Bend Oregon Blog | The Bend Buzz by Visit Bend
It’s that time of year again, kids. ‘Tis the season for waking up to frost on the ground, and by lunchtime, stripping off those extra layers to bask in 80-degree sunshine.
The weeks surrounding Memorial Day Weekend also signal the opening of roadways and landmarks that have been buried under snow for the last five months. Heavy snowfall in 2017 has pushed many opening dates later and later, with some still up in the air as snow continues to fall in the mountains.
Here’s the current roundup of what’s open, what’s opening soon, and what’s still snowy in and around Bend as of May 18, 2017.
Already open and ready for play!
The road allowing guests to drive up and down Pilot Butte opened on April 15 in 2017, which is on par with a normal snow year. Watch for icy spots on cold mornings, but otherwise, you should be ready to roll.
The Cascade Welcome Station (operated by the Forest Service near milepost seven on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway) is also open, and operating Friday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. That schedule will continue through May 30, when they’ll shift to summer hours and be open daily during those same hours.
Lava Lands Visitor Center is also open Thursday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The road to the top of Lava Butte is open and drivable, and the shuttle will start Memorial Day weekend this year. Lava River Cave is also open already, and currently operating from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Monday until they shift to summer hours on Memorial Day weekend. New this year, there’s a 10-minute required orientation that all visitors must attend. You can learn more about that here.
The Tumalo Falls Trailhead is also open for the season, but be aware that the trail is still pretty packed with snow just above the overlook. Dress warmly, bring proper footwear, and be prepared to turn back when the snow gets too deep for hiking.
What’s opening soon?
Several weeks ago, folks were speculating the Cascade Lakes Highway would open on its usual timeframe around Memorial Day Weekend. Then Mother Nature laughed and laughed and laughed and dumped another couple feet of snow on us.
As of today (May 18, 2017) they’re predicting an “early June” opening for the Cascade Lakes Highway between Mt. Bachelor and Elk Lake. As of now, the gates are still in place at Lava Lake. Crews are working nonstop on clearing the snow, and you can keep your eyes on this page for the latest updates.
Another hotly-anticipated opening date each year is the Old McKenzie Pass (242). Right now, they’re predicting a late-June opening date for roads to be cleared and the gates to open for cars. Cyclists, on the other hand, are welcome to head up now to enjoy car-free roads.
Newberry National Volcanic Monument is at least a little bit accessible right now. Paulina Lake Road (FS Road 21) will open the gate at 10-Mile Sno-Park on Friday, May 19, but access to the lakes is still limited by snow. The Paulina Peak Visitor Center is expected to open on May 27, but don’t expect Paulina Peak Road to open anytime soon—that bad boy is going to take a lot of clearing and snowmelt this year!
What if I still want to play in the snow?
You’re in luck! Spring skiing is in full swing at Mt. Bachelor, with lifts running every day from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. through Sunday, May 28. They’ve seen 604-inches of snow at mid-mountain since October 1, which is pretty impressive. Almost as impressive as their spring lift ticket prices, which are in effect for the remainder of the season.
Can’t make it out for spring skiing? Prepare yourself for summer skiing. That’s right—Mt. Bachelor recently announced plans to open the Sunrise and Summit lifts from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. from July 2 through July 4. And while those lifts are spinning for skiers and snowboarders, the Pine Marten lift will be open (snowmelt permitting) for scenic rides and mountain biking.
How’s that for having the best of both worlds?
Visiting a new city always sends my inner foodie into a frenzy, a fact I rediscovered last week when traveling to Barcelona. It’s not enough to know that I must try paella. I must find the absolute perfect spot to enjoy the classic paella experience with views of the cathedral and maybe a flamenco guitarist serenading me while I eat.
Figuring out a region’s signature dishes and the best place to enjoy them can be exhausting, I’ll admit. So I’ve helped you get rid of the guesswork with these suggestions of dishes and drinks you absolutely must add to your Bend bucket list.
Grab a burger at Dandy’s or Pilot Butte Drive In
Bend is home to a zillion amazing hamburgers, and I blogged about 12 of them right here.
But if you’re seeking the quintessential Bend burger experience, I suggest you try one of two places.
The first is Pilot Butte Drive In. Located next to Bend’s iconic Pilot Butte State Park, this cozy little diner has been a Bend landmark since 1983. You’ll find tasty goodies like homemade malts, scrumptious steak & eggs, and of course, a delicious variety of burgers.
My personal fave is the Ortega Cheeseburger, piled with grilled mild green chilis and melted jack cheese with mayo, lettuce, and tomato. Go inside and grab a cozy booth by the fire, or park and order from your car for a true drive-in diner experience.
And speaking of the drive-in experience, that’s the specialty at Dandy’s Drive-In. This nostalgic little burger joint has operated in Bend since 1968, with servers who arrive on roller skates to take your order through the car window. Don’t expect a lot of frou-frou condiments and crazy toppings here, but do expect a darn good traditional burger.
The Dandy Deluxe is a standard burger with the addition of cheese, tomatoes, and special sauce. It’s deliciously drippy and extremely satisfying, especially when paired with an old fashioned Cherry Slice and an order of their to-die-for onion rings.
Eat the sourdough scones at Pine Tavern
One of the oldest restaurants in Bend, Pine Tavern has been operating since 1936. The name hails from the two ponderosa pine trees (one living, one not so much) that jut up through the center of the restaurant.
But even more than the trees, what Pine Tavern is best known for are its sourdough scones with honey butter. Fluffy and light and melt-in-your-mouth delicious, they’re paired with homemade honey butter that will leave you swooning at your table. Be forewarned that the scones are only available with dinner, so don’t show up at lunch expecting to order them.
