I love animals. The fact that I live with nine of them (not counting children) should tip you off, as should the pet fur on my clothes.
But my beloved city of Bend offers more than cats and dogs and aquarium fish for the animal lovers among us. Here are 10 places you can easily get your critter fix in Bend.
The High Desert Museum
If you love animals, make sure this Central Oregon landmark is on your bucket list. Otters, porcupines, raccoons, fish, owls, eagles, hawks, tortoises, and even a bobcat are just a few of the creature highlights at the High Desert Museum.
Be sure and check their online schedule so you can time your visit with special presentations like their Raptors of the Desert Sky demo, the reptile encounter, carnivore talk, and more.
Birdwatching in the Old Mill District
If feathered friends are your thing, the Old Mill District makes it easy for you to fit a bit of birdwatching between shopping and your dinner reservation.
Stop by the Ticket Mill to pick up a free birdwatching guide and a pair of rental binoculars (also free!) Consult the schedule to find out about seasonal Nature Walks and Bird Walks with local experts who can help you identify all the little birdies you’re seeing.
Alpacas at Crescent Moon Ranch
Located less than 30 minutes north of Bend, Crescent Moon Alpaca Ranch has ranch visiting hours seven days a week in both winter and summer. This is your chance to scope out one of the largest alpaca breeders in the U.S., and to get up close and personal with these adorably fuzzy creatures.
Watch for cria (that’s a baby alpaca) in the springtime, then stop by their on-site boutique to shop for alpaca wool socks and sweaters.
The Farm & Ranch Tour with The Well Traveled Fork
Admittedly it might seem weird for an animal lover to go out and meet the creatures he or she intends to eat. But as a carnivorous animal lover myself, I love the Farm & Ranch Tour from The Well Traveled Fork precisely because it sets my mind at ease just a little.
The tours hit 3-4 farms and ranches around Central Oregon where you can see animals raised in humane, kind, compassionate environments. You also get a glimpse at organic farming practices in this tricky high desert climate.
Home on the range at DD Ranch
This beautiful ranch northeast of Bend is often one of the stops on the aforementioned Farm & Ranch tour, but if time is short or you prefer exploring alone, you can check out DD Ranch all by yourself.
This is a working ranch that’s home to cows, goats, sheep, chickens, and more. It’s known for seasonal events like the annual pumpkin patch and Easter egg hunt. They even have options for birthday parties and field trips. There’s an on-site café that’s open seasonally, along with a petting zoo the kids will love.
Check their website for visiting hours and seasonal happenings.
Visit a Fish Hatchery
While fish aren’t cute and cuddly like some of the other animals on the list, they’re still an important part of Bend’s ecosystem and pretty entertaining to boot. There are a couple different fish hatcheries in Central Oregon, including the Fall River Fish Hatchery and the Wizard Falls Hatchery.
My personal fave is Wizard Falls for the opportunity to scope out the spellbinding turquoise water on that section of the Metolius River. If you go, consider parking at the West Metolius Trailhead and hiking along the river to reach the hatchery. Don’t forget a pocketful of quarters so you can buy fish food to toss into the pond.
Visit a dog park (whether you brought Fido or not!)
Bend was named the nation’s dog-friendliest town by Dog Fancy magazine, and one of the reasons was the city’s abundance of off-leash dog parks.
Even if you don’t have a pooch of your own on vacation, it’s still fun to swing by one so you can watch the pups frolicking in the water or scampering around in grassy fields. Go here for a list of dog parks in Bend.
Scope out the Sunriver Nature Center
The Sunriver Nature Center is worth a drive any time of year for their awesome birds of prey exhibit, nature trail, and creature cave that includes snakes, frogs, lizards, and toads. But the big highlight right now is a pair of brand new baby swans (called “cygnets”) that just hatched last week.
