Bend Oregon Blog | The Bend Buzz by Visit Bend
Yesterday I got an email from a colleague seeking a roundup of “best of” lists Bend has made in recent years. It was tough to narrow it down.
Did she want to know about the time Outside magazine named Bend the top standup paddleboarding getaway in the world? Or maybe when USA Today claimed we’re one of the nation’s top cycling towns? Or how about when the New York Times ranked Bend one of the top 52 destinations in the world to visit? What about when Livability.com named us one of America’s most romantic cities, or the time Dog Fancy declared us the dog-friendliest city in the U.S.?
Bend has been lauded for everything from mountain biking to fishing to the city’s amazing beer scene. But scrolling through all those “best of” lists got me thinking about other (admittedly nonexistent) lists Bend would totally rock if there were such a thing.
5 great spots to wear boots and a bikini in the same day
Spring is the best time of year to visit Bend if you want to find skiable snow still in the mountains, and paddle-worthy conditions on the Deschutes River all in the same day.
Head up to Mt. Bachelor for a morning of spring skiing or a bit of snowshoeing. Then drive 25 minutes to plop your kayak in the river or maybe hit a mountain biking trail. There aren’t too many places in the world where you can do that in a span of only a couple hours.
The world’s 10 most scenic places to have an allergy attack
While spring is an amazing time of year to visit Bend, it’s also a not-so-great time of year for those who suffer from allergies to juniper pollen. The thing is, you’re unlikely to care.
I can’t tell you how many people I know who’ve lived in Bend for eons and simply accept the fact that they’ll spend a few days each spring sneezing and sniffling uncontrollably. When asked if they’d ever consider leaving, every single one of them declares a vehement, “No way!” in between sniffles.
There’s a reason allergy-prone folks are willing to put up with a tiny bit of suffering. It’s a small price to pay for endless access to glorious mountain views, abundant recreational opportunities, and the friendliest people you’ll ever hope to meet.
The top U.S. destinations to ogle beautiful people
I suppose this isn’t the most politically-correct addition to the list, but it’s true. Everywhere you go in Bend, you’ll see beautiful, fit, smiling people strolling around in cycling shorts or running gear like it’s the most natural thing in the word. In Bend, it kinda is.
Maybe it’s the preponderance of outdoor activities that keeps everyone so fit, or maybe it’s just being in Bend that makes everyone so beautifully smiley all the time. Either way, we’ll take it!
15 great places you can wear jeans to a fancy dinner
But Bend also has the most unpretentious culinary scene you’ll find. You can stroll into any one of the city’s award-winning eateries in a pair of jeans and a clean fleece and no one will look twice. The food and beer will be outstanding, and you’ll be comfortable in your casual best.
America’s top destinations to get a sunburn
People boast that Bend gets an average of 300 days of sunshine a year, and while I won’t claim the sun is blazing every hour, it’s true we’ve got a whole lot of sun here. Combine with the fact that everyone loves to play outdoors in Bend (and then mix in the albedo effect of spending prolonged time on a bright white surface like snow or a reflective surface like a lake or river) and….well….yeah. You might get a little pink in the cheeks.
Fortunately, you can enjoy Bend without the sunburn as long as you regularly reapply your sunscreen. Try Bend-made T’s Tonics, which offer sweat-proof SPF 30 protection with the added bonus of healing oils that leave your skin soft and nourished.
But if the red demon of sun exposure does strike you down, I can promise there are few places in the country that make a more beautiful setting to smear aloe on your naked body.
The best U.S. destinations to count Subarus
If you’ve spent more than an hour in Bend, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Stand on any street corner in Bend on any day of the year and I guarantee you’ll see at least a dozen Subarus cruise past in fifteen minutes or less.
Most of them will have racks on top that are loaded with bikes, kayaks, ski gear, or all of the above. Do not attempt to play the “slug bug” game here with Subarus or you will never recover from the bruises.
Whether you’re a mom to humans, a mom to four-legged creatures, or a childfree visitor looking for a way to celebrate your own mother, Bend makes a pretty fab place to spend Mother’s Day.
In 2016, the big day falls on Sunday, May 8, and there are a number of ways you can commemorate the holiday in Bend. Here are a few of my faves.
Mother’s day brunch, coming up!
If you asked my step-kids to name their favorite places in Central Oregon, I’m positive Brasada Ranch would make the list. Though the kids won’t be with us for Mother’s Day this year, I’m still seizing the opportunity to head out there for Brasada Ranch’s annual Mother’s Day Brunch, complete with seasonal, farm-fresh cuisine, lawn games, and more. The event is from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and I recommend getting there early so you can enjoy the whole day out there.
If you’d prefer to stay right in the Bend city limits, McMenamins Saint Francis School also hosts an annual Mother’s Day brunch from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. with a menu that includes French toast, biscuits with sausage gravy, specialty salads, fresh fruit, eggs, maple-glazed ham with Hammerhead sauce, and a selection of desserts.
Other Central Oregon hotspots offering Mother’s Day Brunch include Sunriver Resort, Pronghorn Resort, Tetherow Resort, and Faith, Hope and Charity Vineyards. Be sure to call for reservations, since these events are quite popular and tend to sell out.
Not in the mood for brunch?
It’s true Mother’s Day brunch is kind of a thing, and I’m positive any of the brunches I mentioned above will be a big win for the mom in your life.
But if that’s not your scene, consider offering mom something besides the traditional breakfast/lunch hybrid. The Bend Ale Trail is a fabulous place to start if mom’s a fan of craft beer. To make it extra special, pick up a beer-themed gift for her a Hydro Flask or DrinkTanks growler (both of which are sold in the Bend Visitor Center). If bling is more her thing, consider a pair of hop-inspired earrings from Hopped Up Jewelry.
If Mom is less into food and more into enjoying the great outdoors, try planning a family-friendly hike or an afternoon picnic in one of nearly 80 parks in Bend. I rounded up my favorite parks in this blog post.
Another option for the non-brunch-seeking crowd is the special Mother’s Day prime rib dinner at Currents at the Riverhouse. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, it’s because the restaurant attached to Riverhouse on the Deschutes used to be known as Crossings. In recent months, the space got a HUGE overhaul, including a new name, a new chef, and a dining area that looks so dramatically different you won’t recognize it. They’ve only recently re-opened, so call 541-389-8810 to book your spot at the Mother’s Day dinner and check out what’s new.
