

“I contribute to ONDA monthly because it adds up to a larger annual gift than what I’d be able to comfortably afford if I were to do a simple one-time donation annually. I’m able to give more to ONDA this way and have greater impact which is important to me, and my dog Polly.”

Alder Springs Trail, Lower Whychus Creek

Please note that the road to Alder Springs is seasonally closed. There is a gate located on Forest Service Road 6360 that is locked from December 1 through March 31 every year to help protect winter range for the local deer populations. Hiking and biking are welcome beyond the gate during the closure, but please respect this motorized closure.

The rugged canyons and rushing whitewater of the proposed Whychus-Deschutes wilderness offer spectacular vistas and wildlife-viewing opportunities year-round, but spring is a particularly lively time to visit this area. Snowmelt from nearby volcanoes rushes to the confluence of Whychus Creek and the Middle Deschutes River, a uniquely seasonal sound to accompany you as you hike, fish and bird-watch in this remarkably wild area.

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 […]

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Scout Camp Trail, Middle Deschutes River

Along with the snow-swelled rapids of the Middle Deschutes River, a springtime hike along the Scout Camp loop trail will offer opportunities to see perennial wildflowers start to bloom and western juniper “green up” as chlorophyll is sent back to leaves after retreating during winter. Birds and other wildlife have relied on Western juniper berries throughout the winter and this tree continues to be a key food source in early spring. As always, the striking canyon geology and spectacular views of the confluence of Whychus Creek and the Deschutes River are not to be missed.

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 […]

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Flatiron Rock Trail, Oregon Badlands Wilderness

In the coming months, a hike on the Flatiron Rock trail in the Oregon Badlands Wilderness will offer stunning views of wildflowers covering the ground among lava formations, ancient juniper and beautiful views of the Cascades. Sagebrush buttercup leads the way as one of the earliest wildflowers to bloom in the area. Hedgehog cactus, Oregon sunshine and bitterroot will come into bloom by mid-April, lending a new color palette to 10,000 acres of desert wildlands forever protected as wilderness. And with wildflowers come pollinators. Native bees and bumblebees begin hatching and working these blooms as the days get warmer. You may even see pictographs as you venture through the area, as it is the ancestral land of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and Northern Paiute. These fragile and important cultural artifacts are to be admired, but not touched.

Feeling up for a challenge? Hike, run or horseback ride all 50+ miles of trails in the Oregon Badlands Wilderness at your own pace as part of our Badlands Challenge.

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 […]

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These suggested hikes and the surrounding Central Oregon Backcountry are located on lands traditionally and presently inhabited by members of the Wasco, Warm Springs, Paiute, Bannock and Shoshone tribes.


Restaurants, Lodging and More

To add to your day outside, check out the VisitBend website for a comprehensive directory of all the hotels, camping, and other lodging options in Bend, along with all your options for dining and other activities while in the area. Just be sure to keep your mask on and keep your visit COVID-safe.

Visit Bend