But dinner is a great time of day to be there anyway, especially if you can nab a river-view table on their patio. Their meatloaf is especially tasty, as is their classic prime rib. Plan on taking home a doggie bag after you’ve filled up on those scones!
Grab a beer at Deschutes Brewery
Beer fans trekking the trail of suds along the Bend Ale Trail will debate furiously over which of the 15 breweries has the best beer.
But one thing that’s not up for debate is who started it all. Deschutes Brewery is the granddaddy of Bend’s beer scene, establishing the first Bend brewery in 1988 and eventually growing to become one of the nation’s largest craft breweries.
These days you can nab a table in the very same pub where the first beers were brewed, ordering a taster tray that includes originals like Black Butte Porter and Jubelale as well as seasonal selections and nitro brews available only in the pub. Pair your brew with a tray of tasty hot wings or one of their scrumptious salads to make it a lunch or dinner affair.
Honorable mention: While there’s no question Deschutes kicked off Bend’s beer scene, Bend Brewing Company wasn’t far behind when they opened their doors in 1995, making them the city’s second oldest brewery. It has the vibe of a friendly, cozy local watering hole and a darn fine meal menu. Order a pint of Ching Ching or Elk Lake IPA, along with their scrumptious sriracha seasoned cauliflower or a steak and spinach salad.
Devour a Nacho Mountain at Mt. Bachelor
If your visit to Bend includes a ski day at Mt. Bachelor, no trip to the mountain is complete without a Nacho Mountain at the Clearing Rock Bar.
This legendary, culinary treat is made with your choice of chipotle chicken tinga, hearty beef chili, or smoked pork. That’s piled atop a hearty plate full of chips, cheddar-jack cheese, fresh tomato, olives, sour cream, cilantro, jalapeños, and red salsa.
Pair it with one of Mt. Bachelor’s famous bloody marys or a local brew for the ultimate après ski treat.
Savor an ice cream sundae at Goody’s
Goody’s Chocolates has been Central Oregon’s go-to sweet spot since 1984, and now boasts several locations that manufacture a whopping 20 tons of chocolate a year.
But it’s their ice cream that holds the most nostalgic qualities for folks who’ve been vacationing in Bend and Sunriver for decades. Grab a waffle cone brimming with creamy Oreo cookie goodness to enjoy as you stroll to nearby Drake Park, or park yourself at the counter to share a banana split with your favorite family member.
They also have an old fashioned soda fountain serving up treats like phosphate sodas and egg creams, plus an impressive array of candy you can buy by the pound.
Salmon and steelhead and trout, oh my!
When people ask about local cuisine in the Pacific Northwest, my first thought always jumps to fish. Salmon, steelhead, and trout make appearances on plenty of local menus, each prepared in uniquely Central Oregon style. Three spots with the most Bend-esque flair for fish dishes include Greg’s Grill in the Old Mill District, 900 Wall in Downtown Bend, and Ariana Restaurant just outside the Downtown zone.
The latter (Ariana) gets an additional shout-out as a foodie’s paradise with oodles of critical acclaim. Named one of the top 100 restaurants in America by Open Table, they boast an impressive wine list and classic European dishes mixed with specialty Northwest cuisine. Try their rainbow trout with pan-roasted, smoked fingerlings, sauce gribiche, and dill oil, and prepare to be blown away.
I’m writing this post from 5,570 miles from Central Oregon, which seems weird for a tourism blog devoted to Bend.
But being in Barcelona right now has me in “tourist mode” instead of “tourism promotion mode,” which spurred a few observations worth sharing. While I’ve bopped my way between countless foreign lands and U.S. cities over the last few decades, here are 6 reasons I’m convinced Bend is one of the best places on earth to be a tourist.
One heck of a great visitor center
My work station back home is spitting distance from the front desk of the Bend Visitor Center, so I’m a perpetual eavesdropper on conversations between Bend visitors and the volunteers and staff members answering their questions.
That’s how I know the tips they dole out daily aren’t canned marketing statements they’re forced to spew because someone’s paying for it. They’re genuine, heartfelt endorsements from locals who live and play in Bend.
When a Visit Bend team member suggests where to hike, bike, dine, ski, shop, or anything else in Bend, you know you’re getting someone’s unbiased, personal endorsement. That’s a rare thing, and it’s why I always tell Bend visitors to stop by the corner of Lava and Oregon in Downtown Bend (weekdays 9-5, weekends 10-4) at the start of any Bend vacation.
Make your belly happy
Some tourist destinations can be challenging when it comes to dining. Maybe the cuisine is super-greasy or made with unfamiliar ingredients that generate howls of protest from picky eaters in your family, or maybe restaurant hours just don’t mesh with your vacation schedule.
But one thing I love about Bend is that you’ll find pretty much anything your tummy might need. Looking for gluten-free or vegetarian dining in Bend? Bend has oodles of options. Want a grab-and-go breakfast for mornings you’re en route to Mt. Bachelor or a full-day hike? I can name nearly a dozen ideas off the top of my head.
You’ll also find a variety of restaurants in Bend, from Asian to Italian to Mexican and everything in between. Bottom line—your belly will always be happy on a Bend vacation.
What’s that smell?
Researchers have studied why certain scents have the power to trigger powerful emotions, finding some fascinating links between olfactory senses and memories.
I don’t doubt it. The places I’ve visited that have the most unique odors are the ones I remember most clearly. You could drop me blindfolded into the souks of Marrakesh, Morocco, and I would instantly know my location from the unique scent of exotic spice and leather and livestock. Ditto that for the briney, seaweed aroma of the Oregon Coast or the strange blend of botanicals and diesel exhaust in Caracas, Venezuala.
