Bend sits quietly in Central Oregon, unbeknownst to many on the East Coast, but let me tell you…Wow. This up and coming city is paradise for those who love the mountains, the water, hiking, exploring, and the feel of a large city that seems more like a small hometown.
We spent two weeks in this city and it captured the heart of everyone in my family, so curating a list of our favorite things to do in Bend Oregon was a no-brainer. This is a town that should be on your short list of places to visit – soon!
Tube the Deschutes River
You can’t visit Bend (at least not in the warm weather) without tubing down the Deschutes River, right past the Old Mill District and over the “rapids”. Yes, you can rent tubes with a shuttle service…but we did our own thing! Purchase a tube from the local hardware store, hit the parking lot next to Riverbend Dog Park and drop in for a float.
It took us about an hour to float to the “rapids,” which our kiddos adored. If you stick to the left, they are mild and perfect for kids (and adults!). After the kids rode them, they were able to get out and climb back up to the top to ride them again (and again and again.)
If you prefer, you can keep riding the river all the way down to Drake Park (especially great on Thursdays when there is the Munch and Music Festival!) but we packed up right there near the rapids. Dan hiked about a half-mile to get the truck and pick us up. If your kids aren’t hangry then maybe they’ll even walk to the truck with you. Ha!
Shop and Dine in the Old Mill District
The Old Mill District is a fun place to do some shopping (we love the REI here!) Pick up some souvenirs or catch a concert at the Les Schwab Amphitheater.
Neapolitan Flatbread Pizzeria is a great place to take the kids (they can make their own pizza – though call first, before promising. Sometimes when they are short-staffed they don’t do this) and the cocktails are creative and delish. Other great options here include Rapa Nui Tiki Bar – try the Pain Killer with the Vietnamese Sticky Wings….or Anthony’s Seafood, where you’ll want to get to before 5:30pm for the three for $28 Sunset Menu.
We love a good waterfall, and there are so many in the area. I think my favorite was just about 20 minutes from Smith Rock State Park: Steelhead Falls. The walk is short and the falls are mesmerizing. The best part? You can jump into the water below.
Don’t jump from the falls, but on the cliff in front of the falls. If no one is there (lucky you) then you can easily see the well-worn path of jumpers and climbers. This is a “must-do” adventure in the area.
Tumalo Falls is probably the most popular waterfall in the area. The loop is about 7 miles…or you can take the Tumalo to Dry Falls Loop at only 2 miles, which will take you to Double Falls and Upper Double Falls. Both routes are very popular, so avoid the weekend if you can. In fact, even on a weekday going early for a parking spot is recommended.
If you’re visiting, be sure to catch it from all angles. As you’re walking to the Upper Viewpoint, there is a narrow but worn path just to the right that allows you to walk right up to the falls. You can also access the stream from here.
The final waterfall I’ll mention here is Benham Falls in Deschutes National Forest. At only about 22 ft, it is not as magnificent as Tumalo (which falls nearly 90 feet into the creek) but they are the largest falls in this part of the forest. And at only 1.5 miles, it’s an easy family adventure with fewer crowds than Tumalo.
Head to the Top for Spectacular Views
Not too far from the restaurants and shopping is Pilot Butte Scenic Viewpoint, with 360-degree views of the Cascade Mountains. You can drive to the top, but why not hike! The Pilot Butte Nature Trail is a 1.8 mile out and back that takes you 452 ft up to the top. It’s a dirt trail, but many people also walk the road.
Hike or Climb at Smith Rock State Park
Smith Rock State Park was named as one of the best state parks in Oregon, and since it was just up the road we tackled it with a few dozen friends.
It’s made famous because of the amazing rock climbing opportunities here. People come from all over the world to tackle the ledges and cliff faces that shine out onto Mt Bachelor and the Cascade Mountains. It was a little too hot during our visit to take on this sport, so we opted for one of the the best hiking trails in the park – Misery Ridge.
You’ll climb nearly 1,000 ft from the bridge to the summit…all in about 3/4 a mile. The views are spectacular, but you’re going to work for the reward. Bring plenty of water!
We climbed counter-clockwise in order to get the steeper side done and out of the way, but the hike was actually designed to run clockwise. You’ll notice that because there are more “stairs” built into the steep side making it easier on your knees as you come down. If you go the way we did, just be aware that the down slope – while GORGEOUS – is slippery. Several of us fell, multiple times (though no one was hurt – just wear good shoes!)
If you want to climb while you’re here then hit up one of the guides in the area. They work with adults and families for a very reasonable price.
Bike the Trails North and South of the City
There are great places to bike in and around Bend. We were actually staying south of the city in Sunriver and loved the Sunriver Bike Path here. It’s about 15 miles of asphalt trails, and you’ll find parking at either Fort Rock Park or Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory.
Pro Tip: Want to work up a little sweat? Try the Pump Track in Redmond, just north of Bend. My kids loved this track! Just be sure to bring lots of water to keep them hydrated.
