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.


Central Oregon’s “Backyard Wilderness”

Central Oregon’s “Backyard Wilderness”

Our quest to protect the Oregon Badlands

Located just 15 miles east of Bend, Oregon Badlands is a 30,000-acre wilderness area filled with fascinating lava flows and ancient juniper trees Arriving in the Badlands, so named for its rugged and harsh terrain, can feel like stepping

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Cregg Large, member since 2009

Cregg Large, member since 2009

“I came to Oregon 12 years ago from Texas. Texas, for all its size, has very little public land. Coming to Oregon has made me realize the special gift we as Americans have in our public lands. Volunteering with an organization like ONDA is my way of reciprocating for this gift. Through restoration efforts, I feel we are helping leave a better place than we found it. Through advocating for protection for public lands, we safeguard migration routes for animals and keep the land where it belongs: with the public.”


Young Desert Horned Lizard

Young Desert Horned Lizard

In the summer these lizards begin foraging for food as soon as their body temperature rises as the heat of the day increases. They feed on slow-moving, ground-dwelling insects. In the fall they hibernate by burying themselves in the sand.

Latin name: Phrysonoma platyrhinos

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