But no place in the universe smells like Bend, Oregon.
There’s something magical about the heady fragrance sun-warmed sage and bitterbrush mixed with the weirdly pleasant cat-pee smell of juniper. Blend in a hint of volcanic dust and ponderosa pine bark, and you could bottle it as Bend perfume.
It’s why I always roll my car window down as I pull into town after a long trip away. It’s the scent of happiness and fresh air and of home, and it’s one of the best sensory experiences I know.
No shortage of banks
Bend’s plethora of banking institutions might seem like a strange benefit to tout, until you find yourself in a lesser-endowed city spending precious vacation time in search of an ATM. That’ll never happen in Bend, where there’s a credit union or major bank chain on nearly every corner.
That’s a big plus for travelers who prefer to pay with cash (which is a great way to track your vacation budget, not to mention supporting small local businesses who appreciate not getting hit with credit card charges).
Guided tours galore
When orienting yourself to a new city, there’s no better way to get the lay of the land than with a guided tour.
Luckily for Bend visitors, there are tons of unique ways to do that. Outdoor enthusiasts can book an outing with Wanderlust Tours to see the area’s caves, snowshoe trails, or top canoe spots. You’ll also find walking tours, electric bike outings, and specialty options like Jeep tours and brewery excursions.
For a complete list, check out our guided tours page to find the one that’s right for you.
More smiles than anyplace else
While disembarking the plane on one of my many layovers en route to Barcelona yesterday, the passengers began to shove. Several folks surged from the back of the plane, prompting surly shouts from those near the front.
“That would never happen in Bend,” I thought.
While I can’t claim Central Oregon is an idyllic land free from road range and bad moods, it’s true that folks seem a little more laidback in Bend. Maybe there’s something in the air, or maybe it’s Bend itself that makes folks kinder, more patient, and generally more joyful.
Whatever it is, Bend is just one of those places that makes your heart a little happier.
It’s still April, and odds are good we’ll see snow at least once more before warm weather arrives in Bend and decides to stick around.
You might think that means you’ve got plenty of time to plan your Bend summer vacation, but you’d be wrong. Here are 5 things you need to do RIGHT NOW if you want to visit Bend during peak summer season.
Book your lodging
I know this seems premature if you have fond memories of the days you could cruise into town on a Saturday in July and expect to have your pick of Bend hotel rooms.
But times have changed, and the city’s lodging operates at or near capacity from June through September. That means you need to plan ahead, especially if there’s a special Bend vacation home or bed and breakfast you’ve been eyeing.
Don’t risk having your summer vacation plans torpedoed by a lack of lodging. Plan ahead, then kick back and relax for another couple months.
Get your gear ready
Most folks journeying to Bend have outdoor recreation on their minds, whether it’s skiing and snowboarding in the winter, or rafting and hiking in the summer.
Don’t make the mistake I’ve made and discover hours before a big hike that your twenty-year-old hiking boots are on their last legs (no pun intended). Plan ahead by inspecting your boots and other outdoorsy attire right now and figuring out what to repair or replace. Bonus: You’ll have time to break in new footwear before hiking season really heats up.
This is also a great time to inventory and inspect things like camping gear or specialty recreation items. Are all your tent stakes present and accounted for? Do the float tubes hold air? Does your bike need a tune-up? Does your sleeping bag smell like something crawled inside and died?
Make sure everything is in working order so there are no unpleasant surprises when it’s time to throw everything in the car for your Bend vacation.
Make a bucket list and a schedule
Last year I was lucky enough to spend three weeks traveling all over New Zealand. I sat down beforehand and sketched out which towns we’d visit and what activities we’d enjoy on each day of the trip. Then I heard echoes of my twenty-something self scoffing about how I used to be a free-spirited, seat-of-her-pants adventurer who never planned ahead, and now I’m just a huge dork.
But my dorkiness paid off.
With pre-made reservations in hand, we didn’t panic when a massive mountain biking event booked up every hotel room, kayak trip, and wine tour in town.
We also didn’t have to spend precious vacation time making phone calls, doing internet research, and trying to plot out the best route from point A to point B.
A Bend vacation is a special thing, so you owe it to yourself to make the most of it. Spend some time researching beforehand at www.visitbend.com and decide what activities belong on your Bend bucket list. You can even peruse this blog for specific recommendations on tours, drinking and dining, and kid-friendly attractions.
Then make a list, make a schedule, make reservations, and kick back knowing you will maximize the ever lovin’ heck out of your Bend vacation.
Watch for special events
Concerts, festivals, and special events are abundant in the summer months, and if there’s some flexibility in your dates, it pays to sync your visit with the ones that cater to your interests.
The Les Schwab Amphitheater has already announced dozens of summer 2017 shows, including Paul Simon, the Avett Brothers, Steve Miller Band, Michael Franti, Jack Johnson, Diana Krall, Ween, and more.
There are also oodles of events like foot races, mountain bike competitions, kayak classes, and more.
For the most comprehensive Bend event calendar on the interwebz, go here.
Grab a good guidebook
I’m a sucker for good guidebooks, and you’ll never catch me boarding an international flight without at least one good tome outlining the top attractions at my destination.
A few of my favorite Bend guides include Bend Overall by Scott Cook (notice all the sticky-tabs in my copy?!), Bend, Oregon Daycations (Day Trips for Curious Families) by Kim Cooper Findling, and Day Hiking: Bend and Central Oregon by Brittany Manwell.
