There’s a reason these sun-soaked days between May and September mark Bend’s busiest season. Make that 3,692,711 reasons (give or take) ranging from kayaking to outdoor concerts to hiking among the pines.
With Memorial Day Weekend in our rearview mirror and a whole ‘lotta summer on the horizon, here are 10 ways to psych yourself up for the season of sunshine in Bend.
Book now (really!)
If you’re coming to Bend from a big city, you may think, “Bend’s a small, laidback town. We don’t need reservations, right?” Which means you’re either my husband, or you haven’t been here in years.
Between Bend’s exponential growth and pandemic-related challenges, it’s tough to stroll into your favorite Bend restaurant to dine that same night, or to phone Wanderlust Tours a few days before you want to go moonlight canoeing.
Trust me when I say your Bend vacation will be much more relaxing if you make a list of must-do activities and must-eat dining spots. Got it? Now circle the ones you’ve got your heart set on. Then spend 20 minutes making calls and online reservations to ensure you don’t head home heartbroken at the end of your stay.
Dust off those hiking books
Year after year, hiking in Bend stands as our most popular activity and a top search term on our site. With the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway plowed and open for the season, many of Bend’s most popular hikes are rapidly shedding their blankets of snow.
I always suggest swinging by the Bend Visitor Center for up-to-the minute tips on which trails are open and where you’re likely to encounter snowy pathways or larger crowds. You should also bone up on wilderness permits to be sure you’ve got what’s required wherever you’re going.
Brush up on earth-friendly tips
Once you’ve found your hiking boots, it’s time to refresh your memory on ways of recreating responsibly in Mother Nature’s backyard.
You’ve probably heard of Leave No Trace principles, but as their first destination partner in Oregon, Visit Bend took things a step further. We’ve got a whole set of Bend-specific Leave No Trace tips to help guide your outdoor adventures. Swing by the Visitor Center for a free hang-tag for your backpack and custom stickers to serve as reminders.
Ready to really commit to recreating responsibly in Bend? Take the Bend Pledge and you’ll be entered to win a Bend vacation.
Make a plan. Then make a different one.
Even if you follow my tips to book ahead, it’s bound to happen: You show up at a trailhead to find the parking lot full.
Or maybe the weather won’t cooperate on the day you’d planned to kayak or bike.
While I urge you to dream big when it comes to Bend plans, it pays to have a plan B, plan C, and even plan D for when Mother Nature or fellow travelers toss you a curveball.
There’s plenty to see and do in Bend, so it’s easy to make a Bend bucket list brimming with lots of lovely backup plans.
Groove in the grass
Bend’s concert scene is my jam (pun intended) and nothing’s more magical than feeling sun on your shoulders as your favorite tune tickles your ears.
With more than 50 shows scheduled for the Hayden Homes Amphitheater this summer, you’ve got ample opportunity to twirl in the grass beside the sparkling Deschutes River while Smashing Pumpkins, Dierks Bently, the Indigo Girls, and dozens of other artists entertain you. Check out this post for everything you need to know about this season’s shows.
If music festivals are more your scene, don’t miss the first-ever FairWell Festival at the Deschutes County Fairgrounds July 21-23. The inaugural lineup includes performances by Zach Bryan, Willie Nelson & Family, Turnpike Troubadours, Sheryl Crow, and my personal fave, Gary Clark Jr., not to mention dozens of others. Artists will perform on one of three outdoor stages, plus there’s loads of local craft beer, wine, tasty dining options, and handmade craft goods. Go here for ticket info and hurry! Saturday tickets sold out fast, but you can still grab three-day GA passes, tickets for Friday or Sunday, or a variety of VIP experiences. Once you’ve got tickets, keep your eyes peeled for parking info, as the festival folks want everything to roll smoothly with that many concertgoers coming together at once.
Playing outside in Bend is one of life’s greatest pleasures, but it’s not without risk. Lucky for you, a little pre-planning can avert most vacay-killing disasters.
Start by packing the 10 essentials. Need to brush up on what they are? Here you go!
Let’s specifically call out “sun protection” from that list, since Bend’s rays can scorch you in minutes. Opt for a non-toxic, eco-friendly pick like this one from Bend-based AOS. You’ll be set for protecting both your skin and our waterways.
Bug spray is another essential you won’t want to skip this year. An extra-wet winter like the one we just had brings mosquitos in droves, especially near rivers and lakes.
Do it outdoors
As Visit Bend’s resident romance author, I should clarify I mean “eat, drink, and be merry” outdoors, and not whatever else you fantasize about doing under the blazing sun (see aforementioned tip on sunscreen).
When you’re making reservations like I mentioned in tip one, check to see if they have outdoor seating. Nothing’s as sweet as dessert served with a side of sunset dining in Bend.
Float the river
Everyone’s got their favorite form of water recreation, from whitewater rafting to SUPing to kayaking. But one water-based Bend activity requires no special skills, gear, or expense: Floating the river.
It’s a popular all-ages adventure that’s simple to try, once you learn the ropes. Check out this post for everything you should know about this quintessential summertime Bend experience.
Read up on rules
I know it’s no fun to spend precious vacation planning time reading rules and regulations, but you know what’s less fun? Paying fines, getting lost, in or burning down the forest.
I admit it’s a pain to comb through dozens of websites to find all the info you need, so here’s a roundup of my favorite sites:
- For news on fire restrictions, bookmark this link for the Oregon Department of Forestry. I also find it handy to keep this page open for when I smell smoke and want to know if it’s a prescribed burn or if I should pack for evac.
- This post has gobs of handy info, plus links to maps if you’re wondering where you need a wilderness permit for hiking or backpacking near Bend.
- When things are still thawing at high elevations, I keep a close eye on social media pages for the Deschutes National Forest. They’re out there plowing, clearing, and keeping us updated on which roads are open and which ones need a little thaw time. Here’s where you’ll find them on Facebook, or if Twitter’s your thing, you’ll find them here.
And can I once more sing the praises of our knowledgeable team in the Bend Visitor Center? Seriously, if these guys don’t have the answers from their own recent hiking experiences, they’ll know right where to get whatever info you’re seeking. They’re a treasured resource, so count on them to help you out.
Look for lesser-known treasures
If avoiding crowds is high on your priority list, here’s my best tip: Stop scrolling.
But those flashy pics of Smith Rock and Tumalo Falls get zillions of likes because that’s where folks flock (thus perpetuating the crowds, but I digress).
Coming to Bend is a chance to explore, so why not step off the beaten track? Skip some of the more popular trails and try spots like Newberry National Volcanic Monument, the Crooked River Gorge, or the Oregon Badlands Wilderness.
If you simply can’t miss something you spotted online, time your visit for early morning or late afternoon and skip the crowds.
When it’s time to eat, no doubt you’ll be drawn to popular eateries around Downtown Bend and the Old Mill District. But why not try something on Bend’s eastside, like Worthy Brewing, Blacksteer Steakhouse, Moose Sisters, or the food carts at On Tap or MidTown Yacht Club?
Get curious about trails, landmarks, or parts of town you haven’t seen before. You’ll be amazed how much there is to see and do in Bend.
Happy exploring, everyone!