The romance author in me loves the backstory of two hard-luck swans, Chuck and Gracie, who seemed destined to remain single forever. Chuck was known for years as a curmudgeonly biter who chased away humans and other swans. Gracie was a bit of an outcast among swans on the Deschutes River who routinely picked on her. She was found one frigid winter morning with a fishing lure stuck in her tongue, and went through surgery and rehab to save her life. To make a long story short, the two were introduced and it was (almost) love at first sight. Chuck doesn’t bite anymore, and their new swan babies are the cutest things ever. Plus there’s a live webcam so you can keep tabs on the little family after you’ve returned home.
Saddle up for some horseback riding
Want a little giddyup in your Bend vacation? There are several spots around Central Oregon where you can take in the stunning landscape from atop your trusty rented stead.
My step-kids particularly loved taking lessons at Rhinestone Ranch, and it’s conveniently located just a little east of Bend. For a more scenic outing, Brasada Ranch offers some of the most stunning 900 acres filled with mountain views and curvy trails.
Check this link for a complete roundup of horseback riding in Bend and all around Central Oregon.
Keep your eyes peeled on an outing with Wanderlust Tours
While Wanderlust Tours outings aren’t billed as animal-viewing adventures per se, their naturalist guides are experts in all kinds of critters around the high desert. If you let your guide know you’re especially interested in hearing about animals, you’ll be regaled with all sorts of info on everything from otters to owls to pine martens.
During the summer months, there’s always a good chance you’ll encounter otters, beavers, hawks, and osprey on one of their canoe tours. In the wintertime, they’ll show you how to study the snow for animal tracks when you’re out on one of their snowshoe tours.
Admit it. Your dog kinda runs your life.
That’s okay. He probably does it better than you would, which is why you should listen to your pooch when he suggests your New Year’s resolutions for the coming year. Not only do they guarantee you a plethora of life improvements, but they get you to Bend, Oregon in 2016.
It’s a win/win, but with more tail wagging.
Go for more walks
This is my pup’s most frequent request, and I’ve vowed to indulge her in the coming year. Luckily, we live in the dog-friendliest city in America (according to Dog Fancy magazine) and one of its perks is an abundance of dog-friendly spots to stroll.
This time of year, I adore the Oregon Badlands Wilderness, which offers 29,000 acres of wide open space to explore Bend’s unique high desert landscape. You’ll see ancient junipers and craggy lava flows, and the fact that the area is fairly flat and relatively snow-free makes it great for winter hiking.
But if we’re on a quest for snow, we head to Wanoga SnoPark and hit the dog-friendly snowshoe or cross country ski trails. Bend has seen record-breaking snowfall in late 2015, so you and your pup are guaranteed some quality winter frolicking.
If you’d rather stick close to town, try one of Bend’s off-leash parks. Our personal fave is the Bob Wenger Memorial Off-Leash area, featuring 18 fully-fenced acres filled with trees, grassy fields, and lava outcroppings perfect for scrambling around and exploring. If you’re visiting during winter, bring a little water for your pooch, since the fountains shut down during chilly months.
Pee on new things
While I don’t share my dog’s passion for using my bladder to mark new territory, I do relate to her urge for venturing into unfamiliar areas. I’m a fourth-generation Oregonian who’s lived in Bend since 1997, and I’m not even close to running out of new spaces to explore.
The Visit Bend website is a great spot to get ideas for your next adventure. Take some time to peruse our pages devoted to hiking, pet-friendly travel, or winter fun & recreation to scope out new-to-you areas that you and Rover can discover together.
If you’re sentimental about returning to the same places each time you visit Bend, try shaking it up by visiting during a different time of year. Maybe you’ve already explored the Deschutes River Tail between Meadow Camp and Benham Falls at the height of summer, but did you know your pup can run leash-free in that area from mid-September until mid-May?
Likewise, trails in the Three Sisters Wilderness between Todd Lake and the South Sister Climbers’ Trail are leash-free zones from mid-September all the way through mid-July, making fall, spring, and winter a perfect time to let your pup run wild and free.