Grab whichever guide interests you most and study up. There will be a quiz later, and I promise you’ll love it.
Last week, a magazine fact-checker sent me an article with a caption touting the beauty of Tumalo Falls in Tumalo State Park. The problem? Tumalo Falls isn’t actually in Tumalo State Park. In fact, the two landmarks are miles apart.
It’s one of many things that throws Bend visitors for a loop, and I’m not here to snicker about it. I’m here to clear up 7 of them so you don’t feel like a doofus on your Bend vacation.
Tumalo Falls isn’t in Tumalo State Park?
Let’s start with the one that spawned this blog post, since it’s one of the most common things to trip up Bend visitors.
Tumalo Falls is located about 14 miles west of Bend off Skyliners Road. You can follow these Google Map directions to get you there from the Bend Visitor Center.
Tumalo State Park is about 19 miles northeast of Tumalo Falls, and while it offers a great campground and fab views of the Deschutes River, there’s no waterfall in sight.
Tumalo Mountain is another entity altogether, and isn’t near the waterfall or the State Park (but is worth a hike in the summer months, so add it to your bucket list!)
There’s also the quaint little town of Tumalo, which does happen to be quite close to Tumalo State Park.
It’s the desert, right? So why is it cold?
Yes, Bend is a desert. But it’s a mountainous high desert that sits at 3,600-feet above sea level. “High” is the key word there (and I promise it has nothing to do with legalized marijuana in Oregon).
Bend’s altitude is responsible for our snowy winters and conditions that can fluctuate wildly. Even on scorching-hot summer days when temps reach the 90s or even break 100, odds are good you’ll still need a jacket at night. You also need to follow the high altitude instructions on the back of the brownie mix you’re baking at that Bend vacation rental (just sayin’).
So Fido can’t run free everywhere?
Bend was named the nation’s dog-friendliest city by Dog Fancy magazine, and the city’s abundance of off-leash dog parks was one reason.
But that doesn’t mean Rover can roam anywhere he likes without a leash. In developed areas of Bend like neighborhoods, campgrounds, and even parking lots, your dog must be leashed at all times. Leash laws are enforced, and fines can be hefty.
Leash laws also apply between May 15 and September 15 on the Deschutes River Trail between Benham Falls and Meadow Camp, and in the Three Sisters Wilderness between the South Sisters climbers trail and Todd Lake.
Dogs are allowed off-leash when playing “river fetch” in National Forest areas, even along restricted trails. But make sure your pooch is well-trained to respond to voice commands and unlikely to tear off after deer or other wildlife.
For more info about doggy etiquette and laws in Bend, check out www.dogpac.org.
And it goes without saying that no matter where you are, you should do your duty when Fido does his doody. Carry waste bags and clean up after your pooch everywhere you go. It’s part of how you Visit Like a Local when you’re in Bend.
The snow is gone, so why isn’t everything open?
Visitors are sometimes surprised to arrive in the spring and discover the town itself is snow-free, but major landmarks still closed. What gives?
Clearing snow from seasonally-shuttered roadways like the Cascade Lakes Highway and the McKenzie Pass can take a looong time, particularly after a heavy snow year like 2017.
It also affects landmarks like the Lava Lands Visitor Center and Pilot Butte, where safety dictates closures during icier months. Generally speaking, most sites open in the weeks surrounding Memorial Day, though it can take longer for high-elevation attractions.
If you’re wondering about a specific site, call or stop by the Bend Visitor Center for up-to-the-minute info about seasonal closures. You can also keep an eye on the Bend Buzz Blog, where we usually put up a post like this one giving opening dates for major landmarks and roadways.
The river runs which way?
For some odd reason, many Bend visitors are under the impression that all rivers flow south.
But rivers follow the laws of gravity, and water flowing from the mountains takes the path of least resistance in its journey downhill. In Bend’s case, that means the mighty Deschutes River flows north.
Around and around and around we go!
For folks living in cities that don’t have traffic circles, Bend’s roundabouts can seem daunting at first glance. My mother steadfastly refuses to drive through one, always petrified she’ll be seized by demons and tempted to drive the wrong way.
But roundabouts are actually pretty simple. Traffic flows counterclockwise, and traffic entering the roundabout must yield to vehicles already in it.
When you’re ready to exit, use your right turn signal to indicate your intent to leave the roundabout. Failure to signal is one of the most common mistakes drivers make, and you can be fined for not doing it.
Want more tips for navigating Bend’s roundabouts, including some of the multi-lane traffic circles? You’ll find several handy videos here.
Which day use park pass do I need?
State Parks Pass, NW Forest Pass, National Parks Pass . . . when it comes to day use permits, how the @#$% do you know which one you need to see all the landmarks on your Central Oregon bucket list?
Let’s start with State Parks. The main ones in Central Oregon are Smith Rock State Park, Tumalo State Park, La Pine State Park, Cove Palisades State Park, and Pilot Butte State Park. Pilot Butte and La Pine are the only two on that roster that don’t require any sort of parking fee or pass. The others charge $5 per day, and there are machines on site that take credit cards to make it nice and easy. Planning to visit more than one state park on multiple days? Splurge for the $30 annual pass or the $50 two-year pass, which we sell here in the Bend Visitor Center. There are no senior discounts for State Park Passes.
Now let’s talk about the NW Forest Pass. This one is my personal fave, since it grants you access to a whole lotta great stuff you’ll want to see around Central Oregon. This includes all the trailheads on National Forest land, like Newberry National Volcanic Monument, Painted Hills National Monument, and all the awesome lakes and trails off the Cascade Lakes Highway. Day use passes are $5, and you’ll find envelopes and drop-boxes at most major sites. But honestly, you’re better off paying $30 for an annual pass that grants you access to everything for the entire year. We sell that in the Bend Visitor Center, too.
