Updated May 12, 2022
It’s been seven years since I handed my kids notepads on our way to Lava Lake and asked them to write their favorite things to do in Bend. They were 9 and 13 at the time, and though they’re 16 and 20 now, I can confidently say they still love everything on the original list.
But with new kid-friendly attractions popping up in recent years, it’s time to revisit this post and add some new favorites. Without further ado, here’s a roundup of things my kids guarantee your kids will love doing in Bend.
While most folks visit Bend to play outside, there’s only so much outdoor fun you can handle. Whether you’re seeking something indoorsy for a change of scenery, or due to not-so-awesome weather, Bend’s trampoline parks offer the perfect way to get the wiggles out. Both Mountain Air Trampoline Park or Trampoline Zone offer tons of bouncy space, tumbling runways, games, and energy-burning fun for all ages. Each spot offers slightly different attractions and activities, so scope out their websites to determine which is the best fit for your family. Better yet, try both!
Riley Ranch Nature
Anyone have kids who sometimes balk at the word “hike”? Perhaps they picture steep, dusty trails and endless miles of trudging. Riley Ranch Nature Reserve is hiking lite, which makes it much more fun for kids. This 184-acre nature experience offers miles of trails running along the Deschutes River, hugging rimrock cliffs, and winding through grassy meadows. Several sections of paved trail make it feel more like a “walk” than a “hike” (a fine distinction for those hiking-averse kids). It’s a great place to explore open fields, pine forests, unique lava flows, and the river’s rocky canyon. Since it’s a nature preserve, bikes and dogs are not allowed, making it a nice stop for kids with a fear of either one.
The Sunriver Homeowners Aquatic & Recreation Center (SHARC)
I wasn’t surprised to see SHARC in the top spot on both my kids’ lists. “It’s fun if you like swimming,” wrote the nine-year-old, while the 13-year-old noted, “Great water slides.” In case you’re unfamiliar with it, SHARC is a mecca of cool water and warm sunshine open to the public year-round, even if you aren’t staying at the Sunriver Resort. SHARC features more than 2.5 acres of grass, indoor and outdoor recreation pools, a hot tub, two water slides, a lazy river, and a tubing hill. The outdoor pool sports a veritable water playground of kid-friendly goodies, while the lazy river makes an excellent spot for folks seeking a more laidback experience. It’s a great little day trip from Bend, since it’s a short 25-minute drive (plus it’s an excuse to get a Sunriver Brewing stamp in your Bend Ale Trail passport).
Cascade Indoor Sports
I actually had to ask the 13-year-old what Cascade Indoor Sports was when I saw it on his list. “It’s that place you took us rollerblading,” he reminded me in a tone that was blessedly devoid of “duh.”
See? This is why it’s great to have the kids make their own lists. I’d totally forgotten our skating adventure more than three years ago, but he hadn’t!
You can pick between roller skates and rollerblades, and there are special prices for birthday parties or skaters who bring their own equipment. It’s a terrific way to burn off a bit of energy or kill time when the weather is too hot or too cold to be outdoors. For skate times and fee info, go here.
Oh, and a new addition since my kiddos were young? The Big Play Thing offers 7,000 square feet of climbing, sliding, foam forest, tubes, tunnels, bridges, and more designed for children 4 and older (though kids under 4 are welcome with parental assistance). Check their website for climbing times and reservation opportunities for special occasions like birthday parties.
This one makes the list for both kids even when it’s 85-degrees outside and we’re all wearing shorts. “In the winter I like inner-tubing, snowboarding, and skiing at Mt. Bachelor,” shared the 13-year-old, though his sister was quick to point out the warm-weather options, too. “Bachelor is fun if you like hiking,” she added.
I’ll second the hiking idea for summertime adventures, and also add that their downhill bike park, sunset dinners, and sled dog rides available on both dry land and snow are all outstanding as well.
Sun Mountain Fun Center
It was no big shocker to see this one made both kids’ lists. With a plethora of arcade games, bumper cars, and bowling facilities, plus warm-weather activities like mini-golf, go-karts, and batting cages, Sun Mountain Fun Center is pretty much a kids’ paradise. “It’s fun for family play time,” the 9-year-old noted.
Since they also serve pizza and a lot of really good local craft beer, I’m inclined to agree.
The Deschutes River
Both kids wrote this one on their lists, and I had to ask them to be more specific about what they liked. “Floating,” they both agreed. “Especially when we rent those tubes.”
Need to know the rules for renting tubes, navigating the river, and making sure you keep the fam safe? Check out this page for all the deets on floating the river in Bend.
It’s also worth noting the Deschutes River is a lovely place to be even when you don’t dip your toes in the water. Take a leisurely after-dinner stroll along the riverfront, or rent a surrey from Wheel Fun Rentals to cruise through the Old Mill District. Which leads me to the next item on the list…
The Old Mill District
I have to admit, I was a little surprised to see this one made the 13-year-old’s list. Not that Bend’s Old Mill District isn’t a fabulous place to shop and dine, but I hadn’t realized those were activities that piqued his teenage interest.