Dog moms unite!
Not all moms have kids who walk upright on two legs. For mothers whose beloved babies wag their tails and snack from the cat box, Downtown Bend’s annual Dog Daze event takes place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 7 (the day before Mother’s Day).
Sponsored by Riverside Animal Hospital, the event kicks off in Mirror Pond Plaza with pet-themed booths and animals available for adoption. That’s where you’ll grab your “dog passport,” which will lead you (and your leashed, furry friend!) on a journey to different Downtown Bend businesses to collect paw print stamps. Turn in your passport by 3 p.m. for a chance to win prizes valued at more than $300.
Get her some flowers…or a barbecue
If you’re a traditionalist who wants to buy Mom a nice floral arrangement for Mother’s Day, you’ll certainly find those at the Central Oregon Builders Association Home and Garden Show.
But you’ll also find booths featuring everything from grills to birdhouses to RVs, along with a huge array of educational offerings from cooking to gardening.
The event is held out at the Deschutes County Fairgrounds in Redmond, and features free admission and parking. Stop by May 6 or 7 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., or on May 8 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Treat mom to some pampering
You know what mom wants more than anything else, but is afraid to tell you because she doesn’t want to seem pretentious? A spa day.
Trust me, it’s true. Even the mom who insists she doesn’t need a massage or a facial would be absolutely ecstatic if you got her a gift certificate for one.
Luckily, Bend has oodles of amazing day spas for you to choose from if you want to snag a gift certificate or two. Check out Visit Bend’s roundup of Bend spas and day spas to pick one that sounds right for the lady in your life.
Oh, and if you want in on the action, consider booking the Couple’s Massage Workshop at Brasada Ranch so you can use your skills on each other for many years to come.
Experiences, not things
A few weeks before Christmas, I wrote this blog post about the benefits of giving experiences instead of things. It’s as true for Mother’s Day as it was for Christmas, and I guarantee mom will treasure the memories she makes during that adventure from Wanderlust Tours or the cooking class from Well Traveled Fork.
And if you’d like to plan a single, amazing day to honor the special lady in your life, check out the itinerary in this blog post on planning a perfect day in Bend.
Last week someone asked me to recommend a list of must-do Bend experiences and adventures.
I started to email her a link to this blog post I wrote to answer that question. Then I looked at the date. March 2012? Huh.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve changed a lot in four years. I got married and acquired a couple amazing step-kids. I discovered awesome new adventures and experiences in this town I call home. Heck, even the town itself has changed in the 1,511 days since I wrote that post.
Based on the popularity of that previous post, it seems wise to offer a new one for 2016. Here, without further ado, are Tawna’s top 10 experiences for Bend visitors.
1) Hike Pilot Butte.
If you’re not up for hiking this 500-foot cinder cone in the center of town, you can drive it in the warmer months between May and October(ish). But one way or another, you need to make the journey to the summit of Pilot Butte. There, you’ll have 360-degree views of mountains, desert, and the entire city of Bend. It’s a terrific way to orient yourself to the city, plus you’ll have bragging rights for summiting one of the only city-dwelling volcanoes in the U.S.
2) Hit at least one stop on the Bend Ale Trail.
Craft beer is an integral part of Bend’s culture and history. Even if you think you’re not a beer fan, you’ll be fascinated by the science lesson you get on a brewery tour (I recommend the one at Deschutes Brewery, or hit four stops and get sober transportation and snacks with the Bend Brew Bus). Nearly all the breweries along the Bend Ale Trail are family-friendly, so you can make it a casual lunch with the kids, or go whole-hog and hit a dozen or more breweries with your Bend Ale Trail passport in hand. Most breweries offer taster trays, so seize the opportunity to try several styles and varieties.
3) Day trip to a major Central Oregon landmark.
I’m cheating a little with this one, but it’s my way of acknowledging you’re unlikely to have time to hit all the major state parks, national monuments, and other bucket-list landmarks during your Central Oregon vacation. But make sure you hit at least Drive 40 minutes to Smith Rock State Park to see the towering basalt cliffs, or make the two-hour trek to Crater Lake National Park to see the deepest lake in the U.S., which formed when a volcano collapsed on itself. The Painted Hills Unit of the John Day National Monument is less than two hours away and features stunning multicolored hillsides and sweeping views. You can also day trip to see things like the spellbinding turquoise waters of the Metolius River (40 minutes) or take a two-hour drive and a woodsy hike to see the stunning depths of Tamolitch Pool (also known as Blue Pool). You can read more about must-do Bend day trips here.
4) Try an adventure with Wanderlust Tours.
I’ve been lucky enough to sample nearly every tour offered by this phenomenal company, from moonlight snowshoe tours to canoe trips to cave adventures and much more. There is simply no better way to experience a once-in-a-lifetime Central Oregon adventure than to go with a knowledgeable, engaging naturalist guide who provides all your transportation, gear, and a wealth of knowledge about this region. Trust me—this will be some of the best money you spend on your Bend vacation. Go here to check out the offerings from Wanderlust Tours.
5) Play on water (liquid or frozen).
Whether you prefer to paddle the pristine waters of the Deschutes River or ski the powdery slopes at Bachelor, your Bend vacation needs to include some form of water adventure. Take a drive up the Cascade Lakes Highway in summertime to splash around in one of the lakes. If there’s snow on the ground, head the same direction, but bust out the snowshoes when you reach the gate that closes seasonally. At visitbend.com, you’ll find oodles of summer recreation ideas ranging from canoeing to standup paddleboarding to floating the river on an inner tube. You’ll also learn about winter recreation ideas that run the gamut from ice skating to skiing to sled dog rides. Pick one according to your interests and the season, and prepare to enjoy the best H2O has to offer.
6) Get your foodie fix.
Bend’s culinary scene is mouthwateringly, dizzyingly good for a city this size, and you’ll find everything from Asian fusion prepared by a James Beard-nominated chef, to creative twists on Pacific Northwest and European cuisine. If you’re a true foodie, you might enjoy a culinary tour or cooking class from The Well Traveled Fork. You can also sample pub fare along the Bend Ale Trail or consult the drinking and dining category on this blog to find posts about everything from Bend’s best burgers to gluten-free dining to vegan and vegetarian fare. Just make sure you step out of your comfort zone a few times instead of sticking with chain restaurants you recognize from home. I promise you’ll thank me!
