Back to the Adventure Journal

Where to snap 6 great photos in Bend, Oregon


There are tons of amazing photographers capturing breathtaking images around Bend every day. In fact, we rounded up nine of them in this blog post.

But sometimes you’re just looking for a simple snapshot you can capture with your iPhone or point-and-shoot camera. You don’t need a photo for your living room wall, you want one for your Facebook wall.

I bribed cajoled begged politely asked a couple local photographers for tips on when and where to snag some of the quintessential Bend photographs so I could share a few tips with you. Here’s what I learned.


To get a great city shot of Bend…

This one’s kind of a no-brainer, though I checked with my photo pals just to be sure. A hike to the top of Pilot Butte (the dormant 500-foot volcano in the center of town) is a great way to get the lay of the land in Bend. To the west, you’ll see the expansive Cascade Mountain Range, the city of Bend, and the sparkling Deschutes River. To the east, you can catch sight of the Oregon Badlands Wilderness and its vast desert terrain.

If you’re an early riser, hoof it up the hill just before sunrise to catch the alpenglow on the mountains as the first light hits them. If you’re not a morning person, you can catch some pretty good sunsets from the top, too. If a middle-of-the day visit is the only thing you can manage, don’t worry! Any clear day will give you the chance to capture lovely views in all directions.

And if it’s not a clear day, even that isn’t the worst thing in the world. I once hiked up just before a thunderstorm hit (something I don’t advise you to try, unless you enjoy the risk of being struck by lightning). Nevertheless, it was spellbinding to watch the thunderclouds roll in and the rainstorm moving slowly toward us as I sprinted down the hill to my car to avoid being drenched.


To get a fab shot of the mountains…

There are a lot of great spots in Bend to capture sweeping views of the mountains, so you’re in luck if your photographic bucket list includes a shot of snow-capped peaks.

If you want to stay right in town, cruise along Mount Washington Drive and pull over when you see the view you want to capture. Summit Park on Awbrey Butte is another terrific spot with terrific views of the Cascade peaks.

If you feel like driving a bit, head for Dutchman Flat Sno Park for an up-close-and-personal view of the mountains (you might have to hike or snowshoe a bit to the north to get the best view). This is also a terrific spot for night photography.

If you’re up for a short hike and a lovely drive through some of Bend’s volcanic landscape, try Bessie Butte. While I’m still a little heartbroken about the fire that scorched a bunch of the trees out there a few years ago, the upside is that you’ll find a ton of spots with completely unobstructed mountain views. To get there, head east on China Hat Road and turn right on the first paved road you encounter (if you hit the Horse Butte turnoff, you’ve gone too far). The trailhead is clearly marked and the trail itself is a gentle traverse of just over a mile to the top. The panoramic view of the Cascades and the Newberry Caldera is well worth the trip.


 To get a killer river shot…

The Deschutes River cuts a long, lovely swath through the city of Bend, so there are a million spots in town to snag a terrific photo of it.

Drake Park (the crown jewel of Bend’s park system) spans 13 breathtaking acres along the Deschutes River, and there’s a photo-worthy vista about every three steps. If you’re strolling around Downtown Bend and approach from the Mirror Pond Plaza, keep walking straight ahead until you hit the railing. Bingo! There’s a perfect spot to capture the rivers and the mountains all in one photo. But keep walking, guys, since there are oodles of other great scenes to capture while you’re here.

For another take on the glorious Deschutes, head for Farewell Bend Park near the Old Mill District. From here, you’ll be able to capture the contrast of the river against towering basalt cliffs. Bonus: There’s a great view of the mountains if you look upstream toward the bridge.


 To get a stunning desert photo…

I know a lot of folks love Bend for the views of snow-capped peaks and towering Ponderosas, but for me, the quintessential Bend view will always be the desert. I adore the craggy lava formations and the twisted, ancient junipers.

If you share my fondness for Bend’s high desert landscapes, head east to the Oregon Badlands Wilderness. I’m partial to heading out near the end of the day when the waning light gives everything an eerie, ethereal glow. Real photographers refer to this as “the golden hour,” and it’s a great time to ensure optimum lighting in all your photos. As an added bonus, your pooch can run leash-free to his heart’s content out here, though be sure to bring extra water—it’s the desert, after all.

If you’re looking to try your hand at night photography and the more advanced star photos, the Badlands are great spot to set up your tripod after daylight disappears. The absence of city lights makes it an excellent spot to really soak in the night sky. Just don’t venture too far from the trail or you might have a tough time finding your way back!


To get an epic waterfall pic…

I devoted a whole blog post last week to the subject of where to see great waterfalls around Bend and Central Oregon, so you can check that out here.

As far accessibility goes, Benham Falls is the easiest spot to reach on a year-round basis. Head out Highway 97 south to the Lava Lands exit. You’ll see signs pointing you to Benham Falls toward the left. Follow the road about four miles to the parking lot. It’s a pretty short hike from there to a great vantage point overlooking a churning stretch of whitewater. You’ll be shooting from above, so please don’t get so distracted by your photographic pursuits that you go tumbling over the edge.

If the waterfall shot you’re seeking is more the classic, cascading stream of water, head for Tumalo Falls. It’s nearly 100-feet tall and glorious from several different angles. Accessing it in the wintertime requires a bit of a hike, but in summertime, you can stroll a few hundred feet from the parking lot to the perfect viewing platform (complete with railing to keep you safe and secure).

If you can arrive around sunrise, you’ll get the perfect backlit shot. If not, just try to arrive when the sun isn’t directly overhead, since that will make lighting a little tricky in your photo.


To get a brilliant sunset pic…

The thing about sunsets in Bend is that you can be just about anywhere and capture a fabulous one—no filter or special camera required! Heck, one of my favorite Bend sunset pics was taken by husband in our driveway in northeast Bend with the dog photobombing it.

All that to say, why not enjoy your sunset from a spot where you’re also certain to enjoy yourself?

Crux Fermentation Project offers Sunset Hour daily. For 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after sunset every day, they have special discounts on drinks and snacks. Their patio makes an amazing place to watch the sky turn pink over the Cascade Mountains, so why not lift a tasty brew with one hand while you snap photos with the other?

If beer isn’t your thing but you still want to be out-and-about experiencing the Bend vibe while the sun drops below the horizon, try heading to the Old Mill District an hour before sunset. Stroll along the river browsing shops or sipping some coffee from Strictly Organic, or snag a table at one of the fabulous restaurants lining the river. Talk about diner and a show!

For more ideas on great spots to see (and photograph!) Bend sunsets, check out this blog post.


The Bend Adventure Journal

The Latest Happenings in Bend

8 minute read   ·  Hiking Trails

8 top hiking tips for Bend, Oregon

Year after year, hiking in Bend tops search lists and wish lists for folks traveling to Central Oregon. It’s popular thanks to infinite variety, accessibility,...