Planning to drive the extra miles to Crater Lake National Park? Normal park entrance is $20 for seven days, but here’s a tip if you’re planning to hit gobs of parks on your Bend vacation: Splurge for the $80 Interagency Annual Pass and get access to all Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and US Fish & Wildlife Service sites that charge entry fees. Be aware, though, that none of these passes – or the NW Forest Pass – is valid at any of the Oregon State Parks. Oh, and if you’re 62 and older, pony up $10 for a lifetime America the Beautiful Senior Interagency Pass that gets you into everything except State Parks.
My husband is traveling on business this week, so I’ve spent lots of time talking to the dog drinking milk from the carton exploring Bend on my own.
Obviously, it’s not the first time in my 42+ years as an Oregonian that I’ve hung out solo in Central Oregon, but it’s the first time I’ve paid super-close attention to the best ways to savor Bend by yourself. Here are 6 of them.
Pick the perfect spot to stay
When you’re vacationing solo, sometimes you’d prefer to keep to yourself. That’s easy to do in nearly any Bend hotel or vacation rental, and you can amplify your vacation enjoyment with perks like killer views, in-room spas, or the ability to walk everywhere you want to go (handy if you plan to hit the Bend Ale Trail on your own and want to avoid driving).
Downtown properties like Wall Street Suites and the DoubleTree by Hilton make it simple to stroll between restaurants, bars, and boutique shops. Ditto that for The Oxford Hotel, which has the added bonus of a swanky lower-level restaurant to enjoy when you do feel like interacting with humans.
Hotels in the Old Mill District are another great option for the ease of walking anywhere you need to go for shopping and dining, plus you’ll be mere steps from the Deschutes River and summer concerts at the Les Schwab Amphitheater.
Table for one?
I’ll admit I’ve felt moments of awkwardness when dining alone as a business traveler or just a local gal who feels like taking herself out on a lunch date.
Fortunately, Bend’s dining scene is chill enough that it’s really not an issue. My favorite lunch spots for solo dining include Parilla Grill (especially the awesome new Eastside location!), Longboard Louie’s, Barrio, and Croutons.
El Sancho is another great choice for those who want to dip a toe in the water of meeting new people. Many’s the time I’ve parked myself at one of the large, outdoor tables with a random group of strangers and found myself making a new friend.
Looking to treat yourself to a nice dinner? 900 Wall, Joolz, Greg’s Grill, and Zydeco are all awesome dinnertime options where I swear you won’t feel weird requesting a table all to yourself (though if you prefer, most of those spots have a bar where you can ask to be seated solo).
Heading out for a hike
I’ve hiked by myself all over Central Oregon, and aside from a couple rare (and possibly paranoid) moments of fretting about cougars, I’ve always felt safe.
Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to take some precautions when you’re setting out for a solo hike. Take plenty of water and snacks—just like you would when hiking with pals—but factor in the downside of not having an extra body around for warmth. Then stuff your pack with a few extra warm layers and a space blanket.
Next, make sure you plot your route carefully and take a paper map (no relying on smartphones where you might not have service!) Grab a good guide book like Bend Overall by Scott Cook and Bend, Oregon Daycations (Day Trips for Curious Families), by Kim Cooper Findling to get ideas for routes and what to expect.
And most importantly, let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to be back. That way they can notify authorities if you haven’t returned in a reasonable amount of time.
No sense in driving solo
Since invisible friends don’t count, your solo status renders you ineligible to use the carpool spots at Mt. Bachelor.
But what a great excuse to catch the Mt. Bachelor shuttle to avoid driving all the way there and back in your own car.
Enjoy your own company
One of my favorite solo activities when traveling is to find a warm, cozy spot to curl up with a good book.
When it’s warm and sunny, check out one of Bend’s 80+ public parks. You’ll find tons of great spots to throw down your picnic blanket and curl up with your toes in the grass and a good book on your lap. Pack a picnic and make a day of it!
Want to meet people?
As much as I enjoy the pleasure of my own company, there are limits to how much alone-time I need. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to mingle with strangers when you’re visiting Bend.
Book an outing with Wanderlust Tours, and bond with your fellow travelers while snowshoeing, canoeing, caving, or enjoying countless other tours they offer year-round.
And if you’re looking for an activity or event that’s catered to your specific interests, scope out Visit Bend’s event calendar. There, you can search for film screenings, athletic competitions, concerts, art gallery openings, culinary events, and more.
I just returned from a blissful week-long vacation on the island of Kauai, where my parents were kind enough to retire so I could visit them there regularly.
That may not have been their sole motivation.
The destination was warm, lush, tropical, beautiful and sooo . . . not Bend.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot to be said for a relaxing Hawaiian vacation in paradise. But here are 6 reasons I think Bend makes a better destination.
Can we not tell my parents about this?
Easier standup paddleboarding
One of my favorite warm-weather activities is standup paddleboarding, and I’ve been lucky enough to do it on rivers, lakes, and ocean bays throughout the six years I’ve been paddling.
While I’ll admit that toppling into a warm ocean is a bit more pleasant than a tumble into a glacier-fed river, the relative stillness of lakes and rivers means you’re much less likely to topple at all. I’d been SUPing for years without a single fall off my board when I first tried it in Kalapaki Bay on Kauai. Within the first five minutes, a wave knocked my butt right into the water.