For more tips on planning Central Oregon adventures with your dog, check out the DogPac website.
Bring home more doggie bags
Here’s where you and your dog might have slightly different goals. You want to explore Bend’s amazing restaurants, sampling everything from Asian fusion to Italian to Mexican to dishes with a unique Pacific Northwest fare.
Your dog wants you to do the same thing. He just wants you to eat a couple bites and bring the rest home in a doggie bag.
Sadly for Rover, that’s unlikely to happen. The food in Bend is second-to-none, with award-winning chefs like Joe Kim of 5 Fusion (a two-time semifinalist for the James Beard Award—one of the only Oregon chefs outside Portland to be nominated for the honor). Ariana Restaurant was named one of the top 100 restaurants in America by Open Table diners, and Trattoria Sbandati was named Restaurant of the Year by readers of The Source Weekly. And these are just a few of the phenomenal dining spots you’ll find in Bend, Oregon.
In other words, you’ll probably clean your plate.
But don’t let that stop you from dining out as much as possible while you’re in Bend. You should add Zydeco to your list, since they offer free housemade doggie biscuits to take home to your four-legged pal. If that’s not enough, stop at Bend Pet Express for another round of treats, including unique offerings like chicken feet and beef thorax (sounds gross, but trust me—my dog loves it). Then grab a pint of Dawg Grog doggie beer so your pooch can wash it all down in style.
Don’t work so much
Fido’s motives are clear here. If you’re not at work, odds are good you’re not only more relaxed, but you’re spending time with him.
You want to make your dog happy, right? So make yourself happy, too, by planning a weekend getaway to Bend.
Clip on Fido’s leash for a scenic hike up Pilot Butte. Stroll historic Downtown Bend for a bit of shopping, and you’ll discover most shops let you bring your pup right inside. Be sure to head down Minnesota Avenue for a visit to Bendy Dog, where they sell dog soaps, greeting cards, pooch products, and a huge array of photography and paintings inspired by our four-legged friends.
Then button up Rover’s dog jacket and head out on the Bend Ale Trail where your furry pal can join you by the fire pits at breweries like McMenamins, Crux Fermentation Project, or Good Life.
After that, say a great big “thank you” to your four-legged friend. You should probably let him make your resolutions every year.
I know you guys are kinda used to Tawna blogging here every week, so I’m sorry to tell you she’s sick. Like she’s piling up all these tissues that taste REALLY AWESOME, but I’m not supposed to eat them because BAD DOG.
Whatever. In case you hadn’t guessed, I’m Tawna’s dog, Bindi, and DON’T WORRY! I have everything under control.
See, I’m an Australian Kelpie, which is pretty much like a herding dog on crack. If I can catch my own tail and keep Tawna’s five cats in line, I can totally ROCK THIS BLOG POST!
A lot of you have dogs of your own, so I’d like to tell you why I think Bend is freakin’ awesome. That way you guys can come here and play and maybe pee on some stuff I’ve marked for you. Just don’t touch that ponderosa in Drake Park. That’s mine.
Dog parks galore!
Look, I can totally walk on a leash. I can heel like nobody’s business, but sometimes I like to RUN FREEEEEE like the wild beast I am.
There are tons of places to do that in Bend. The good folks at DogPac do an awesome job setting up off-leash recreation areas around town, and the people at Bend Parks & Rec have a killer map of all the dog parks right here.
My favorite is the Bob Wenger Memorial Off-Leash Area in northeast Bend. It has 18 acres of trails, fields, rocks to pee on, trees to pee on, fences to pee on, fetching zones, and even a cool splash park I like to slobber in when the weather’s warm.
Did I mention I’m pretty much the best fetcher EVER?
If you’d rather get off the beaten path and run around in the woods, DogPac has a cool roundup of dog-friendly summer and winter trails here. When the snow is good, I like to take Tawna out to Wanoga to do a little snowshoeing. She wears the snowshoes, not me, because DUH, I can run on snow or mud or the surface of the sun because HELLO, I’m a Kelpie.
