Bend is a jewel of a town tucked in the high desert of Central Oregon, and is so unbelievably beautiful you won’t want to leave! The best way I can describe Bend is a mixture of the adventure vibes of Moab, Utah, the chill mountain vibes of Boulder, Colorado, and the volcano vibes of Hilo, Hawaii, though Bend truly has a unique feel and character all its own. On any given clear day, you’ll be able to see at least one snow-capped peak or cinder cone butte.
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Central Oregon is the land of adventure; hiking, kayaking, surfing, biking, climbing and boating abound – pick your adrenaline! 9 out of 10 vehicles in this town have some sort of rack for a fun sport to be carried atop. We saw a couple in their 70’s pull up next to us on road bikes and put them on their car, and we commented how awesome it was that the adventure was so prevalent in Bend, and they replied, “it’s a Central Oregon thing!” Bend is surrounded by large ponderosa trees and has the largest juniper forest in the West! (gin, anyone?) Well, actually, the beverage of choice here is most definitely beer and coffee. Bend has the highest number of breweries per capita of any town in Oregon, and this is the town from which the famous Deschutes Black Butte Porter hails. The Black Butte is named after a stratovolcano, forming part of the Cascade Volcanic Arc.
Bend sits at an elevation of 3,623′, making it a high desert climate. It’s quite the trip to take a drive and witness snowing and freezing near Mt. Bachelor, to dry desert, then down to forest and pine trees amongst lava fields, all within one hour! Now that we know Bend is under a six-hour drive from Seattle where we live, we will definitely be back soon! We visited in June and enjoyed an adventurous non-stop trip of hiking, eating and sightseeing! Below I’ll detail 21 awesome things to do in Bend, Oregon for your next adventure!
*Side Note: If you’ll be driving from Seattle, the quickest route is to take I5 through Portland (of course, make a stop for food!) We stayed overnight in Salem just a bit further South to get us closer to Bend the next morning so that we could maximize our day. You’ll also pass through the adorable small town of Sisters where you should stop at the Farmstand for fresh berries and stone fruit during season! Another must stop here is Sister’s Bakery, which had a long queue – usually a good sign in a small town! The drive into Bend is a gorgeous one, surrounded by lakes and dense evergreen trees.
21 Fun Things To Do in Bend, Oregon
Rock Climb or Hike at Smith Rock State Park
Explore Deschutes National Forest (there is a plethora of things to do in 2,500 square miles of nature’s playground)
Visit Newberry National Volcanic Monument
– Obsidian Flow
– Lava Lands Visitor Center
– Lava River Cave
Drive the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway
– Devil’s Lake – super green!
Take a Relaxing Walk or Have a Picnic at Drake Park & Mirror Pond
Surf / Tube the River at McKay Park
Take a Stroll Along the River in the Old Mill District
Hike or Horseback at Oregon Badlands Wilderness – nearly 50 miles of trails
Go Cave Exploring at Boyd Cave (bring a flashlight!)
Take a Brewery Tasting Tour at Deschutes Brewery (FREE!) Book your tour here.
Visit the High Desert Museum (a unique nature preserve sitting on 135 forested acres – great for kids or for one of those rare rainy Bend days)
View the Mysterious Metolius Balancing Rocks at Cove Palisades State Park (or rent a boat or stand up paddle board on the river!)
Hike Tumalo Falls
Marvel at all the Snow-Capped Peaks at Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint & Crooked Bridge
Drive to Pilot Butte State Scenic Viewpoint
Hike Paulina Peak
View Outdoor Public Art at Tin Pan Alley Art Collection or the Roundabout Art Route
Take a Day Trip to Crater Lake National Park (2-hour drive from Bend)
Hike Silver Falls State Park – Trail of Ten Falls – a beautiful hike with ten waterfalls, including several you can actually walk behind! (2.5-hour drive from Bend; this is in Silverton, closer to Salem)
Go For a Soak at the McMenamins Old St. Francis School. They have an indoor soaking pool reminiscent of an old bathhouse. The saltwater pool is open to adults from 11:00 AM – 8:00 PM daily, and supervised minors from 11:00 AM – 6:00 PM. The fee to soak is $5.00 per person; you’ll need to bring your photo ID and your own towel. Once you’ve finished relaxing, try your luck at finding the secret Broom Closet Bar for a glass of wine!
Visit a “Secret” Speakeasy (more info below in the food section)
Smith Rock State Park
This was the highlight of our trip to Bend! It reminded me of a smaller Zion National Park. If you’re a climber, this will be your paradise dream come true. We visited during falcon nesting season, so giant falcons were circling around us throughout the entire hike! Get there early (prior to 9AM), as parking is limited. Entry is $5 for day use, and there’s a credit/debit card machine where you can purchase your day pass upon entry to the park. Display this in your vehicle’s dashboard.
