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.