7) Soak in some arts and culture.
Even if you don’t frequent art galleries in your hometown, you owe it to yourself to take a gander at Bend’s unique art scene. We have an amazing array of outdoor public art you can scope out with the Tin Pan Alley Art Collection or the Roundabout Art Route. We also have a terrific lineup of museums, theaters, concerts, and more, which you can learn about on the arts and culture page of the Visit Bend website. Prefer to have someone else do the driving while giving you oodles of local insights? Check out the Art Safari Tour with The Bend Tour Company.
8) Show me some lava!
One of the most unique things about Bend’s landscape is the volcanic history of the area and the abundance of unique geological features everywhere. You’ll get a taste of it with the aforementioned hike up Pilot Butte, but you can take it a step further by exploring the Newberry Volcanic National Monument or the vast Oregon Badlands Wilderness. You can also enjoy a volcano tour from Wanderlust Tours, or hoof it along the Deschutes River Trail on your own to scope out Lava Island Falls. To take a little piece of it home, try some rockhounding around Central Oregon and scope out massive lava flows and glassy obsidian.
9) Stroll the Old Mill District and Downtown Bend.
Every town you visit is going to have some form of souvenir shopping, but ours looks a little different in Bend. Historic Downtown Bend is dotted with quaint, locally-owned shops and unique historic architecture, with the added bonus of being right on the fringe of Bend’s famous Drake Park. The Old Mill District has a delightful mix of well-known chain stores and locally-owned boutiques, along with a plethora of great restaurants lining the Deschutes riverfront that beckons you to stroll while you’re shopping there. With roughly a mile separating the two areas, you can easily walk or bike between the two on a nice afternoon.
10) Play Outside.
We kinda already covered this base with the aforementioned suggestions to play in or on water and hike Pilot Butte. But let’s take it a step further, shall we? Vacation is an excellent time to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. For some, that might involve bungee jumping, an Ultralite ride, or some other source of adrenaline rush. For others, it might be something like a mountain bike tour with Cog Wild or a kayak lesson from Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe. Find the edge of your outdoorsy comfort zone and take one step out of it. You’ll be glad you did!
It’s still April in Bend, and a week ago I was looking out my office window at snow piled around tulips in the yard of a neighboring business.
We have about two more months of vacillating between sunshine and freezing temps in Bend, which might lead you to think you have all the time in the world to schedule a summer vacation in Bend. Don’t be fooled. Here are five reasons you really need to get a jump on it NOW.
Choose where you snooze
Bend’s summers are hot in more ways than temperature. Between June and September, the city sees a staggering surge in tourists coming here for warm-weather activities like hiking, biking, kayaking, rafting, camping, or all of the above in Bend’s great outdoors.
It’s no wonder, since the abundance of blue skies, warm weather, and epic rivers, lakes, and trails makes this the perfect summertime playground. But that means lodging books up super-early in summer months, with many regular visitors scheduling their trips more than a year in advance.
Last-minute lodging can be impossible to find at the height of summer, regardless of whether you plan to stay in a Bend resort, a vacation home, a hotel, or even an RV park. Now’s the time to start nailing down a place to stay if you’re hoping to visit during peak months, so start your search right here.
Don’t miss that once-in-a-lifetime concert
When the Les Schwab Amphitheater announced several months ago that Alabama Shakes would play the venue Memorial Day Weekend, plenty of folks got giddy. When the band won a Grammy a few weeks later, it didn’t take long for the Bend show to sell out.
A lot of would-be concert-goers were bummed. They had no idea some of the hottest shows at this awesome outdoor venue can sell out before you’ve made up your mind to buy tickets.
Don’t miss out on that concert you’ve been dying to see. The 2016 summer lineup promises a diverse and awesome lineup of artists ranging from Jackson Browne to Steve Miller Band to Slightly Stoopid to Brandi Carlile to Michael Franti and sooooooo many more. Go here to check out the complete lineup, then nab your tickets early to avoid the heartbreak of missing your favorite show.
Predicting the weather isn’t tough
When you plan a Bend vacation in October, November, December, January, February, March, April, May, or early-June, you might get snow. Or you might get rain. Or you might get blazing hot sunshine. Heck, you might get all those things in one day.
The weather is unpredictable from fall to spring, which is one of the amazing things about Bend. (I actually blogged about it last week in this post on embracing Bend’s yo-yo springtime weather).
But if you’re planning something like a family reunion or a once-in-a-lifetime vacation that absolutely, positively requires great weather, you can almost guarantee you’ll get that if you visit Bend between late-June and early-September. That’s when our high desert weather is at its finest (in my humble opinion) with dry, hot, cloudless days and clear, starry, cool nights.
One of many upsides to this is the fact that you can pre-book weather-dependent activities with some relative certainty the weather will cooperate. While Sun Country Tours is unlikely to sign a document in blood promising sunshine on the day of your whitewater raft trip, odds are good it’ll be plenty warm in July or August. Ditto that for things like canoe outings with Wanderlust Tours or a mountain biking adventure with Cog Wild.
Just remember to pack your sunscreen, okay?
Consult the calendar to know what’s happening
Not sure which summer month to pick for your Bend summer vacation? Visit Bend’s Event Calendar can help you plan around special events to suit your interests and schedule.
You can narrow your Event Calendar search to look for things happening in the arts community, for concerts, or for sporting events that tickle your fancy.
Booking ahead isn’t for losers. I promise.
Ahem. A personal story.
I spent a big chunk of my 20s and 30s globetrotting all over the world, roaming from Australia to Italy to Venezuela to Morocco to Barbados and a zillion other places in between. I very rarely made reservations anywhere, preferring to roam freely with my grungy backpack and the knowledge I could decide on a whim where to lay my head that night.
Now I’m 41, and when my husband and I sat down to plan our three-week vacation in New Zealand, I was aghast at his suggestion that we pre-book all our lodging. What if I liked Blenheim better than Dunedin and wanted to stay there longer? Or what if the Coromandel Peninsula wasn’t what I expected and I wanted to keep moving?
