This article appeared in the May 17, 2016, issue of Discovery, a special annual publication about outdoor recreation published by the Register-Guard.
Bend is the jump-off point for Central Oregon mountain sports, but year-round recreation abounds in and around the city itself
Whether you’re from Central Oregon or not, when you’re posted in or around Bend there’s no limit to recreational opportunities — even if you’re not among the throngs headed to Mount Bachelor’s nearby slopes for winter or summer mountain sports.
Kevney Dugan, director of sales with Visit Bend, says the town is kid-friendly as well as dog-friendly, so the whole family can get outdoors and find something fun to do all year long.
“The Old Mill trail runs right through town,” Dugan says of the nearly 4-mile section of the larger 19-mile trail that extends through residential areas, shopping, dining and the old mills of the district’s namesake. For nearly a century, timber dominated the economy of this Central Oregon town, and the Old Mill District includes remnants of two that opened in 1916 and 1922. “You can sit on the river and enjoy a meal and a leisurely stroll through the Old Mill area in an area of town that gives you the quintessential feel for what Bend is all about. You have restaurants like Greg’s Grill, Anthony’s and Pastini Pastaria, which all have patios, which literally put you right on that trail, right on the river, with awesome views.”
Downtown views include iconic images of Mount Bachelor reflecting off Mirror Pond in picturesque Drake Park. It’s one of the most well-known Bend scenes and is right in the middle of it all, whether you’re downtown for First Friday Art Walk, movies, dining or whatever. “I love little, quaint downtowns,” Dugan says, “but the nice thing about Bend is that immediately adjacent to anything there’s always some sort of green space.”
Fun by land, water, air
While the Deschutes River used to be full of logs floating from the two nearby mills, now rafts and inner tubes are the most common sight. A popular route to float is from Farewell Bend Park to Drake Park. Sun Country Tours operates a float tube and stand-up paddleboard rental service at Riverbend Park from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The Bend transit service even offers a “Ride the River” fare that lets you float the river through downtown and shuttle back.
Bike rentals are easy while in downtown Bend. Hop on the Deschutes River Trail, which can be accessed at a variety of locations (ask at the bike shop), and ride to Benham Falls or to Sunriver.
While at Sunriver, 17 miles from Bend, kids can have a blast at the SHARC, a multi-acre pool and play facility that is open to the public via daily or hourly admission.
The Cascade Cycling Classic draws world-class cyclists as well as thousands of spectators to the downtown course in late July, the same time as the annual Balloons Over Bend Children’s Festival. While those events take place only once a year, attractions such as the High Desert Museum — which explores the natural and cultural environment of the area — and Newberry National Volcanic Monument, home to Oregon’s longest-known lava tube, are available to enjoy during all or most of the year.
Dugan says the High Desert Museum is a “must see” destination for people visiting from outside the area. “I think we’re extremely lucky given the quality of that museum for our small population base,” he says. “It’s an extremely well-run, amazing museum that focuses on the natural elements of the high desert environment, but they do all sorts of kid’s programs and have a lot of different activities.”
Dugan says out-of-towners typically think of Bend as a summer or winter destination, but many attractions are available year-round, such as Tumalo State Park. Northwest of Bend, the park is popular for picnics, swimming, fishing, hiking and camping.
“We do get a lot of attention as a summer destination, but if you visit in October or early November, the weather can be not quite as hot but you still get long sunny days, and popular places like Tumalo tend to be a little less crowded,” Dugan says.
Whenever you go, be cognizant of the weather and come prepared with water bottles or packs, sunscreen and protective clothing. Dugan says that because the area’s climate is dry, outdoor recreation can dehydrate people even when they might not feel thirsty. “You don’t sweat a lot because it’s extremely dry,” he says. “It’s a dry, arid climate all summer long. The flip side of that is at night the temperature can literally drop 40 degrees. It can go from 80 to 40 in a matter of a couple hours, so we urge visitors to be prepared for that.”
Bend: Where to start?
Visit Bend: The official visitor center at 750 N.W. Lava Road, Suite 160, is a one-stop shop for free maps, literature and expert advice about Bend-area attractions. Also including a gift shop with many Bend souvenirs, local products and gift certificates for sale, the center is close to everything downtown. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends. 877-245-8484
City of Bend: 541-388-5505
Downtown Bend: 541-788-3628
Central Oregon Visitors Association: 800-800-8334