Soak in Non-commercial Natural Hot Springs
We love a hot spring, but when it’s an all-natural non-commercial soaking tub on the edge of a caldera lake — YES, please! You’ll want to look for the Paulina Lake Hot Spring Trail in La Pine. This lake is gorgeous and worthy of a hike even without the hot springs, but luckily you only have to walk about 1.4 miles into the hot spring (the lake hike is about 7.5 miles if you do the entire trail.)
I say “almost” 1.4 miles because when we visited, the parking at the trailhead was closed. We had to park about a 1/2 mile away in the Day Use area, adding an extra mile to the hike. It’s on asphalt, thru the camping grounds and along the lake…easy and pretty.
Water slowly bubbles up from under the earth next to the lake, where you’ll find large holes dug to capture the hot water. The water can get as high as 115 degrees…but by allowing the lake water to mix with the hot springs water, it is just about as awesome as it gets! Also, on the trail is an explosion of sparkling obsidian. My Minecraft-raised kids loved it.
Descend Underground at Newberry National Volcanic Monument
Lava River Cave within the Newberry National Volcanic Monument allows you walk an entire mile into an ancient lava tube. With temps of 40-degrees year-round, this was an ideal adventure for us during the heat of summer.
Just a note: We planned on visiting multiple caves that same day, but changed our plans once we learned about how diseases can easily be spread from one cave to another, hurting the bat population. If you go to the Lava River Cave, make sure that you do not wear clothing (including shoes, hats, etc) that have ever been worn inside another cave…and plan to change clothes entirely – with a shower between visits – if you visit another cave while in Bend.
Pro Tip: Want more volcano fun? The Lava Butte Cinder Cone is another cool stop in the area!
Slip and Slide at Mother Nature’s Water Park in La Pine
You won’t find this gem on AllTrails…and it’s not the same as the popular “Paulina Plunge” bike ride that you read about in that same area.
Set your AllTrails map for the 22.3 mile Peter Skene Ogden Trail. Don’t worry; it doesn’t take the full hike to get here. This just allows you to get directions to the parking area and trailhead.
Once there, the hike into the water slides is about 1.5 miles from the parking lot/trailhead. The slide area is unsigned and you might see a few places that look safe to slide on as you are making your way there…but I assure you the 1.5 mile mark is a much better place to play. (The first video frame in this Instagram Reel is what it looks like from the trail. The second video frame is the lower falls.)
You’ll see the upper slides from the trail, and you’ll know it’s time to take the spur down to the water. Once down there, it’s easy to see the lower falls and beach area, too.
Learn Something New at High Desert Museum
100,000 sq ft of museum space offers a close-up view of native wildlife, such as river otters, porcupines and badgers. You can chat with historic Oregon explorers and settlers, who love to tell their tales, and also visit an authentic 1904 homestead and sawmill.
Step Back in Time at the Last Blockbuster
Have you seen The Last Blockbuster on Prime? It’s a great documentary that we watched right before we launched in the RV, and we knew right away that we had to make it to Bend to visit the actual store. Dish Network, who now owns Blockbuster, stopped offering franchises so this is literally the last one in existence.
And yes…you can still rent movies here! We didn’t have a way to play them so we just walked our kids through the “old-fashioned” way of looking for movies, searching the “returns box” and hoping the one you want is available. We also took in some of the old memorabilia on display, picked up some movie snacks, and left with a sticker or two. The kids probably didn’t love it as much as we did, but as card-carrying members of the Blockbuster generation, Dan and I loved every second.
Day Trip North: Willamette National Forest
The McKenzie River Area in the Willamette National Forest is probably the most beautiful part of Oregon. We spent only one day there, but already have it in our plans to head back next year for a month or so. When we read about this area, we planned to spend the bulk of our day doing the #1 rated hike in the area: The Blue Hole.
After talking with Crazy Family Adventure, we changed up our plans and instead saw three waterfalls and took a lovely row on a crystal clear lake called Clear Lake. Our favorite falls (of all of Oregon, maybe??) was Proxy Falls, which you see in the photo above.
We have a full post coming shortly, but in the meantime, check out this guide from CFA that really helped us have the best day possible!
Day Trip South: Crater Lake National Park
We didn’t do Crater Lake as a day trip, but rather stayed in the Crater Lake NPS area for about 4-5 days. Had we realized how close it was to Bend, we would have definitely taken it as a day trip.
You’ll want to drive the rim road and see as much as you can from the view points here, but the undeniable fun part is hiking down to the water and getting in! If you’re brave enough, you might even decide to jump from the ledge like Dan did (see the jump here!!)
Fun facts about Crater Lake:
- It’s the nations deepest lake at 1943 ft.
- It’s anywhere from 4.5 to 6 miles across. It’s huge! And I think that’s what surprised me most when we got there.
- The caldera was formed only 7700 years ago. That’s pretty recent in volcano years.
- There are trout and salmon in the lake, introduced in the 40s. You can fish here without a license and there are no limits.
- To ensure no species are introduced in the lake, you cannot bring goggles, life vests, etc. (Which is why Elliot didn’t jump!)
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO OREGON:
WATERFALLS: 9 Unbelievably Amazing Oregon Waterfalls