But after a bit of discussion, I agreed to try it my husband’s way.
You know what, guys? I learned something on that trip. I learned that pre-booking my lodging let me research ahead of time to make sure I get the best lodging deals in areas that suit my style and budget. I learned that not having to scramble with last-minute phone calls and driving around looking for vacancy signs makes vacation a whole lot more restful. And I learned that I would have been in deep doo-doo if I’d shown up in Rotorua (a town we absolutely adored) without a reservation on the day a massive bike race booked every single room in that little city.
So yeah, booking ahead takes a bit of the spontaneity out of travel. But it also takes away a lot of the stress. Do yourself a favor, especially if you’re visiting Bend during peak summer season—BOOK AHEAD!
On Monday I walked my dog wearing a sleeveless top and skirt.
To clarify, my dog was naked. I wore the skirt and top.
In any case, it was bright and warm and I got a touch of sunburn on my nose. When I came home and glanced at the weather report, I saw snowflakes in the forecast for Thursday. Yep, snow.
It’s always possible this time of year in Bend, just like it’s also possible I’ll be sitting on my back deck tonight sipping a Bend craft beer in 80-degree weather. You kinda never know.
But there are a lot of upsides to our crazy yo-yo weather fluctuations that come with springtime in Bend, and here are three of my faves.
Wield ski poles and a kayak paddle in the same day
Mt. Bachelor has one of the longest ski seasons in the Pacific Northwest, and the mountain is legendary for having some of the best spring skiing in the country. Most years you can ski all the way through Memorial Weekend, and given the snow year we had in 2015-2016, there’s still plenty of white stuff to be found up there.
As an added bonus, Mt. Bachelor has oodles of great Springtacular specials going right now, ranging from deals on spring passes to events with live music and competitions. You can learn more right here.
Once you’ve had enough of snow play, drive 20 minutes down the hill to the middle of Bend. Take your pick between golfing, mountain biking, kayaking, or any manner of warm-weather sport. There’s plenty to pick from, and the new Bend Whitewater Park adds an extra dimension of fun to your time on the Deschutes River.
My personal fave is standup paddleboarding, and I had my first SUP outing of the season a couple days ago. The very same day, a pal posted her photos from a ski day up at Mt. Bachelor. How’s that for the best of both worlds?
Layers can be kinda fun
I’ll be the first to admit I’m no fashionista, but I also kinda like the variety I get to have in my wardrobe this time of year. I start my workday wearing sassy boots and a cardigan with my skirt, and by mid-afternoon I’ve ditched the sweater and switched to sandals. When evening rolls around, I can go back to my original outfit, or trade for jeans and a fleece if I plan to hang out by an outdoor fire pit along the Bend Ale Trail.
Also, can I confess something I didn’t tell my husband when we packed for our recent three-week vacation in New Zealand? I deliberately packed extra light when it came to things like sundresses, hats, and scarves. I knew those would be easy to find in either beach towns or mountain towns, and I love the idea of picking up wearable souvenirs in my travels.
There are oodles of great shopping destinations in Bend, including historic Downtown Bend and the Old Mill District. Springtime is the season of killer clearance sales, so now’s a great time to score really great discounts on those “transitional pieces” that’ll see you through the changing weather.
Indecisive travelers unite! Or don’t…
If you’ve been eyeing Bend as a vacation destination, it can be tough to decide when to visit. Do you want to snuggle into your puffy coat beside the Crux fire pit sipping a hearty porter and reminiscing about your day of snowshoeing? Or would you rather hike Pilot Butte in short sleeves, then pick your favorite riverfront dining spot to watch kayakers paddle past while you enjoy a gourmet meal?
While you’d have to pick one or the other if you were deciding between a December versus an August trip, you can have both when you visit Bend in spring. That hot tub they offer at your Bend hotel or vacation rental will feel a whole lot better on a cool spring evening than it would in July, but you won’t have to shovel a path through the snow to reach it. Score!
Not only that, but the Bend lodging deals you’ll find in springtime are much better than you’d see at peak times in mid-summer or mid-winter.
Driving along a country road Sunday afternoon, I heard a voice from the backseat.
“Thank you so much for taking us on that hike. It was really fun.”
The voice belonged to my 14-year-old stepson, and those of you with teenagers know it’s kind of a big deal to have anything declared “fun” when it doesn’t include electronic devices or friends.
But the hike was fun, which got us talking about other fun family hikes we’ve done around Central Oregon over the last five years. There were tons. But we narrowed it to a few of our faves, as voted upon by Cedar and his 10-year-old sister, Violet.
And the grownups. We sometimes get a vote, too.
Alder Springs Trail
Let’s start with the hike that inspired my stepson’s comment last weekend, since it’s the newest one in our repertoire.
The Alder Springs Trail hike offers stunning glimpses of high desert landscapes with sagebrush-dotted plateaus and sweeping vistas in all directions. Unlike some of my other favorite desert-centric hikes (i.e. the Oregon Badlands Wilderness), this one has water thrown in, which makes it nicer for both kids and pets.
There’s a bit of elevation here, but don’t let that stop you. En route down toward Whychus Creek, we passed two families with kids around five or six and one mom with a toddler in a backpack. While laziness and an abundance of caution (not to mention the fact that I don’t actually have a toddler) would preclude me from doing that, you’ll do fine with kids in the 7+ age range.
It’s about 1.5 miles from the trailhead down to Whychus Creek, which is an excellent spot for a picnic. Many folks opt to wade through the river and keep hiking another 1.5 miles to reach the confluence of Whychus Creek and the Deschutes River, but springtime flows made the water a bit too deep and swift to risk it with the 10-year-old. But there was still plenty to see, especially on the hike back up when we detoured toward the old bridge site for more awesome access to Whychus Creek.
The adventure took us about three hours, plus about 90 minutes of total drive time. Be aware that the road leading to the trailhead is pretty rutted, and that there are no bathroom facilities anywhere nearby. Make a potty stop in Sisters or plan on holding it for a little while. The folks at Cascade Hiking Adventures offer great, detailed directions for reaching this area, so go here to check those out.
