Get out of Bend. I’m serious.
I know that seems like a crazy thing for me to suggest, considering it’s my job to promote Bend tourism. For the record, I do want you to come to Bend. I want you to find yourself an amazing Bend hotel or vacation home and book that bad boy for at least a week. Dine at Bend’s fabulous restaurants, stroll along the Deschutes River, and spend some time biking, skiing, and paddling.
Then use your Bend home base to visit some of the most amazing landmarks and attractions within a short drive. Here are my top five.
Smith Rock State Park
Let’s start off easy with a drive that’s less than 40 minutes from Downtown Bend, Oregon. Smith Rock State Park is located 27 miles northeast of Bend in the little town of Terrebonne, and it’s best known as the birthplace of sport climbing.
But even if you don’t climb, it’s an amazing day trip to see sights you won’t find anyplace else on earth. Hike around the towering red basalt cliffs and snap photos of Monkey Face (yes, it really does look like a monkey’s face). Watch the climbers do their thing, or wander along the Crooked River scoping out otters, golden eagles, lizards, marmots, falcons, and other desert-dwelling critters. Hoof it up Misery Ridge for killer views of the Cascade Mountains.
Smith Rock is a great spot to enjoy a picnic, so don’t forget to grab sandwiches or other goodies back in Terrebonne. You’ll also want to pack water and a sturdy pair of shoes so you can explore to your heart’s content.
The Painted Hills
The reason this is one of my favorite day trips from Bend may or may not have something to do with the fact that it’s the first place my husband professed his love for me. Dizzyingly beautiful scenery can have that effect on a guy. Or a gal, for that matter.
Less than two hours northeast of Bend lies the Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. The glorious layers of gold, yellow, red, and black soil reveal millions of years of history, and yes, they’re even more jaw-dropping in person than they are in photos.
While the Painted Hills are definitely worth a day trip from Bend, keep in mind this little gem is kinda out there without any major towns close by. Pack snacks and plenty of water, and try to avoid driving home too late at night when suicidal deer like to leap out in front of cars. Bonus points if you can time your visit for spring when the wildflowers add an extra layer of colorful splendor to this already rainbow-like spectacle.
Crater Lake National Park
One of the most pristine national parks on the planet is located just a little over two hours from Bend, so if you’re here for a week or so, it’s definitely worth a day trip.
Crater Lake National Park features towering cliffs, stunning volcanic islands, and the most shockingly blue water you’ll ever see. At 1,943-feet deep, it’s the deepest lake in the United States, and the seventh deepest in the world. It formed when Mt. Mazama erupted 7,700 years ago and then the whole thing collapsed on itself, creating a big hole that eventually filled with water to become the amazing lake you see today.
Personally, I love visiting Crater Lake in the summer months when roads are clear of snow, chipmunks are scurrying through the pine needles, and brave souls can go swimming in the icy water. If you find yourself there in the winter months, you can explore the area with a free ranger-guided snowshoe tour. Keep in mind the north entrance is closed during the winter months, so you’ll have to drive a little bit further to reach the lake.
No matter when you choose to go, make sure you’ve got plenty of room on your camera card to snap tons of photos. This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime views you’ll want to remember forever.
The Metolius River
The beautiful Deschutes River is a spectacle to behold, and you’ll want to save plenty of time to check it out while you’re staying in Bend.
But the mighty Metolius River is spectacular enough to justify the hour of drive-time it’ll take you to get there (plus you’ll have the excuse to grab lunch in the historic little town of Sisters, where you’ll also want to do a bit of souvenir shopping).
The Metolius springs out from beneath a mossy hillside at the base of Black Butte. Stop and snap a few photos of this magical phenomenon before continuing on toward the West Metolius Trailhead. You’ll meander along for about two miles, scoping out gushing springs, towering ponderosa pines, and killer river views. Keep going until you reach the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery. Stroll around peering into the open-air concrete ponds to check out the fish (you can buy a handful of fish food for a quarter).
Make sure you check out Wizard Falls itself, which is more a series of rapids than an actual waterfall, but the turquoise-hued water is truly stunning and you can snap some great photos to show the folks back home.
Tamolitch Pool (aka the Blue Pool)
Another one of my favorite hidden gems, Tamolitch Pool (also known as the Blue Pool) is about an hour-and-a-half southwest of Bend along the McKenzie River.
You can start at the Koosah Falls parking area for a longer hike and a view of the falls, or start at the trailhead near the Carmen Reservoir for a shorter hike. Either way, you’ll be treated to spellbinding river views, breathtaking cliffs, and more trees than you could ever count in a lifetime.
The real treat awaits you at the end when you reach the azure waters of the Blue Pool. Yes, it really does look bright blue, and you can hike around it for a few different views. We usually bring cheese and crackers and fruit to enjoy while sitting on the rocks along the rim above the view, and if you opt to do this, make sure you pack out all your trash.
If you have a little extra time, stop off at Belknap Hot Springs for a quick soak before you drive back to Bend.