Now granted, you can do your SUPing year-round in Kauai, but there’s a reason Outside magazine named Bend the best SUP getaway in the world. It’s the beauty, the variety, and the phenomenal availability of the sport right here in our little high desert oasis.
Dry heat, dry cold
Ever notice how an 80-degree day feels much hotter in a humid climate like Florida than it does in a drier locale? The same holds true for “damp cold” (the sort you experience on a winter’s day in Portland) versus “dry cold” (the kind we have here in the mountainous high desert of Bend).
It’s an important distinction.
Dampness has a way of making temperatures feel super-intense, which can be downright uncomfortable at the extremes of either end.
That’s one thing I’ve always loved about Bend. The dryness of our desert climate means 75-degrees feels like 75-degrees, and 35-degrees feels like 35-degrees. No need to account for humidity!
More room to spread out
I know Bend locals sometimes fret about crowding at popular hiking trails and scenic landmarks. It’s one reason the Visit Like a Local movement took hold as a way of encouraging folks to help preserve our natural spaces.
Luckily, Bend has lots of those natural spaces to choose from. We certainly have more than an island constrained on all sides by a large body of water.
Too many hikers on Green Lakes Trail? Head someplace less-trafficked like the Oregon Badlands Wilderness or some of the areas west of Sisters. Pick an area along the Deschutes River Trail, many of which boast plentiful parking.
One of the best investments you can make in your quest to explore Central Oregon is a good guide book that opens your eyes to lesser-known trails and vistas. Two of my faves are Bend Overall by Scott Cook and Bend, Oregon Daycations (Day Trips for Curious Families), by Kim Cooper Findling. We sell both in the Bend Visitor Center, and I’d highly recommend either one to spark a host of new ideas for where to play and explore in Bend.
I love the tropical fish and birds that Hawaii has to offer, and feeding peacocks at Smith Gardens is one of my favorite Kauai activities. That said, I always feel like something’s missing in the critter department.
That’s one thing I love about Bend. Any trek through the wilderness will expose you to oodles of creatures that might include eagles, falcons, otters, beavers, deer, elk, porcupines, and bats.
And while small mammals can decimate a place like Hawaii (i.e. the mongoose problem on the Big Island), little fuzzy guys like chipmunks, raccoons, squirrels, pikas, and rabbits frolic freely around Central Oregon, kept in check by predators like foxes, coyotes, and cougars who think they’re the best snacks ever.
Hey, I don’t blame the Hawaiian Islands for jacking up prices on things like sunscreen or fresh produce. It takes a lot of money and resources to transport those things to the islands.
But that’s not an issue here in Bend, with plentiful access to produce, relatively low gas prices, and budget-friendly hotels and vacation rentals that won’t require you to take out a second mortgage.
Tip: Pay cash when you can in Bend, instead of whipping out the plastic. Not only does it save vendors from getting hit with extra fees (which keeps prices lower for all of us!) but it’s a great way to track your vacation budget.
What’s that smell?
No place on earth smells quite like Bend. It’s this unique combination of sun-warmed desert sage and juniper that makes my heart feel happy every time I return home from vacation and crack the car window open just to breathe it in.
It smells like home, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
Oh, blog readers. I have a treat for you!
For almost 7 years, you’ve gotten my weekly reports about my favorite things to do and see around town, including detailed itineraries for my perfect day in Bend.
But every now and then (like when I go on vacation!) I invite a special guest blogger to share his or her idea of a perfect Bend day. This week I summoned Courtney Van Fossan, whose job title is “Cultural Agent of Change” (love it!) with Bend Electric Bikes.
You can find their tours through The Bend Tour Company, and you can find Courtney’s idea of a perfect day in Bend below. Take it away, Courtney!
I’ve lived in Bend for about 5 years and, while I would call Bend a “small-ish” town, I never run out of new things to do and places to explore. The main reason I relocated here was to ditch the car and enjoy a biking/walking lifestyle with my kids. While there is always more progress to be made, Bend hasn’t disappointed. I ride and walk almost everywhere with a little help from electric cargo/family bikes.
Early Rising and Mount Bachelor
We woke up early and headed to Mt. Bachelor for a couple hours of skiing and snowboarding. We’re enjoying our first season at the mountain and took advantage of the Ski and Ride in 5 program offered for folks who are new to snow sports.
Now that we’ve graduated, we ski and snowboard as a family and it has been an invaluable bonding experience. I can’t recommend it enough—your kids will thank you for it! My son, Ike (age 9) loves the new Cloudchaser lift, and let me tell you, it’s a different world up there! The wide open views are stunning. Ike is also our mountain guide and helped plan our route for the day. With so many trails to explore, I’m glad we have him!
We often enjoy biking to the Park & Ride and taking the shuttle to the mountain, which is a convenient way to reduce traffic headed to the mountain and to avoid the fight for a parking space.
Urban Trails – Hidden Gems of the East Side
Our life revolves around family biking and working at a bike shop definitely helps when it comes to fun options for tootling around town and using our awesome Bend Urban Trail System.
We stopped at the shop to grab a couple of family/cargo bikes as an alternate to our usual ride—we like variety! I wanted to put a new family bike, the Benno Boost, to the test so we grabbed it and a nicely accessorized Xtracycle set up for family fun. The bike shop recently partnered with The Bend Tour Company and will be offering fun new eBike tours, so our exploration was part family time and part research into the best family riding in Bend.
My kids and I have been family biking since they were wee ones and they are the experts, giving me plenty of feedback on comfort, safety and fun factor. Both bikes got the stamp of approval from kids and parents.