Tamolitch Pool (aka Blue Pool)
Where the Alder Springs hike offers the best of high desert scenery, Tamolitch Pool covers the opposite base with an abundance of towering, mossy trees and damp earth. Getting here requires a drive of about 1.5 hours southwest of Bend, but that makes it a perfect day trip (especially when you reward everyone with a soak afterward at nearby Belknap Hot Springs, which is much more kid-friendly than lots of hot springs you’ll find around Oregon).
But back to the hike. There are two potential starting points, and while the one beginning at the Koosah Falls parking area offers the bonus of waterfall views, 8+ miles of hiking might be a bit much for families with younger kids in tow. Personally, I prefer to start from the trailhead near Carmen Reservoir or Trailbridge Reservoir, which reduces your hiking time by roughly half, but still gives you plenty of great river and forest scenery to savor.
The end result is the same either way, with glorious views of the Blue Pool (which really is as blue as it looks in photos). Bring a snack and sit on a log or boulder near the rim to enjoy the views while nibbling your cheese and crackers. Expect the kids to sleep well on the drive back to Bend.
If your time is limited and you don’t feel like driving far to enjoy a Bend hike, Pilot Butte is the ticket. It has the bonus cool factor of being a dormant volcano, making Bend one of the only cities in the U.S. with a volcano in the city limits (and providing bragging rights for your kids when they return to school and tell their friends, “yeah, I hiked a volcano. . . I’m kind of a big deal.”)
This 500-foot cinder cone offers a couple different routes to the top. The unpaved trail is steeper and gets you to the top a minute or two faster, but with one kid prone to dust-inspired asthma attacks, we usually opt to hike alongside the paved road. It’s closed to motorized vehicles between November(ish) and April(ish) depending on snowfall, so if you’re hiking between those months, feel free to let the kids run wild in the road. Otherwise, you’ll want to herd everyone into the shoulder to keep them safe from speeding cars.
Regardless of how you get to the summit, plan on spending a little time up there to savor the 360-degree views. When the kids were younger, we used to bring a container of bubbles to blow in all directions so they could chase them as they floated along the wind.
I suspect the 14-year-old wouldn’t find that quite as cool these days.
Deschutes River Trail
This is another good option for families who prefer not to drive far from a Bend home base to reach the trailhead. Your distance depends on your starting point. The main trail starts at the Meadow Camp picnic area just off Century Drive. You can access a lot of other trailheads off FS road 41, so pick your starting point and your route depending on your family’s skill and endurance.
To keep it nice and short, try the Meadow Camp to Lava Island hike, which clocks in at just over a mile. If you’re game for a bigger hike, you can hoof it all the way from Meadow Camp to Benham Falls, passing Lava Island Falls, Aspen Camp, and Dillon Falls along the way. That one will require about 8.5 miles of hiking, so plan accordingly.
The nice thing is that you can set out from Meadow Camp and decide along the way what you feel up to. If everyone’s still feeling strong after a couple miles, keep going. If someone in your party (possibly a parent) has a temper tantrum meltdown after mile one, just head back. Easy-peasy!
No matter how far you go, you’ll be treated to splendid views of the Deschutes River and the towering ponderosas and lava rocks that line the trail. This is a pretty well-trafficked trail, so expect crowds if you set out in the middle of summer.
Waterfall hikes are a big hit with kids, and this one is another favorite for my family. The kids love the winding, woodsy trails and the fact that they get to see not one, but two magnificent waterfalls along the loop.
While the trails are fairly well-maintained, there are some spots where you’ll have to scramble a bit, so keep that in mind if you have teeny-tiny kids or anyone in the party who isn’t sure-footed. But the fact that this is a fairly short hike (1.5 miles) and the fact that it’s a loop instead of an in-and-back hike makes it a great choice for families.
Be sure you have plenty of space on your camera for this one, as the biggest set of falls is touted as the most photographed waterfall in the whole state. Our local paper, The Bulletin, had a great piece a few years ago on visiting Proxy Falls from Bend, complete with handy directions. You can check that out here.
Another good choice for the waterfall chasers, Steelhead Falls has the added bonus of being handy to combine with a visit to Smith Rock State Park, since both are near Terrebonne about 20 miles north of Bend on Highway 97.
This is a relatively short but scenic hike, and another one like Alder Springs that highlights more of Central Oregon’s desert landscape. The hike from the trailhead to the main waterfall is a little over a mile that winds down a gorge dotted with sagebrush and ancient juniper. In summer months, the trail can be packed with people looking to swim in the peaceful waters just downstream from the falls.
I prefer doing this one in the springtime when most of the folks you’ll encounter are fishing quietly along the riverbank. Tread carefully if you go when there’s still a threat of ice or snow. Once you reach the waterfall, spread out a blanket for a picnic, and give the kids a chance to chuck rocks into the foaming, churning water.
For terrific, detailed driving details, check out the hike description from Cascade Hiking Adventures.
Smith Rock State Park
This one is nice to combine with the aforementioned Steelhead Falls hike to make it a full day of hiking in two different areas, or you can do it all by itself for a shorter day.
Smith Rock State Park is regarded as one of the seven wonders of Oregon, and for good reason. Towering basalt cliffs, gorgeous river views, and jaw-dropping landscapes will leave even the not-easily-impressed members of your family staring in wonder at the incredible views.
There are lots of spots to hike around this 651-acre state park, so you can choose whatever fits your family’s skill level. If you want to keep it simple, opt for an easy 2.5 mile stroll on flat ground along the River Trail from the park bridge to Monkey Face (which really does look like a monkey’s face!)
If you’re feeling more ambitious, hike up the Misery Ridge Trail (elevation 3,360 feet) for killer views of the entire Central Oregon Cascade mountain range.
You’ll find longer and shorter hikes, and even the opportunity to try a little sport climbing if you book with a skilled climbing guide (many of whom are happy to work with families of all ages).
And no matter which hike or climb you choose, make sure to stop along the way and stare at the river for a few minutes. Odds are good you’ll be rewarded by views of river otters frolicking in the cool water.
One of Central Oregon’s quintessential Bend experiences, Tumalo Falls has the added bonus of being close to town. Depending on how far you choose to hike, you can cross this one off your bucket list in just a couple hours (including drive time and hiking time).
That’s assuming you go in the late-spring through early-fall when FS Road 4603 isn’t closed. If you show up before the road opens for the season, you’ll need to add another couple miles of hiking, which isn’t the worst thing in the world considering how beautiful this area is.
