At the risk of messing up my hair, allow me to put on my marketing hat for a sec.
At Visit Bend, we do a lot of aspirational marketing. We like the idea of a guy channel surfing on his couch one rainy Portland afternoon and stopping to watch our commercial featuring fun-loving folks diving in sunny mountain lakes and shredding mountain bike trails. We want him to think, “I could totally do that!”
This 30-second clip is a good example of what I’m talking about:
Admittedly, we don’t expect everyone who vacations in Bend to plunge over a waterfall in a kayak. We’d prefer it if you didn’t. Guts are tough to clean out of rivers.
But we do hope most of our visitors will enjoy some form of Bend recreation. Here are three variations on three popular outdoor activities in Bend.
Hiking & Climbing: Not for the faint of heart. Or is it?
You see those videos of skilled Smith Rock climbers deftly maneuvering across stemming corners and slabs as they smear, jam, lie-back, and do a bit of nubbin-pulling.
I don’t know what any of that means.
If you do, awesome! Smith Rock is a great place to test your climbing skills. For those with visions of hardcore techno face climbs dancing in their heads, Smith Rock Climbing Guides can help you get your bad self roped up and scaling gnarly rocks.
That’s one way to get your altitude fix in Bend.
But if you’re looking to climb something a bit more mellow, why not tackle Pilot Butte? This 500-foot extinct volcano juts up in the middle of town, and offers incredible 360-degree views of Bend from the top. You can make this walk as hard or as easy as you like. I hiked it several weeks ago with a pal who wanted to run to the top. A good workout, to be sure, though I thought I might die halfway up. More often than not, I opt for a casual stroll to the top with my gentleman friend and his two young offspring (whose favorite Pilot Butte experience involves lugging a bottle of soapy water to the top so their father can blow bubbles for them to chase in the wind). There’s even car access to the summit between April and November for those not up to the hike.
Prefer your hiking on flatter surfaces with someone else leading the way? Check out the list of free guided hikes from Deschutes Land Trust. I joined them several weeks ago for one of their history walks at Camp Polk Meadow Preserve and loved exploring local historic sites including Camp Polk Cemetery. The terrain was mostly flat, the guides’ stories were interesting, and the hike included frequent stops and a slower pace to accommodate an older demographic.
Out on the water: From class 6 rapids to lazy paddling
There aren’t many kayakers with the skill to tackle the class 6 rapids at Benham Falls. If you’re one of them, I tip my hat to you (and kinda want to watch sometime). If you lack the expertise but want to earn it, Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe offers some amazing classes including their Full Immersion Whitewater Weekend. They can also hook you up with all the gear you never knew you needed.
Prefer a more family-friendly whitewater adventure? You’ll still get the adrenaline rush on the Big Eddy Thriller whitewater raft trip with Sun Country Tours, but it’s great for newbies and even young kids (who can choose not to paddle if they prefer). You’ll encounter lovely sections of flat water as well as class 3 rapids on this three-mile journey along the Deschutes. Be prepared to get wet, either from the rapids or the inevitable splash fights that break out.
Envisioning something a bit more mellow? Try a moonlight canoe trip with the good folks at Wanderlust Tours. Desert, drinks, and a chance to savor the moonlight shimmering on one of the high lakes – what more could you want? Perhaps a daytime outing if you’d rather see the sights in the sunshine. Tumalo Creek offers an awesome half-day kayak trip on the upper Deschutes. Check out cool lava formations and watch for birds in hidden little sloughs. Or accidentally tip your kayak and go for a little swim like I did last summer (which, for the record, was sorta fun).
BikeTown USA: There’s more than one way to peddle
If you haven’t already seen the recent viral video of this girl shredding rollers, tabletop jumps, and banked turns on Whoops Trail, check it out.
That was filmed on part of the Phil’s Trail Network, which is one of Bend’s most famous areas for mountain biking. You’ll find endless miles of singletrack to explore, as well as technical sections like C.O.D. and lower Grand Slam. Go here to find an excellent map of the area before you set out on your own for a day of serious mountain biking.
Craving a bit of hand-holding from a guide, combined with the ease of not dragging all your biking gear with you on the roof rack? Hook up with Cog Wild for one of their day tours. Grab the young’uns and head out for the popular Family Mountain Bike Tour aimed at beginners, or try the Bachelor to Bend full-day trip where you’ll enjoy miles f flowy trail, rocks, roots, creek crossings, and a tasty lunch with views of Mt. Bachelor.
Need something even mellower? Hey, I’ve been there. Check out Let it Ride for one of their fun electric bike tours. You can choose to pedal if you like, or just let the bike’s little motor do all the work as you enjoy the scenery along the river between Bend’s Old Mill District and historic Downtown. Choose from the fascinating Bend History Tour, or check out the Brewdie Tour for a look at Bend’s brewery scene.
So there you have it – three ways to tackle three popular forms of recreation in Bend’s great outdoors. Which one is your speed?