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Flatiron Rock Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

View to the Sisters, Flatiron Rock, Badlands Wilderness (bobcat)
Sand lily (Leucocrinum montanum), Flatiron Rock Trail, Badlands Wilderness (bobcat)
In the labyrinth, The Castle, Badlands Wilderness (bobcat)
View to Badlands Rock from The Castle, Badlands Wilderness (bobcat)
Ropy lava, Homestead Trail, Badlands Wilderness (bobcat)
Route of the loop to Flatiron and Badlands Rocks (not a GPS Track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Flatiron Rock TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Badlands Rock
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 9.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 365 feet
  • High Point: 3,680 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Spring through Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No



The Oregon Badlands Wilderness was officially signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 30th, 2009. Most of the area is composed of a rugged lava landscape that resulted from a major “leak” in a lava tube known as the Badlands Volcano, a “rootless” shield volcano about 80,000 years old (The small crater is about a mile west of the Flatiron Rock Trailhead; the actual source of the lava flow is much farther to the south near the Newberry Volcano). The lava formations along this loop include cracks, pressure ridges (tumuli), and ropy blocks (pahoehoe). The sandy soils are the remains of ash deposits from the eruption of Mount Mazama 7,700 years ago. A key feature of this desert landscape are the many old-growth western juniper trees (Juniperus occidentalis), some over 1,000 years in age. This loop, mostly on sandy vehicle tracks, takes you to the three most prominent rock formations in the wilderness, each worth a scramble to the top for the all-encompassing views.

From the information kiosk, take the Flatiron Rock Trail on the right (An option is to go left on the Ancient Juniper Loop - see the Ancient Juniper Loop Hike - and rejoin the Flatiron Rock Trail later). You will be hiking parallel to Highway 20 for a short distance before veering left and continuing north in a landscape of western juniper with sagebrush, rabbitbrush, and bitterbrush along with clumps of fescue and wheatgrass. Behind you is the long low profile of Horse Ridge. About a mile from the trailhead, you'll reach the Flatiron Rock-Ancient Juniper Trail Junction, where you keep right.

In another 90 yards, pass the Flatiron Rock-Homestead Trail Junction. Continue straight here (If you do the loop, you will be returning to this junction), and hike gradually uphill, passing over a moss-covered lava pavement. Three aluminum diamonds on a tree will take you off-trail to an old well and the remains of a stockman’s shelter built into a juniper. The Flatiron Trail undulates and passes through a breach in a lava ridge to reach the Flatiron Rock-Castle Trail Junction. Flatiron Rock rears to your left, 45 feet above the surrounding landscape. You can follow a trail to enter the split in this tumulus, which runs for some distance. Scramble to the top of the lava ridge on either side to get views west and admire the snowy Cascades landscape from Mount Hood to Mount Bachelor, with Mount Jefferson and the Three Sisters forming the centerpiece. Looking immediately east, you can make out The Castle and Badlands Rock, your next destinations. Beyond them are West Butte and Bear Creek Butte, and to the south you’ll see the Horse Ridge volcano cluster.

From Flatiron Rock, take the Castle Trail eastward on a sandy jeep track. Pass the rather nondescript knoll of The Castle on the right, and reach a sign pointing the way to Badlands Rock. Go right at this sign, and follow a trail around to the Castle Gate. A footpath leads into the veritable maze of dry "moats", cracks, crannies, portholes, turrets, and overhangs that form the interior of The Castle. You’ll find packrat nests and middens under overhangs. Wax currant bushes find shelter in the passageways. Once again, there are the same expansive views if you reach a viewpoint. Once you’ve found your way out of The Castle, keep winding east on the trail until you reach Badlands Rock, a large, smooth-sided tumulus that looks like the shell of a giant clam.

A user trail leads up into the middle of Badlands Rock, where you’ll find a campfire circle. Find a perch on one of the lava ridges to take in the far-reaching views and have your lunch. Then descend to the Badlands Rock-Castle Trail Junction, and go right. Begin hiking south with the rounded prominence of West Butte to your left and Horse Ridge ahead. The track runs parallel to a fence line on your left. Eventually, pass through the fence at a pair of junipers and reach a more open area of sagebrush steppe with fewer, younger junipers. A fenced enclosure to your right protects a whitewashed cistern, which belonged to the early 20th century homestead that once stood near here. Come to the four-way Badlands Rock-Dry River-Homestead Trail Junction, and go right.

A shallow draw, the Badlands’ “dry river,” runs to the left, and a broad sagebrush plain opens up south of the trail. The sandy track swings right up past a low ridge and passes through a fence line. Enter an area of scattered junipers: the trees with red bark are usually more than 250 years old. The road braids in a couple of different places before you reach the Flatiron Rock-Homestead Trail Junction.

Go left and pass the Flatiron Rock-Ancient Juniper Trail Junction to continue south on the Flatiron Rock Trail facing Horse Ridge. In about a mile, the trail veers right to parallel Highway 20 and reach the Flatiron Rock Trailhead.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • No bicycles
  • Dogs on leash within 500’ of trailhead


Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • Day Hiking: Bend and Central Oregon by Brittany Manwill
  • Best Hikes Near Bend by Lizann Dunegan
  • Bend, Overall by Scott Cook
  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Central Oregon Cascades by William L. Sullivan
  • Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes by Andy Kerr
  • Central Oregon: Walks, Hikes & Strolls for Mature Folks by Marsha Johnson
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Trail Running: Bend and Central Oregon by Lucas Alberg
  • Best Dog Hikes: Oregon edited by Falcon Guides

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Page Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.