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7 lifehacks for family travel in Bend, Oregon


Traveling with kids can be a roller coaster ride.

You love the shared adventure, but you don’t love guessing which restaurant is your best pick to avoid the glares of diners unaccustomed to young voices pitched with excited energy. You love exposing the young’uns to new experiences, but you don’t love the prospect of selling a kidney to afford it.

Rest easy. Here are 7 lifehacks (kidhacks? Er, no) to make traveling with kids a little easier in Bend.


Let someone else help you

Ahem. A story.

A cave adventure with Wanderlust Tours is a fun way to make memories with your kids.

A cave adventure with Wanderlust Tours is a fun way to make memories with your kids.

When my husband and I decided to take the kids to Mexico this past summer, my brain went into a tizzy. I traveled Mexico a ton in my pre-kid life, so I wanted to plan jungle hikes and beach excursions and cram ALL THE THINGS into our 7-day trip.

As you might imagine, I burned out fast. Luckily, I did it before we left town, which gave us time to schedule a few organized tours that took the burden off the grownups for planning and logistics.

Did it cost a little more? Yes. Was it worth every penny as far as my own peace of mind and relaxation went? Oh, dear Lord in heaven, YES.

Do yourself a favor. Don’t cram the car with kayaks or snowshoe gear and spend your time studying maps and getting lost on forest roads. Book an outing with Wanderlust Tours and let them handle all the details (including gear, transportation, and really fun, educational narratives during your adventure).

Ditto that if you want to go mountain biking (Cog Wild can hook you up!) The Bend Tour Company offers a variety of organized outings ranging from Segway tours to art exploration. Cowboy Carriage Company has a cool family-friendly outing called Pizza and a Wagon Ride Wednesday, which includes dinner for the whole family and a ride through Downtown Bend in a horse-drawn carriage.

If a bike ride sounds like fun but you need an extra boost, book an electric bike outing with Bend Electric Bikes or Let It Ride.

But seriously, let someone else play tour guide for your family, at least for an afternoon. I promise you’ll thank me for it.


Time to eat!

Mealtimes can be a challenge when vacationing with kids, particularly if you have picky eaters, food allergies, or super young ones still learning when to use inside voices.

At Flatbread Community Pizza, kids get to make their own dinners.

At Flatbread Community Pizza, kids get to make their own dinners.

Luckily, you’ll find plenty of Bend eateries prepared to handle your brood. At Flatbread Community Oven in the Old Mill District, kids build their own pizzas, then watch with giddy glee as their creations bake in big wood-fired ovens.

If someone in your family has special dietary needs, you’ll find a cornucopia of options in Bend, ranging from vegan and vegetarian to gluten-free dining. Kids who only eat specific foods like burgers or grilled cheese will find plenty of spots for those delights, or check out our roundup of on-the-go breakfast picks for morning grub you can eat en route to your next adventure.

Budget-conscious families will be thrilled to know that kids eat free all day on Sundays at Fire in Bend, and their pizzas, wings, and salads will tempt most palates. Kids also eat free at 900 Wall after 5 p.m. on Sundays, so that’s a great spot to score creative Northwest cuisine with a “date night” vibe and enough kid-friendly choices to keep everyone happy. Seeking a more casual kids-eat-free scenario? Your young’uns will gobble up burritos and tacos at Longboard Louie’s, which offers free kids meals on Saturdays and Sundays. Keep in mind that all of these deals are contingent upon the parents ordering adult meals of their own.

And don’t think you have to miss out on the legendary Bend Ale Trail just because you have toddlers in tow. Check out the drool-worthy kids’ menus at Deschutes Brewery (which brews their own non-alcoholic root beer and ginger beer) and the kid-friendly fare at Bend Brewing Company, or set the wee ones loose on the wide, grassy lawn at Crux Fermentation Project while mom and dad sample some of the best beers in town.


Know where the toy stores are

Time for a special reward for kids who’ve been extra good?

Powells Sweet Shoppe in Downtown Bend is a nice spot to score gelatto and other treats for kids who've been on their best vacation behavior.

Powells Sweet Shoppe in Downtown Bend is a nice spot to score gelatto and other treats for kids (and adults!) who’ve been on their best vacation behavior.

Bend has several shopping zones, but the Old Mill District and Downtown Bend are the ones you’re most likely to visit during your Bend vacation. Lucky for you, they both have toy stores packed to the gills with unique offerings for all ages.

In the Old Mill, check out Wonderland Toy Shop. In Downtown Bend, don’t miss Leapin’ Lizards. If the kids are extra well-behaved, it’s worth knowing there’s a candy shop close by each shop (that’s Sweet Tooth Candy Shoppe in the Old Mill and Goody’s Chocolates downtown, with Powell’s Sweet Shoppe just a couple blocks from that).


Kids ski free at Mt. Bachelor

The snow hasn’t begun flying yet this season, so we’re a couple months away from knowing yet what sort of snow year we’ll have at Mt. Bachelor.

But one thing for certain? Mt. Bachelor will keep their kids ski free offer running. To learn more about it (and to start planning ahead for your winter vacation) go here!


Want more free stuff?

Plenty of fun things in Bend don’t cost you a penny. Take a family hike up Pilot Butte (and to make things extra fun, pack a bottle of bubbles and let the kids chase them around in the breeze at the top).

Go for a stroll through the Old Mill District and stop by the Ticket Mill to grab their free birdwatching guide and a pair of rental binoculars (also free!)

If your kids are nuts for volcanos (and who isn’t?!) cruise over to Newberry National Volcanic Monument and spend the day exploring a volcano the size of Rhode Island. There, you’ll see ancient lava flows, jagged volcanic glass, rivers, lakes, caves, hot springs, waterfalls, and forests.

If you’re feeling more indoorsy, keep an eye on the Facebook page for the High Desert Museum to see when their next free admission day is coming up. Or better yet…


Buy a family pass for the High Desert Museum

The High Desert Museum has long been one of my family’s favorite spots for fun, and we never seem to tire of checking out the otters, watching a birds of prey demo, or seeing what new exhibits they have on tap.

The otters are always a highlight at the High Desert Museum.

The otters are always a highlight at the High Desert Museum.

Want to support the museum AND get in as many times as you want throughout the year?

Become a Member! A family membership costs less than $100, and ensures your whole fam (that’s parents and all kids 19 and under) get in as many times as you want throughout the year. It’s a screamin’ deal, it helps keep the museum up and running, and makes an excellent holiday gift. Win/win!


Schedule something super-memorable

Without a doubt, your Bend vacation will be memorable. But with every family trip I take, I like to plan one special activity that’ll keep us talking around the dinner table for years to come.

For some families it’s something daring like bungee jumping or a scenic flight. For others it’s an evening telling ghost stories and making s’mores by a campfire. For some it’s a family photo shoot with a talented local photographer.

The possibilities are endless, and whatever you choose is sure to fix this vacation in your memories for as long as you’re all still kickin’.

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