Misery Ridge Trail is the most popular within the park, just 5.5 miles. This trail was closed for maintenance when we visited, so we opted for the Mesa Verde Trail to Monkey Face. This rock really looks like a monkey! And you’d better believe…it’s climbable! See the climber in red in the bottom right photo?
After you’ve had a day of adventure, be it hiking, birding or climbing at Smith Rock, check out Redpoint Climber’s Supply. Owned and run by a really cool young climber, this shop sells climbing gear, snacks, coffee, chai, kombucha and beer on tap, and it’s a great place to fill up on some fermented fizzy on a hot day, or a hot coffee on a cold day. Bring your reusable bottles; they’ll fill them up!
Newberry National Volcanic Monument & Lava Lands Visitor Center
The last major eruption occurred 1,300 years ago. This entire area is covered with volcanic glass and reminded me of our hike to lava on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Don’t miss the Lava River Cave. This lava tube formed over 80,000 years ago and is the longest continuous lava tube in Oregon. Don’t forget your flashlight or headlamp and a jacket – it gets cold back there!
Drive the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway
With larger-than-life views of Mt. Bachelor to your left, lava rock piles to your right, and lakes all around you, this extremely diverse climate goes from snow to sunny dry forest within 15 minutes. Don’t miss Devil’s Lake, a naturally green lake!
Elevation is quite a bit higher here, so temperatures can vary drastically from the town of Bend.
Have a Picnic and Take a Stroll in Drake Park & Mirror Pond
Beautiful at any time of the year, this park reminded us of a Victorian Park you would see in London. One of our favorite eateries, Spork is just across the street, so we got takeaway and ate in the park.
Surf / Tube the River at McKay Park
Surf the river in any season, so long as you have a wetsuit! Bring your board, write your name on a whiteboard and wait your turn to try your hand at surfing on a river. Tubing during summer season is also a popular activity. While strolling the Old Mill District, start at the shops, go through the rainbow tunnel and out the other side to view the surfers in action!
Palisades State Park
This is a beautiful drive with interesting rock columnar formations and a green water lake. There is an area with mysterious balancing rocks, similar to what you would see at Bryce Canyon National Park but on a smaller scale. When we put the coordinates into our GPS, it took us to private property, so we unfortunately weren’t able to find it. But if you want to give it a go, the GPS coordinates are: 44.5384360, -121.3549070. When we visited it was so clear that all the mountain peaks were out!
Hike Tumalo Falls
6.5 miles RT heavily trafficked out and back
583′ elevation gain
TIP: about a half a mile into the hike, you’ll see a service road to your left, which runs parallel to the trail through the forest rather than on a large gravel road. It’s a much more pleasant trail with fewer people, and will lead you back to meet the main gravel trail before the falls.
Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint & Crooked Bridge
At this scenic viewpoint on a clear day, you can see all three peaks (from left to right):
– Broken Top
– Black Butte cinder cone (not pictured but to the far right)
Where to Eat in Bend, Oregon
We didn’t have nearly enough time to explore the culinary side of Bend because our days consisted of non-stop outdoor hiking, sightseeing, and quite a bit of driving! Here are some of the top rated eateries and breweries that come highly recommended by other bloggers and by Bendites! (that’s what locals are called who live in Bend.)
McMenamins Old St. Francis School Broom Closet – hidden speakeasy on the third floor of the art house
Spork – Mexican / Asian / Soul Food
Bend Ale Trail – it involves a beer passport and stamps. Beer lovers, need I say more? Here’s where you can download your Bend Ale Trail passport.
Root Down (vegan)
Their red lentil fritters packed such a flavor punch, I couldn’t put my fork down! All home made sauces. Also, they sell locally made kefirs and kombuchas made in Bend!
This is a really fun place to chill with friends. There’s a huge lawn and food trucks. There are some benches, but you can BYOC – bring your own chair! The firepit is a saving grace, even in “June-uary” as we call June here in the Pacific Northwest. Middle of June and in the low 40’s. That’s high desert for you. Don’t forget your puffy jacket. 😉
We loved the vibe of this place! Just before we entered, a really nice local Bendite gave us a $20 gift certificate to the cafe! Wow. Especially during crazy political times like we’re currently living in where our world seems to be spinning out of control, acts of kindness like this restore my faith in the goodness of people. We will be sure to pay it forward.
*TIP: order the mocha – they use vegan chocolate, and paired with their smooth roast, it was one of the best mochas I’ve had (and I live in Seattle and have traveled all throughout Colombia, so hopefully that’s a good standard!)
*One more TIP: if you love chai lattes, they use Metolius Chai, a local brand that is spicy and sweet
Lone Pine Coffee Roasters (try an Ocean Roll!)
So there’s Bend in a nutshell. A big, adventure-driven-land-of-juniper-and-pine-beer-and-coffee-loving-awesome-people-wish-I-could-live-here-all-summer nutshell. We will be back. Very soon. Probably next week if we can swing it. 😉
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