But assuming you show up at a time of year when you can park right at the trailhead, you’ve got a whopping hike of about 200 yards to reach the first waterfall viewpoint. That’s stunning, and maybe it’s plenty if you’ve got a young baby or you’re tired out from other hikes.
But if you have a bit more energy, it’s only a five-minute hike to the top of the falls, which offers another awesome viewpoint of this shimmering 89-foot curtain of rushing water. Want to keep going? Hoof it for another mile or two before turning back, or head all the way to Happy Valley for a four-mile out-and-back hike you won’t forget.
If you’re hiking in springtime, keep in mind the snow can take a while to melt, so wear hiking boots instead of Tevas if you’re here in May or even June. But for the most part, there’s not much elevation gain to this hike, so it’s a good one for families who don’t want to do lots of climbing.
I’ve just returned from a dreamy vacation in New Zealand, and I’m pondering something a few kiwi locals said to me during my travels.
“Oh, you don’t want to do that . . . it’s too touristy.”
The first time was in reference to visiting a popular beach, and I quietly blew off the advice and had a fabulous time. The next time I heard it, I had to speak up. “You know, I actually am a tourist.”
Then I felt guilty, because how many times have I thought that about popular Bend attractions? But in most cases, these things are popular for a darn good reason. While there’s a certain charm in trying offbeat adventures during your Bend vacation, many tried-and-true Bend activities are worth putting on your bucket list no matter how “touristy” they might seem.
Doing an organized tour
The very idea of “booking a tour” sounds touristy, right? But since a chief purpose of vacation is to relax and experience new things, there’s no better way to do that than with the help of a professional.
During our three weeks in New Zealand, my husband and I paid pros to drive us around wine country, take us to remote landmarks, and introduce us to culinary highlights of the region. I can’t tell you what a relief it was not to hassle with rounding up specialized gear, studying road maps, or arm wrestling my husband over who’d skip wine to be the sober driver. Every tour we booked was worth ten times what we paid for the relaxation factor alone, and it’s no different in Bend.
If you’re planning to hit the Bend Ale Trail, there are oodles of options to not only give you a designated driver, but a great behind-the-scenes experience. The Bend Brew Bus is an excellent option that includes pickup and drop-off from your Bend hotel or vacation rental, or opt for a super-unique tour option with Cowboy Carriage (a beer tour in a horse-drawn wagon!) or Cycle Pub (a bicycle bar with sober driver provided). For more Bend Ale Trail tour ideas, go here.
Awesome Bend tours aren’t limited to the Bend Ale Trail. Want to do some snowshoeing, canoeing, or cave exploration without the hassle of packing all the gear and figuring out the best spots? Wanderlust Tours offers a huge array of offerings, with a naturalist guide that’ll give you much cooler insights than you’ll find in any guidebook. Ditto that for the folks at Tumalo Creek Kayak and Canoe, who will be delighted to take you kayaking or SUPing on Bend’s rivers and lakes. And speaking of water, you really don’t want to attempt whitewater rafting in Bend without professionals like Sun Country Tours guiding the way.
Need a tour with a little less adrenaline? Learn about Bend’s culinary scene with a foodie tour from the Well Traveled Fork, or get to know the city in a unique way with an Art Safari or a Segway tour from The Bend Tour Company.
You’ll find more Bend tour offerings on this page.
Hiking Pilot Butte
I know, I know. Everyone and their dog (literally!) hikes this 500-foot cinder cone in the middle of Bend. But there’s a good reason folks love Pilot Butte, and it goes beyond the exercise benefits of hoofing it to the top. You get KILLER views of the whole city, which is invaluable when you’re trying to orient yourself in a new place.
Amble to the top on your first morning in Bend to get the lay of the land. If hiking’s not an option, the road is open to motorized vehicles in warmer months (usually May through October). Reward yourself at the end with a tasty breakfast or lunch at Pilot Butte Drive In.
Visiting Deschutes Brewery
We’re beer snobs in Bend, and locals love to boast about swilling some new limited-release beer that’s only available if you knock six times with your left hand on the back door of the brewery hidden in a cave under the secret ponderosa in Drake Park.
But everyone knows about Deschutes Brewery. The fifth largest craft brewery in the United States, you’ll find their beers in more than 30 U.S. states and around Canada. I’m not exaggerating when I say Bend’s beer scene would not exist if Gary Fish hadn’t started that first little Bend brewpub back in 1988.
And although they’re big, Deschutes Brewery is still family-owned and operated. Want to know the reason you see their beer everywhere? It’s because it’s darn good. Few things taste as magical as a Black Butte Porter on a snowy winter evening, and just one sip of their Deschutes River Ale will always take me back to the first time I tasted it after whitewater rafting with Sun Country Tours.
So go ahead and embrace the granddaddy of craft beer in Bend. Do a brewery tour at their impressively massive production facility, then head to the downtown pub for a family-friendly dinner. Order extra hot wings for me in case I decide to join you.
Stopping by the Visitor Center
The internet has made it easy to get all your travel information with a few mouse clicks, and it’s true you can find tons of Bend travel info at www.visitbend.com.
But there’s something to be said for stopping by a visitor center in person. You can talk directly to locals who know all the best restaurants and sights worth seeing. You can grab maps and brochures and learn about activities you didn’t know existed. Heck, you can even use their wifi connection (invaluable when you’re traveling!) Best of all, it’s free.
Luckily, I went to New Zealand already knowing this, so I had the good sense to hit local visitor centers immediately upon arrival in a new town. Armed with maps and advice, I could tackle the city’s best attractions more efficiently instead of bumbling around town wondering when the shops would open or how to find a gas station.
Bonus: The Bend Visitor Center has an amazing array of unique souvenirs and gift ideas, so it’s a terrific spot to grab a few things for the folks back home. The Bend Visitor Center is located on the corner of Lava and Oregon in Downtown Bend, and it’s open 9-5 weekdays and 10-4 on weekends.
Dining at Pine Tavern
Built in 1936, the Pine Tavern is one of Bend’s most famous restaurants. It’s best known for the iconic ponderosa pine trees jutting through the center of the restaurant (one’s alive, one’s not).
