Flatiron Trail is a true grit trail. If you didn’t have it when you left on this hike, you certainly do have it when you return … between your teeth, in your ears, under your nails, all over your shoes …. and somehow, between your toes.
I sometimes forget how beautiful the juniper forest really is, surrounded by it as we are, everywhere we go. But a day out in the Badlands Wilderness Area will turn you on to the beauty of the desert and the time-worn gnarly grace of the most ancient junipers in Oregon.
The Flatiron Trailhead is extremely easy to find – simply drive out of Bend headed toward Burns and watch for the 16 mile post marker which stands directly across the road from a gigantic sign saying “Flatiron Trailhead”, pull in, and there you are.
This is apparently a very popular system of trails as the parking lot is a very active site on any given Sunday. Even so, this trail system is so vast and there are so many places to hike out here, you don’t run into that many people along the way. Although there are people along the way, and quite a few hiking dogs too. One nice thing about the actual trail is that it’s very wide, almost as though you’re walking down a well-worn dirt road, although motor traffic is prohibited out here.
First thing to consider when hiking Flatiron is which direction to embark from at the parking lot. If you stop to take in the map at the head of the trail, you might get confused as to exactly which direction is best to go. Here is my advice; go right. The trail marked ‘Ancient Juniper Trail’ really offers very little that is different from the rest of the Badlands for walking or viewing pleasure, and the trail elevation is slightly higher and therefore much dryer. Walking this trail is very much like walking along a dry sandy beach … and after a couple of miles you’ll wonder how you could possibly have planned on hiking six miles out in the desert – at this rate, you’ll be a worn-out and parched shell of yourself by the time you reach Flatiron, never mind making it back to the parking lot.
Take heart – and take my advice, go right out of the parking lot on the Flatiron Trail and skip the ‘Ancient Junipers’ (unless you go in mid-winter when the sandy soil stands a better chance of being packed). This trail is much firmer and just as beautiful as the other.
Be sure to pack lots of water for yourself and your pooch, because no matter how cool it is it’s still a desert, and being a desert it will suck the moisture right out of your pores. We packed in the usual amount of water for our two dogs, and found our reserves completely drained well ahead of our return to the car. So, pack twice as much as you normally would when considering hiking any of the trails in this system.
The Flatiron Trail is something like six miles (be sure to check out the BLM brochure before you go) in and out and the actual trail keeps going right on past Flatiron to where it meets private property. There are also several trails that extend off of the Flatiron Trail; one called Homestead Trail and the other – whose sign was missing the day we were there – trailheads exactly at the Flatiron rock formation and that one is called Castle Trail. So, there is a lot of hiking to be done out here in the desert and everyone you meet along the trail will be headed somewhere else. That’s the nice thing about the Badlands Wilderness Area … it’s vast and there’s plenty of room for everyone.
What you’ll see: quite a few hikers and hiker dogs; a variety of birds including hawks, crows and raven and some smaller twitter birds (mostly Chickadee); lizards, and snakes I imagine, although it was too cool for those guys on the day we hiked this trail; tons of deer, or at least sign of deer; wide open skies and loads of juniper … oh, and don’t forget about the sand.
So, is it worth the trip? Certainly. It’s beautiful out in the high desert, just prepare before you go and plan on taking some time afterwards to get the sand out from between your teeth. The views from Flatiron make it worthwhile as do the expanse of blue skies and gnarly juniper all along the way.