We chose to explore the Coyner and Larkspur Trails, which are accessible on the east side of town. We picked up the Coyner Trailhead which is near Franklin and the 8th/9th Street roundabout. A community garden and a smooth, paved path enticed us to get going and see what we could find. Our first discovery was the Community Labyrinth, right off the trail. We stopped and ran around and around. The posted sign says, “The circular nature of a labyrinth reminds us that life is a journey rather than a destination.” That’s the truth, and it certainly worked for us!
We continued on the trail and came to Ponderosa Skate Park where we saw the beginnings of skateboarding season with a bunch of kids doing some amazing tricks—we could have watched for hours! After the skate park cleared a bit, we took some turns on our bikes and enjoyed the smooth concrete. We’ll be sharpening our family biking stunts in the coming months!
Next, we stopped at the Ponderosa Park playground, which is set up on a hill. The slide was the favorite for the day. It was long and fast—high marks from the shortstuffs. Our ride took us around the Bend Senior Center and we lollygagged on the trail for quite a while longer, enjoying the freedom and safety of the car-free path. We like to take advantage of these trails whenever we can and they are such a nice relief from the traffic on the roads.
Doggy time & curling—new and old Bend traditions
We had to take a break from the trail for a bit to head home and check on our new pup, Alice. We recently adopted her from the Humane Society of Central Oregon and she’s not quite ready to for the excitement of the trails and dog parks along the way. We had several visits to meet dogs and take them on walks before we adopted Alice. Many of us miss our pets when we’re traveling and this way, so this is one way to give you time with a cuddly dog or cat and give them some much needed exercise and attention.
We live a few short blocks from Miller’s Landing Park, where there is a wonderful paved trail that connects to the Old Mill District and the Colorado Bridge over the Bend Whitewater Park. My daughter, Georgia (age 7) and I walked Alice along the path, while Ike and Amy rode their bikes to the Pavilion where Bend curling action takes place.
Amy is new to the curling league, and was lucky to get a much coveted spot mid-season. The sport is very popular and gives way to more on-ice inspiration at the Pavilion, which goes from ice skating, ice hockey, and curling in winter, to warm weather recreation like basketball and pickleball in the summer.
Another zip along the trails
Back to bikes and trails! We picked up the Larkspur Trail by way of the Bend cemetery, (a quiet place to ride!) and a quick shortcut to the tunnel under Highway 20. The trail leads to the base of Pilot Butte State Park and around to the other side.
We took this fun and easy safe route and headed to dinner at Jackson’s Corner East. They have a great location near the hospital with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, fire feature, and much lighter crowds than the Westside location.
We walked right in, ordered a wonderful, local, healthy meal, and relaxed. Our favorite menu items are the fusilli pasta, meatball small plate, and kale Cesar, plus any of the specials. The kids like the cheesy sticks, elbow pasta, and sometimes the kids’ entrée with steak or chicken and seasonal veggies. The cold cases are filled with all kinds of fun drinks for kids and adults, and it’s always a treat that’s well worth the ride.
We headed back on the trail, dropped off the bikes at the shop and walked home through the lovely, historic Old Bend neighborhood. I’d say most days in Bend are near perfect, but when you can avoid traffic and get around by bike with the family, enjoy trails, parks, and easy recreation, we’ve got perfect pretty well figured out. Happy kids, happy parents, and happy trails!
By the way, visitors interested in group rides should check out Bendbikes.org. They coordinate group cycling events throughout the year, and it’s a great way for Bend visitors to try a fun, local activity with other families and folks who enjoy biking.
This past Monday was the first day of spring.
My fellow Bend residents and I gave a hearty chuckle and went back to scraping frost off our windshields.
It’s true that spring weather takes a bit longer to arrive in Bend than it does in other parts of the state, but it’s also true that winter won’t last forever.
Here are 4 things you should do before the winter of 2017 gives up the ghost.
Play like a kid in the snow
Those of us who spend half the year surrounded by the white stuff can get a little grumpy when snow keeps falling into April or even May.
But we’re the same dang people who will be dancing in the street next October, shrieking like schoolkids as we try to catch the first winter snowflakes on our tongues.
As we gear up for our summer snow hiatus, now’s the time for one last moment of reveling in it like a teenager whose chemistry final got canceled by a snow day. Plan a sledding adventure for your whole family, or head up to Mt. Bachelor to enjoy their Snowblast Tubing Park.
Drive out to one of the SnoParks and flop down on your back to make a snow angel, or gather your best buds for a snowball fight. You can even build a snowman, complete with a jaunty winter cap and carrot nose.
Now cap the whole thing off with a mug of cocoa around your favorite fire pit. Congratulations! You’ve officially checked winter off your 2017 bucket list.
Take advantage of Mt. Bachelor’s Springtacular deal
You may not know this, but Mt. Bachelor is home to one of the longest spring ski and snowboard seasons in the world. The season runs all the way through Memorial Day Weekend, and savvy travelers and locals know how to make the most of it.
Last week, Mt. Bachelor announced its annual Springtacular Season Pass, which is your ticket to riding up to 56 days in April and May. At $199 for adults and less for kids and seniors, it’s a screamin’ deal that pays for itself after your third visit.
The lowest price on the Springtacular Pass is only available through Sunday, April 2. Prices go up starting Monday, April 3 (which is the first day the pass becomes valid to use) so hurry up and snatch one now to make the most of the best spring skiing around.
Sip those seasonal beers on the Bend Ale Tail
There are certain beers that just taste better when the weather is chilly.
There are also certain beers that are only available seasonally, either on draft at your favorite Bend Ale Trail stop, or in cans and bottles.