And while it’s popular with the tourist crowd, it’s worth making a reservation there so you can see firsthand what’s kept this place in business for 80+ years. It might be the sourdough scones with honey butter, it might be the killer views of the Deschutes River, it might be the stellar happy hour, or it might be a combo of all three.
Peddling around in a bike surrey
For years I’d seen families peddling around on a bicycle surrey from Wheel Fun Rentals and thought, “Oh, that’s a cute thing for tourists to do.”
Then I tried it myself with my own family. You guys, this is seriously more fun than you can legally have in most states. The kids loved it, the grownups loved it, and it was a great way to check out the beautiful Old Mill District and the Deschutes River.
We weren’t sure at first if a one-hour rental would be enough, but it turned out to be just perfect. Insider tip: Go slowly when you’re threading the needle between the concrete barriers that keep motorized vehicles off paths. Otherwise, you’ll bang a pedal and possibly your foot (er, not that I’d know).
It just occurred to me I’ve been writing weekly blog posts for more than five years on the Bend Buzz Blog. That’s a heck of a lot of posts (more than 300, if you’re counting).
Folks ask sometimes if I have favorites, and since I’m vacationing in New Zealand at the moment, this seemed like a pretty handy time to answer with a hearty “yep!” and a roundup of all the posts that I (and readers) have loved most over the years.
By the numbers
Our talented and tech-geeky Marketing Director pulled the stats so we could see which Bend Buzz Blog posts had the highest volume of visitors in the last five years.
I wasn’t surprised to see the list contained our post about visiting waterfalls in Bend and Central Oregon, though I was a little taken aback to see it in the #1 slot. Either blog readers really love waterfalls or you’re fond of the cheesy ‘90s song by TLC.
Another not-so-surprising fan fave is the post on floating the river in Bend. Considering that’s one of the most popular summer pastimes for visitors and locals alike, it’s great to know folks are seeking out tips on how to do it right.
Rounding out the top five is this two-year-old post on family-friendly Bend activities (written before my step-kids had actually become my step-kids) and another one on Bend’s best happy hours (which begs the question of whether kids drive people to drink, but I digress).
Also making the list: 10 things you won’t hear people say in Bend. Pretty sure the click-bait nature of the headline caused a lot of folks to read it, and since this is the most recent post to make the list, it’s clear it really struck a chord with readers.
Keepin’ it quirky
In my non-Visit Bend life, I’m an author of quirky romantic comedy, so it’s no surprise the blog posts I most enjoy writing here are the ones with an offbeat twist.
While I frequently blog about things I enjoy doing with my dog, Bindi, this post actually written by my dog (sorta) was a fun experiment in writing with a different voice.
On the flip side of recreation is this blog post on how to enjoy a lazy vacation in Bend. That one appealed to my true nature, as did this post on the best places to kiss in Bend and this one about offbeat things to do in Bend, like getting a tattoo or visiting a psychic.
I’m a fourth-generation Oregonian who’s lived in Bend since 1997 and spent most of my childhood summers here, so I enjoy tapping into that with a lot of my blog posts. This post about things that haven’t changed in Bend was my way of commemorating my grandmother’s passing, while this post featuring a glossary of unique Bend expressions was a way to give an insider’s view of the unique lingo of this Central Oregon paradise.
And while I fancy myself a writer and not a video personality, I did enjoy combining the two in this post featuring commonly mispronounced words in Bend (and how to say ‘em right).
Getting out there
One of the best things about this job at Visit Bend is that I am quite literally required to go play outside. It’s been five years since I visited the Oregon Badlands Wilderness for the first time to write a blog post about hiking in the Badlands, and I still regard this area as one of the most magical spots in Central Oregon.
I’ll never forget the day my boss ordered me to take my step-kids out to the Newberry National Volcanic Monument so I could spend two straight days experiencing everything this incredible area has to offer. My two-part post about doing the ever-loving-heck out of Newberry National Volcanic Monument was the result of that, and the kids still talk about the Paulina Plunge as one of their favorite experiences of all time.
This post about hiking Pilot Butte is another one I refer back to time and time again, and it’s a good reminder that some of the best hikes in Bend are the simplest ones found right under our noses.
I also love test driving other people’s hiking tips, which was the case when I did the Cone & Iron Mountain hike so I could write this post about planning hikes with Cascade Hiking Adventures.
Oh, the food!
If you’ve read this blog for very long, it’s probably pretty apparent I love food. Like looooooove food. Luckily, this blog has given me tons of opportunities to indulge my cravings.
Some of my favorites over the years have been my quest to find the “best of” dish in a certain category On the meat loving end of the spectrum, you have posts about Bend’s best bacon dishes, Bend’s best burgers, and Bend’s best hot wings.
This weekend marks the first day of spring, with the official change of seasons occurring Sunday, March 20, 2016.
Have you planned a parade?
Okay, so maybe the new season isn’t worthy of that much fanfare, but as you crawl drowsily from your wintery hibernation cave, here are six ways to commemorate the arrival of spring in Bend, Oregon.
Look for flowers
Spring flowers pop up a bit later and with a little less flourish in Bend than they do on the other side of the mountains, but you can spot plenty of pretty little blooms if you know where to look.
Between the pavers around tree trunks around Downtown Bend is a popular spot to see little yellow and purple crocuses when the ground isn’t covered with snow.
If wildflowers are your thing, meander up Pilot Butte or out into the Oregon Badlands Wilderness. You won’t see lush waves of color, but you will see hardy little blossoms of larkspur and sand lilies threading their way through the volcanic soil.
Book a room and make spring break plans
Spring Break happens at different times of the year for different states and different cities, which is a good thing when it comes to planning a spring vacation in Bend. It would get kinda crazy if everyone showed up at once.
To get started finding a place to rest your head, check out Visit Bend’s lodging pages, where you’ll find a plethora of hotels, vacation rentals, resorts, and B&Bs. Things can book up early during holiday weeks, so be patient and be prepared to try a few places before you find one.
Visit Bend’s Event Calendar is a great starting point to figure out what’s happening during the days you plan to be here. You’ll see everything from concerts to athletic events to art exhibits and more.
There’s still snow, so plan accordingly
Even though spring is here, the snow sticks around at higher elevations for a while longer. That’s worth keeping in mind with a few of the landmarks on most people’s Bend bucket list.