On the contrary, he not only digs Old Mill dining spots like Flatbread Neapolitan Pizza (where kids can make their own pizzas), but he likes browsing shops like American Eagle, Buckle, Gap, GameStop, and Zumiez.
And while the 9-year-old didn’t actually include this one on her list, I know she’s nuts about girly spots like Claire’s and Bath & Bodyworks, since we managed to hit both on Friday night after our family’s celebratory “school’s out” dinner at Red Robin.
Zero Latency virtual reality arena
A relative newcomer to Bend, Zero Latency is one attraction I never would have guessed would be as cool as it is. As the only free-roam, multiplayer virtual reality arena in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, Zero Latency offers world-class gaming in an arena where players can strategize together and move, kick and play untethered. It’s a good one for kiddos 13 and older who will squeal like much younger kids as they race around slaying zombies or enjoy gravity-defying adventures. We tried this one with the kids (then 15 and 19) for a birthday last year, and not a week goes by when they don’t beg me to go again.
Widgi Creek Golf Course
A budding golfer, the 13-year-old included Widgi Creek on his list. Since I’ve never been there myself, I’ll have to take his word for it (though I am quite fond of hiking the section of the Deschutes River Trail that runs right below the area).
For a full roundup of golf courses around Central Oregon, go here.
The High Desert Museum
A favorite among families, the High Desert Museum is chock full of natural history exhibits and the coolest desert-dwelling animals you’ll find anywhere. My kiddos could spend hours just watching the otters, and we always time our visit to catch one of their raptor shows. They also boast tons of interactive exhibits like an old sawmill and a replica Western towns from the early 1900s filled with living history characters ready to engage the kids in a bit of history play. Exhibits change regularly, so even if you’ve been before, it’s worth stopping again and again.
The High Cascade Lakes
We’re frequent visitors to Bend’s High Cascade Lakes in the summer months, but Elk Lake took the prize for both kids. They like the wide array of boat rentals and paddleboards, plus a cool lodge that makes tasty lunches. When winter rolls around, it’s a great spot for snowmobiling.
One kid also mentioned Devil’s Lake, which is one of my personal faves. It has glorious turquoise water and a lovely hiking trail that runs around the perimeter.
Since the kids wrote their lists as we were on our way to their first visit to Little Lava Lake, that spot didn’t officially make the list for either of them. However, based on how much they loved paddling around this mellow little lake using our own boards brought from home, I’m going to say this was another favorite. Like Devil’s Lake, there’s no motorized boat traffic here, so it’s a nice, mellow, relaxing spot to picnic and spend a quiet day playing in the water.
Bend Summer Festival, Oktoberfest, Fall Festival, Munch & Music, Spring Festival, Winterfest
While the kids didn’t rattle them all off by name, both of their lists included some mention of Bend’s festival scene. I sometimes joke that Bend has more festivals than anyplace on earth, but it’s a definite plus when you have kids in tow. Bend’s festivals do a terrific job of establishing kids’ areas complete with bouncy houses, games, face painting, craft booths, and more. Check the Event Calendar to see if there’s a festival happening during your Bend vacation.
Bend is one of the only cities in the continental U.S. with a dormant volcano in the city limits, which carries a few cool points right there. But the biggest reason kids love it is our family tradition of hiking to the top with a carton of bubbles. No matter how old they get, they never seem to tire of scurrying around the summit chasing rainbow-tinted bubbles that drift on fragrant mountain breezes.
Getting up there is good exercise for all of us, plus there’s the added bonus of providing glorious views of the city and mountains. We usually take the dog, who enjoys the hike as much as the rest of us do. Though we always hoof it to the top, some folks opt to drive between May and October when the road is open to motorized traffic.
Riverhouse Hotel & Convention Center
I was a little surprised to see a hotel make the list, since these kids reside in Bend full time. But the 13-year-old reminded me that he attended a birthday party at The Riverhouse Hotel and Convention Center, and it made a lasting impression on him. “They have two swimming pools—one inside and one outside,” he shared, which is clearly a big selling point for most kids. He also spoke highly of the food, a claim I can back up after enjoying many lovely meals happy hours on the stunning riverfront deck at Currents.
Juniper Swim & Fitness Center
This one made the list for the 9-year-old, who loves accompanying me to Juniper Swim & Fitness for regular yoga classes and their special kids’ fitness classes. They also have an indoor pool that’s open year-round (complete with steam rooms, hot tub, and kiddie pool) plus a terrific outdoor pool that’s open in the summertime with kids’ play areas and a great waterslide. It’s operated by Bend Parks & Rec and offers super low drop-in rates for out-of-town visitors craving a workout or a dip in the pool.