Hook a puppy up!
OK, maybe I exaggerated a little bit in that last paragraph. See, occasionally I need a little extra help dealing with the conditions in Bend. Like when we’re out for really long hikes in the snow, I sometimes wear booties to keep my toes warm. I’m hoping for a pair of Louboutin stilettos next, but so far no dice. My best friend, Tanner, wears this waxy goop called Musher’s Secret, which keeps her paws safe in the snow. Our parents buy all that stuff at Bend Pet Express, which has two locations in town and a DELICIOUS selection of dog cookies. I’m just saying.
When summer rolls around, Tawna likes to take me with her on the standup paddleboard because OBVIOUSLY she needs my superior navigation skills. I don’t have to wear my life vest when we’re paddling close to shore in calm water, but if we’re out on a lake or paddling someplace unfamiliar, I always wear one. Did you know RuffWear (the company that makes the K-9 Float Coat) is based in Bend? Like, I can totally smell it from here.
I feel pretty . . . oh so pretty!
Sometimes I get stinky and it’s AWESOME!
Unfortunately, Tawna and The Guy don’t agree. Since they’re the ones who drive the car, I usually end up at Bend Pet Express where they have these special dog wash stations that let my parents do the scrubbing and rinsing. I like it better that way, because seriously—would YOU want a stranger washing under your tail? I didn’t think so.
Anyway, they provide all the tools like aloe shampoo and conditioner, plus these rubber spongy things that feel really great on my rump, plus towels and nail trimmers and even an apron. The people wear the aprons, not the dogs, though I WOULD TOTALLY ROCK AN APRON.
Treats? Did someone say treats?
After my bath, I deserve a treat. I love it when Tawna swings by Newport Market where they always have a selection of freshly-cut beef bones with all this tasty marrow. I like to gnaw on my bone and pretend I’m a wild wolf who just took down an elk, but then I remember I let the cat lick my bone and also that I’m scared of my own farts.
Besides the marrow bones, I totally dig the biscuits from Polkadoodle Dog Bakery. I also totally love Dawg Grog, this special non-alcoholic dog beer that’s made locally from byproducts of the brewing process. Nothing washes down a freshly-killed elk like a cold one, amirite?
*Scratches self. Belches*
Everyone loves me!
Look, I haven’t learned to read yet, OKAY? Sue me, I was busy learning quantum physics and how to distinguish between post-modernism and abstract expressionist art forms.
But if I could read, I’d know Dog Fancy magazine named Bend the dog-friendliest city in America. And the thing is, I don’t need to read to know that. I can walk anywhere in town and people are happy to see me. Like they’d totally be wagging their tails if they had them (and what’s up with that—seriously, how can you live without a tail?)
Anyway, there are tons of restaurants in Bend that let me sit with Tawna and The Guy while they have dinner on the patio. You can check the grid listings here to find one you really like, since most places with patios allow dogs.
Out-of-town visitors will dig the fact that Bend has so many great hotels and vacation rentals that allow dogs. No joke, even really fancy hotels. Like The Oxford Hotel in Bend was just named the #6 hotel IN THE WHOLE FREAKIN’ COUNTRY by the folks at TripAdvisor, and they totally know how to treat a dog right. You get a personal pet bed customized to your size, a couple travel bowls, housemade treats, a map of dog walking trails, and add-on services like pet massage and dog walking. MASSAGE, you guys! Really. Or you can check out the digs at The Riverhouse, where they don’t charge any extra pet fees to let your dog share a room with you, plus they’re right on the river for easy access to all the best splashing and playing.
So I guess that pretty much does it for my blog post. Oh, and if anyone’s looking for something to get me for my birthday, I really want one of these awesome dog-powered scooters they make in Bend. Can’t you see me in one of those sporting a pair of Doggles and a cape?
That would rule.