If you plan to visit Pilot Butte, don’t forget the road leading to the summit is closed to vehicles between November and May each year. That’s actually preferable if you plan to hike it (which I recommend) since it means you won’t have to dodge motorists hell-bent on setting a land speed record for reaching the top.
Newberry Volcanic National Monument is another spot that’s much different (read: quieter) to visit in the springtime than in the middle of summer. The Lava Lands Visitor Center won’t reopen to visitors until May 1, but guests can still park outside and do a self-guided tour of the lava beds or even hike to the top of Lava Butte. Lava River Cave is closed this time of year, but Boyd Cave (just off China Hat Road south of Bend) is open year-round to fill your cave quota, or you can book a guided cave adventure with Wanderlust Tours.
Visiting Tumalo Falls this time of year requires a bit of extra hiking (or snowshoeing, as the case may be). While the road leading to the regular parking lot is closed during snowier seasons, you can still stash your car by the gate, grab your snowshoes, and set out on foot. You’ll likely encounter a mix of snow and bare dirt, but the snowshoes may come in handy as you get closer to the falls and beyond that. Don’t forget to dress warmly and bring plenty of water and snacks.
Go hiking in short sleeves and a fleece
After months of having to bundle up like I’m going on an Arctic expedition every time I want to hike the Deschutes River Trail, I relish the springtime when I realize I can enjoy this little pleasure with a lot less clothing. Not only that, but the extra hours granted to us by daylight savings time make early evening hiking a little more do-able.
But don’t get too cocky just yet. The weather can surprise you in Bend this time of year, so even if you set out in short sleeves under sunny skies, be prepared with a few extra layers in your day pack.
Toss in a fleece jacket and a windbreaker or water-resistant shell to protect against wind-gusts or spring showers. A hat and gloves can come in handy as well when temps drop unexpectedly.
Make some paddling plans
The water on the Deschutes River is still a bit chilly for most of us to think of breaking out the standup paddleboard, but this is exactly the time you want to start getting your gear ready.
If you’re in the market for a kayak, canoe, or SUPing gear, you’ll find tons of great retailers on our website who’d be happy to take a little extra time educating you on equipment during this slower season.
It’s also not too early to book ahead with local tour companies who can take you out canoeing or whitewater rafting when the weather turns a bit warmer, so plan ahead to have your pick of dates and times.
Keep on skiing!
Before you get too excited about warmer days to come, don’t forget that Mt. Bachelor has one of the longest ski seasons in North America.
In fact, things are just heating up (no pun intended) with bluebird days and plenty of snow still covering 3,700 acres of lift-accessible terrain and the highest skiable elevation in Oregon and Washington.
Be sure to check the Mt. Bachelor website for details on special packages and promos. You’ll also find handy up-to-the-minute conditions reports and info on catching a shuttle to save you the hassle of driving up the hill.
I am a morning person. My night-owl husband is not.
I was pondering this the other morning when I was out walking the dog under the most beautiful orangey-pink sunrise and thinking, “Too bad he’s missing this.”
On the other hand, there are some things that will lure him out of bed before the birds start chirping or the last starry-pinpricks have faded away. That got me tallying up things in Bend that are worth rolling out of bed early for, even if you have a chronic love affair with your snooze button.
Here are 4 good reasons to get a super-early start on your day at least once during your Bend vacation.
Did I mention the sunrise?
Bend is famous for its breathtaking cornucopia of color in the morning and evening skies. While just about everyone who visits Bend has witnessed a magnificent sunset firsthand, the sunrises can be a bit more elusive for late-risers. Luckily, that will change this weekend.
Sunrise happens pretty darn early in the first weeks of March (ranging between about 6:20 and 6:45 a.m.) but Daylight Saving Time gives you a nice little bonus in mid-March. In 2016, we spring forward on Sunday, March 13, and for about ten days after that, sunrise will happen between 7:20 and 7 a.m. It gets earlier again after about March 24, so the night-owls among you should seize that special date range to get out and catch the sunrise and still catch a couple extra ZZs.
For a handy reference guide to sunrise and sunset times in Bend, go here.
Mmmm . . . breakfast!
Bend has dozens and dozens of amazing restaurants where breakfast is served daily, and options range from a decadent eggs benedict to grab-and-go breakfasts that make it easy for you to hit the hiking trails early (more on that later).
But there are certain breakfast hotspots that are insanely popular among locals and visitors alike, and when you show up ravenous at 9:30 or 10 a.m., it can be frustrating to face an hour-long wait. I know I’m not along when I say that makes me pretty “hangry.”
Which is why it pays to get up a bit earlier if there’s a breakfast spot on your wish list that you know is prone to weekend crowds. A few that leap to mind that are well worth a wait, but so much nicer when you get there earlier and don’t have to wait: Chow, The Victorian Café, McKay Cottage, and Jackson’s Corner (the Westside location—Eastside isn’t usually as packed, so that’s a good option to try, especially on a day you plan to head east anyway for a Badlands hike).
It can vary a bit among restaurants, but generally speaking, showing up around 8 a.m. or earlier will help you avoid the crowds.
Time to fly
One of the best ways to get my night-owl hubby out of bed early is the motivation of an early morning flight. When we’re leaving Bend for vacation and heading someplace exotic, we do our best to get on one of the earliest flights in the 5-6 a.m. range.
Did you know RDM offers daily nonstop flights from Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Salt Lake City, and coming soon, Phoenix? Several of those can have you in Bend before noon, which means you’ll be on the ground in time to score a fabulous lunch or hit a few stops along the Bend Ale Trail.
Go here to check flight times in and out of RDM.
Early birds get the worm . . . and the solitude!
Some of the most popular hiking trails around Bend can get pretty packed, particularly once the weather turns warm. That can kinda kill the mood if one of the reasons you’re venturing into the woods in the first place is to commune with nature or find a little peace and solitude.
The earlier you can hit the trail, the better your odds will be of having the place to yourself for at least a little while. Why not kill several early birds with one stone by getting up early for sunrise, snagging the aforementioned grab-and-go breakfast, and then heading out on the hiking trail for your day’s adventure?
This is especially true if you’re hoping to hike at a spot that requires a bit of a drive to reach it. Go here to learn about five spots worth the extra drive time to visit when you’re in Bend. Then plan accordingly and get an early start on the day you want to visit.