You’re also running out of time to enjoy Red Chair NWIPA from Deschutes Brewery, either in seasonally-offered bottles, or on nitro at the pub.
Other beers—like [Banished] Tough Love Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout from Crux Fermentation Project—are available year-round, but they just don’t taste the same on a hot summer day as they do when you’re swilling it in the hot tub at your Bend vacation rental while snowflakes flutter around you.
Go snowshoeing with Wanderlust Tours
One of my favorite perks of working for Visit Bend is that I’ve had the pleasure of sampling every possible adventure offered by Wanderlust Tours.
And while I love outings like the year-round Cave Tours, or the warm-weather Canoe and Kayak Tours, there’s something extra magical about their Bonfire on the Snow snowshoe outing.
Participants snowshoe to a magical amphitheater carved into the snow, and sample locally-made goodies next to a bonfire under the stars. The whole thing includes all your gear, transportation, and the services of a super-knowledgeable naturalist snowshoe guide.
As you might imagine, that one isn’t offered in mid-July, so now’s the time to book if you don’t want to wait until next year!
It was 67 degrees in Bend yesterday, and I rode a bike home without gloves or a hat before lounging on my front porch in a short-sleeved top with an ice-cold beer.
It’s all a big lie.
But this spring-like weather is a tease we see every year in Bend. We’ll get a few warm, sunny days in March that’ll have us all busting out summer dresses and paddleboards until the next snowy day chases us all back inside for a bit longer.
I’m not saying it’ll snow again this season (though my status as a fourth-generation Oregon living half her life in Bend suggests it’s likely). But I am saying Bend has a history as a big fat liar. What proof?
The spring weather tease
It’s a pattern here in the high desert. A few warm, sunny days of spring will have us cranking the air conditioning in mid-March, and the little crocuses around Downtown Bend will pop their heads out. Visitors and newcomers will frolic in shorts and tanks, saying things like, “Wow, spring comes early here!”
Don’t be fooled.
Then the frost will hit. Or maybe an all-out snowstorm. Hey, I was here one year we saw snow in July.
The upside of all this is that you’re not forced to choose just one kind of Bend experience. If you love skiing or snuggling by a fire pit in gloves and a puffy coat, you can do that in the springtime. If you also love mountain biking or walking the river trail in short sleeves, you can do that, too—often in the same weekend.
Basically, Bend’s little fibs give you the best of both worlds.
Not just a beer town
You’ve heard Bend dubbed “BeerTown USA.”
As the official PR Chick for Visit Bend, I see a new Bend-is-the-world’s-greatest-beer-destination article in some major publication nearly every week. It would be easy to buy into the hype and assume Bend’s nothing but a beer town.
In reality, nothing’s further from the truth.
We’ve got a killer cocktail scene, with hotspots like 10 Below, Dogwood Cocktail Cabin, and The Barrel Thief Lounge offering delectable concoctions crafted with local spirits and unique ingredients. If you’d rather go straight to the source, Bend boasts a number of renowned distilleries (don’t miss the brand new Crater Lake Tasting Room from Bendistillery in Downtown Bend!)
Bend also has at least half-a-dozen kombucha breweries in town, and you’ll find this healthful, fermented beverage on tap at lots of local pubs and restaurants. Parilla Grill (one of my favorite lunch spots) has three taps flowing with kombucha from Caboost, Bucha Buena, and Humm Kombucha—all of which are based in Bend. You can also fill a growler with kombucha at places like The Growler Guys and Food 4 Less (both of which have Humm Kombucha and Brew Dr. Kombucha on tap).
Bend’s hard cider scene is also top-notch, and you’ll always find a few local cideries among the tap handles of local growler fill stations. There are currently three cideries on the roster in Bend, and you’ll find all of them along the Drinkable Diversions route.
Can’t decide which to try? Don’t choose! Hit one cidery, one distillery, one brewery, and one winery, with the Local Pour Tour. They’ll drive you to and from your hotel, hitting all four stops and even providing a light appetizer along the way!
If you drop a gum wrapper in the woods, would anyone notice?
Bend’s wilderness areas are so vast and open that it’s easy to fall prey to the notion that a dropped bit of Kleenex or a forgotten pile of dog doody won’t make a difference.
Don’t buy that crap.
In Bend, we believe in picking up after ourselves and following Leave No Trace ethics. It’s what helps to keep our wilderness areas pristine and beautiful.
For more ideas on helping with the cause, check out our Visit Like a Local page.
You can’t ski and golf in the same day, can you?
Likewise, when you’re cruising the mountain bike trails in short sleeves and sunshine, how wacky does it seem to think that just a few miles up the hill, people are shredding the slopes in thick, puffy coats?
Believe it, though!
The rapid elevation gain that makes it all possible is one of Bend’s most charming attributes. It’s a feature that made Rad Season take note in their recent article about the “Bend Double” (the ability to ski and bike in the same day).
Casual vibe ≠ no reservations required
If I had a beer for every time I’ve watched baffled tourists walk into the Visitor Center expressing confusion over their inability to find a last-second room or campsite, I’d have . . . well, more beer than I should probably drink in a week.
The problem is two-fold: longtime Oregonians who spent childhood vacations in Bend are remembering the sleepy little town where you could show up on a Saturday in August and expect to find vacant rooms and campsites galore. But Bend’s popularity has made that unlikely these days, particularly in peak season between May and September.
Then, there’s the lie. See, Bend is such a mellow, laidback kinda town, that people just assume it’s not the sort of place where you need a reservation.
Don’t fall for it.
And don’t be disappointed. Be a smart traveler and research Bend lodging before your trip, then book ahead to get your top pick.