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The best things to do in Bend for December

Aerial view of Mt. Bachelor in Bend, Oregon.

When December sweeps into Bend, she brings blankets of snow, cocoa for all, and a whole heap of holiday merriment.

Wondering what’s fun to do, see, and ski in our winter wonderland this final month of the year? Here’s what’s happening in Bend this December.

Two children drink hot cocoa after a day on the slopes at Mt. bachelor.

Warm up with a cup of hot cocoa after a day on the slopes.

Here we go with snow!

Even in lean snow years when Mt. Bachelor’s not open the day after Thanksgiving, they nearly always have enough white stuff to ski by the start of December. 

While odds are good we’ve had at least one solid sprinkle of snow in town By Dec. 1, you may not see much while strolling the streets. What’s up with that?

Welp, Bend’s annual precipitation is around 12 inches with half of it falling as snow between November and February. 

But travel just 22 miles west and gain a little elevation and boom! There you are at Mt. Bachelor, where their average snowfall is a whopping 462 inches. 

What that means is you can spend the day savoring Mt. Bachelor’s 4,300 acres of lift-accessible terrain, along with all the skiing, snowboarding, Nordic skiing, and dogsledding you desire. 

Then head back down to Bend to do some biking or enjoy one of the lower-elevation hikes you’ll have to yourself this time of year. It’s the best of both worlds, and one of many things that makes Bend a perfect winter vacay spot.

Tree lighting in downtown Bend, Oregon.

The community gathers in Drake Park for the annual tree lighting. | Image courtesy of Downtown Bend Business Association

The holidays have arrived

Bend’s a magical place 365 days a year, but December adds an extra layer of enchantment with a fairy dusting of holiday tradition.

Enjoy treasured small-town celebrations like Bend’s annual Community Tree Lighting or the festive Christmas Parade in Downtown Bend. These events take place each year and offer fun for the whole family.

Over in the Old Mill District, they have their own roundup of holiday happenings. Santa’s standing by to hear your kids’ Christmas wishes, and there’s a Tree of Joy bearing tags with wish lists from folks in need. As holiday carollers serenade you, slip a letter to Santa in the dropbox before ducking into one of the Old Mill’s wine tasting rooms for a winter belly warmer.

Menorah lighting in the Old Mill District in Bend, Oregon.

The Chabad of Central Oregon hosts their annual menorah lighting in the Old Mill District. | Image courtesy of The Old Mill District

The annual Menorah Lighting hosted by Chabad of Central Oregon takes place in the Old Mill’s Center Plaza. Be there before dusk so you don’t miss the main event.

Want a one-of-a-kind Bend holiday experience? Don’t miss the annual Holiday Lights Paddle hosted by Tumalo Creek. It’s a thing of wonder watching Bend’s most dedicated paddlers light up their canoes and kayaks to cruise the Deschutes River through the Old Mill District.

For more holiday happenings around Bend, check our event calendar for the dates you plan to be here. From holiday bazaars to kids’ craft fairs, there’s always something happening this time of year!

View from Bessie Butte in Bend, Oregon.

Snow-capped mountain view from the trail at Bessie Butte.

Do we have to give up hiking?

I know, I know…visions of sugarplums and snow-covered trails don’t jive with your hopes for hiking in Bend. But here’s where it’s handy having that low precipitation I mentioned.

For hikes closer to town, it’s a whole different landscape than you’ll find in the mountains. Try lower-elevation trails like those in the Oregon Badlands Wilderness or through the Crooked River Gorge (Chimney Rock is my pick out here). 

December’s a great time to explore Bend’s parks, and…quit making that face. 

When I say “park,” I don’t mean “playground with swings and a merry-go-round” (though we have those, too!) What I’m talking about are sweeping acreages with tons of trails and some of the most jaw-dropping scenery you can imagine. Explore Sawyer Park’s 53.4 acres of trees, trails, and Deschutes River frontage with outstanding birdwatching. At nearly 1,000 acres, Shevlin Park offers oodles of trails for hiking, running, biking, and nature walking, or bust out the snowshoes or cross country skis when the snow falls. To explore your own sweeping nature preserve, head to Riley Ranch and find 184 acres filled with rimrock cliffs, pine forests, grassy meadows, and river views to make your toes curl.

And don’t forget Pilot Butte, where you’ll get bragging rights for hoofing it up a dormant volcano. You can make it up and down in under an hour, with the bonus of epic sunrises and sunsets from the top (don’t forget your headlamp!)

Bessie Butte makes another great desert hike with fewer humans than you’re likely to see on Pilot Butte. Be aware there are no dog doody bags out here, and no garbage cans, either. It’s a good chance to practice your pack-it-in, pack-it-out protocol.

Need more ideas for inspiring winter hikes? Check out this post for a plethora of suggestions perfect for December conditions. 

Oh, and invest in some microspikes or Yaktrax for peace of mind and extra traction. I don’t always need them on winter hikes, but when I do, it’s handy to slip them on and keep truckin’.

View of the Cascade Lakes Highway in Bend, Oregon.

Cascade Lakes Highway the day before its annual closure in November of 2022.

Brace for winter driving

As I shared in our Best of November post, lots of local roads shut down once snow piles up at higher elevations. The perk? So many places to explore in car-free peace! You won’t be watching for vehicle traffic on Pilot Butte if you walk up the paved road, and areas off the Cascade Lakes Highway become wonderlands worth exploring on snowshoes, skis, or via snowmobile.

Does driving on ice and snow make you edgy? Keep a close eye on the Oregon Department of Transportation’s TripCheck page for up-to-the-minute info on road conditions. If in-person interactions are more your jam, stop by the Bend Visitor Center for trail and road info, plus complimentary maps and smiles.

Wanderlust snowshoe tour in Bend, Oregon.

Wanderlust offers a variety of snowshoe tours—both in daylight and under the stars.

What’s on your winter wonderland bucket list?

December’s the month when you want to do ALL THE THINGS and if you don’t plan carefully, you might miss out.

With limited-time winter activities, it pays to make a bucket list and prioritize what’s most important. That way, you won’t risk missing out on something you can’t do again ‘til next year.

To get your list going, here are some top December attractions in Bend.

  • Check out holiday light displays. You’ll see neighborhood lights just driving through Bend’s streets, or head to Eagle Crest or Sunriver Resort to see spectacular, flashy displays.
  • Scope out special holiday events at the High Desert Museum. There’s always something happening, from Winter Wonderland camps for kids, to their Winter Nights events when they stay open late on a few special evenings.
  • Catch a holiday concert or show at the Tower Theatre.
  • Go ice skating and savor the sparkle of holiday lights and a sea of stars overhead.
  • Take the whole fam sledding. While this isn’t a December-only attraction, it might be your one chance if your only trek to Bend happens over winter break.
  • Sip a hearty craft brew beside a fire pit on the Bend Ale Trail. Now’s a great time to swill seasonal faves you’ll only find this time of year!
  • Lots of folks choose the holidays to get engaged, and wouldn’t it be awesome to plan your proposal on a snowshoe outing? Plenty of folks have popped the question on Moonlight Snowshoe Tours with Wanderlust, or check out my snowshoeing roundup to pick the spot that’s right for you.

Have a great holiday season in Bend, everyone!

The Bend Adventure Journal

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