Updated March 1, 2022
It turns out a whole lot of people search phrases like “things to do on a Bend vacation.” That’s probably why this post remains among our most popular even 10 years after I wrote the original and then updated it in 2016.
The world keeps evolving, and Bend is no different. While most of the adventures on this list remain the same, here’s a 2022 twist on what’s most vital to see, do, and experience on a Bend vacation.
1) Hike Pilot Butte.
If you’re not up for hiking this 500-foot cinder cone in the center of town, you can drive it in the warmer months between May and October(ish). But one way or another, you need to make the journey to the summit of Pilot Butte. There, you’ll have 360-degree views of mountains, desert, and the entire city of Bend. It’s a terrific way to orient yourself to the city, plus you’ll have bragging rights for summiting one of the only city-dwelling volcanoes in the U.S. Spend a few extra minutes at the summit scanning the stone and metal compass identifying each mountain peak you’ll see on the horizon.
Bring a headlamp if you’re heading up for sunrise or sunset, and watch your footing on the trail. Pack a reusable water bottle filled with plenty of H20, as the fountain at the top isn’t always flowing. Want to add an eco-friendly component to your hike? Pack a small garbage back to pick up litter along the trail and leave things even better than you found them.
2) Hit at least one stop on the Bend Ale Trail.
Craft beer is an integral part of Bend’s culture and history. Even if you think you’re not a beer fan, you’ll be fascinated by the science lesson you get on a brewery tour (I recommend the one at Deschutes Brewery, or hit four stops and get sober transportation and snacks with the Bend Brew Bus). Most breweries offer taster trays, so seize the opportunity to try several styles and varieties.
The Bend Ale Trail got a massive overhaul in 2021, which makes sense considering how many new breweries have been added since the program launched in 2010. For starters, we’ve broken it into seven territories to make the whole thing more do-able and the prizes quicker to obtain. We’ve also included distilleries, cideries, and wine tasting rooms as part of our Drinkable Diversions program, plus added suggested activities for each territory. There’s even a designated driver program, so check out this blog post to get the skinny on what’s new.
Nearly all the breweries along the Bend Ale Trail are family-friendly, so you can make it a casual lunch with the kids, or go whole-hog and hit a dozen or more breweries with your Bend Ale Trail passport in hand. Prefer a tech-friendly option? Grab the free app.
3) Day trip to a major Central Oregon landmark.
I’m cheating a little with this one, but it’s my way of acknowledging you’re unlikely to have time to hit all the major state parks, national monuments, and other bucket-list landmarks during your Central Oregon vacation. But make sure you hit at least one of these stops if you’ve got more than a few days in Bend.
Drive 40 minutes to Smith Rock State Park to see the towering basalt cliffs, or make the two-hour trek to Crater Lake National Park to see the deepest lake in the U.S., which formed when a volcano collapsed on itself. The Painted Hills Unit of the John Day National Monument is less than two hours away and features stunning multicolored hillsides and sweeping views. You can also day trip to see things like the spellbinding turquoise waters of the Metolius River (40 minutes) or take a two-hour drive and a woodsy hike to see the stunning depths of Tamolitch Pool (also known as Blue Pool). You can read more about must-do Bend day trips here.
4) Try an adventure with Wanderlust Tours.
I’ve been lucky enough to sample nearly every tour offered by this phenomenal company, from moonlight snowshoe tours to canoe trips to cave adventures and much more. There is simply no better way to experience a once-in-a-lifetime Central Oregon adventure than to go with a knowledgeable, engaging naturalist guide who provides all your transportation, gear, and a wealth of knowledge about this region. Trust me—this will be some of the best money you spend on your Bend vacation. Go here to check out the offerings from Wanderlust Tours.
5) Play on water (liquid or frozen).
Whether you prefer to paddle the pristine waters of the Deschutes River or ski the powdery slopes at Mt. Bachelor, your Bend vacation needs to include some form of water adventure. Take a drive up the Cascade Lakes Highway in summertime to splash around in one of the lakes. If there’s snow on the ground, head the same direction, but bust out the snowshoes when you reach the gate that closes seasonally. At visitbend.com, you’ll find oodles of summer recreation ideas ranging from canoeing to standup paddleboarding to floating the river on an inner tube. You’ll also learn about winter recreation ideas that run the gamut from ice skating to skiing to sled dog rides. Pick one according to your interests and the season, and prepare to enjoy the best H2O has to offer.
6) Get your foodie fix.
Bend’s culinary scene is mouthwateringly, dizzyingly good for a city this size, and you’ll find everything from Asian fusion to creative twists on Pacific Northwest and European cuisine. You can also sample pub fare along the Bend Ale Trail or consult the drinking and dining category on this blog to find posts about everything from gluten-free dining to vegan and vegetarian fare. Just make sure you step out of your comfort zone a few times instead of sticking with chain restaurants you recognize from home. I promise you’ll thank me!
7) Soak in some arts and culture.
Even if you don’t frequent art galleries in your hometown, you owe it to yourself to take a gander at Bend’s unique art scene. We have an amazing array of outdoor public art you can scope out with the Tin Pan Alley Art Collection or the Roundabout Art Route. We also have a terrific lineup of museums, theaters, concerts, and more, which you can learn about on the Entertainment page the Visit Bend website.
Is live music your jam? The lineup at the Hayden Homes Amphitheater will blow your mind, with artists ranging from Dave Matthews to Brandi Carlile to Luke Bryan rounding out the summer concert calendar between May and October. If indoor music is more your scene, let Bend’s historic Tower Theatre treat you to a full array of artistic expression, ranging from orchestra performances to rock-n-roll to acrobat shows and live lectures.
8) Show me some lava!
One of the most unique things about Bend’s landscape is the volcanic history of the area and the abundance of unique geological features everywhere. You’ll get a taste of it with the aforementioned hike up Pilot Butte, but you can take it a step further by exploring the Newberry Volcanic National Monument or the vast Oregon Badlands Wilderness. You can also enjoy a volcano tour from Wanderlust Tours, or hoof it along the Deschutes River Trail on your own to scope out Lava Island Falls. To take a little piece of it home, try some rockhounding around Central Oregon and scope out massive lava flows and glassy obsidian.
9) Stroll the Old Mill District, Downtown Bend, and the Box Factory
Every town you visit is going to have some form of souvenir shopping, but ours looks a little different in Bend. Historic Downtown Bend is dotted with quaint, locally-owned shops and unique historic architecture, with the added bonus of being right on the fringe of Bend’s famous Drake Park. The Old Mill District has a delightful mix of well-known chain stores and locally-owned boutiques, along with a plethora of great restaurants lining the Deschutes riverfront that beckons you to stroll while you’re shopping there. In between them sits the Box Factory, with its quirky history, cool shops, and plenty of eateries, brewpubs, and wine tasting bars. Roughly a mile spans the three distinct areas, so rent a bike or plan a full walking tour of these distinctly unique zones. Pro-tip: Get a basket on that bike to carry all your goodies home!
10) Play Outside.
We kinda already covered this base with the aforementioned suggestions to play in or on water and hike Pilot Butte. But let’s take it a step further, shall we? Vacation is an excellent time to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. For some, that might involve bungee jumping, a scenic helicopter ride, or some other source of adrenaline rush. For others, it might be something like a mountain bike tour with Cog Wild or a kayak lesson from Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe. Find the edge of your outdoorsy comfort zone and take one step out of it. You’ll be glad you did!