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The best summer activities for families in Bend


Bend summers sing with more than just concert tunes. It’s the music of kids’ laughter filling pine-treed trails. It’s the splash of a canoe paddle or the crunch of bike tires on sun-warmed gravel.

Summer in Bend feels like sensory overload, feeding your soul, fueling your body, and filling your family’s shared memory bank for generations. Here are 10 of Bend’s best summer activities to treat your family.

A family enjoys the viewpoint at Pilot Butte State Park in Bend, Oregon.

Standing tall at nearly 500 hundred feet, Pilot Butte makes Bend one of four cities in the US with its own volcano within city limits. How seriously impressive and cool is that?!

A trek up Pilot Butte

Hiking in Bend tops most folks’ list of summer activities, and here’s why I always suggest Pilot Butte as a starting point: From the top of this 500 foot cinder cone, you’ll get sweeping views of the town and its surrounding rivers, mountains, and desert. It’s a great way to get oriented, not to mention burning off some road trip energy. For families with mobility challenges, you can drive to the top instead of shoving strollers or wheelchairs up the trail. If you’ve got little ones in tow, bring a bottle of bubbles they can chase at the top while you scan the plaque pointing out nearby mountain peaks. Bonus: You’ll all go home with bragging rights for having scaled a dormant volcano.


Horseback riding

There was an Old West vibe about Central Oregon when my grandparents raised racehorses here in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and it still clings to Bend even now that it’s a bustling town of over 100k souls. Embrace the Old West with a scenic horseback ride. You’ll find several local outfitters offering horseback riding for all ages, but one that really stands out is Smith Rock Trail Rides. This family-run outfitter takes phenomenal care of both horses and guests while treating you to stunning views of this Central Oregon landmark. Plan on going early in the day during summer’s hottest stretch, and wear something with pockets to hold your phone as you jostle down the trail. That way, your guide can snap plenty of pics for your family album.

Rafters jump into the water on a Sun Country Tour.

Get out on the water with Sun Country Tours.

Splash around

Few things feel as soothing as a dip in a chilly river or mountain lake on a hot summer day. Add adrenaline to the mix with a family whitewater rafting adventure from Sun Country Tours, or make mellow memories with a moonlight canoe outing from Wanderlust Tours. Keep things affordable with a simple river float, either renting tubes or bringing your own from home. Go here to learn everything you need to know about floating the river in Bend.

Bonta gelato gets scooped into a cup in downtown Bend, Oregon.

Every small batch of Bontà gelato is hand-crafted (every day!) using traditional, “slow food” techniques and only the best ingredients, many coming from the Oregon countryside.

Ice cream on a hot day

Simple summer pleasures like ice cream top my own list of summer joys. For mouthwatering gelato, hit Bonta for a dish of Tumalo Lavender or Roasted Strawberry, or opt for a hand-scooped waffle cone at Goody’s. Then take your treat on a summer stroll through Drake Park. If you’re in the Old Mill District, stop by Sweet Tooth to grab a bowl of Dippin’ Dots. Then stroll along the river past shops and restaurants while you scan the water for ducks and otters. You can even rent a surrey bike from Wheel Fun Rentals for a pedal-powered way to see the sights.

Mountain biker on the trails at Mt. Bachelor.

Mt. Bachelor offers a variety of bike park season pass and ticket options servicing a walk-up skills park and two chairlifts that provide access to over 13 miles of thrilling gravity trails.


See a ski hill’s summer splendor

If you’ve only seen Mt. Bachelor through the tips of your skis, treat yourself to this stunning volcano’s summer side. Plan a family hike on a rugged trail, or take the leisurely route with a scenic chairlift ride. Go screaming down the side of the hill on a zipline, or have a quiet meal at 7,800 feet with one of their sunset dinners. Get your mountain bike fix on their downhill bike park trails, or simply stand in the parking lot and snap a pic of this majestic mountain looking more than a little naked without her winter coat.

A child looking at an exhibit at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon.

Watch the resident river otters Brook, Pitch and Wesley as they scamper on land, use their slide or go for a swim.

Hit the High Desert Museum

A family favorite since 1982, the High Desert Museum isn’t the sort of museum where you’ll have to shush small children or stare stiffly at art on the walls. This museum is all about interactive, family-friendly exhibits and tons of fascinating wildlife. Study their calendar and time out your visit to catch one of their raptor shows, then save room for lunch at their tasty on-site cafe. Pro-tip: If you can’t get enough of museums, head west along Highway 26 and stop by Oregon’s other Smithsonian museum, the Museum at Warm Springs.


Rev your engines

If your family craves a shot of zoom in each vacation, you’ve got tons of options in Bend. Book an all-terrain vehicle tour with Outriders NW for an ATV adventure you’ll never forget. If you’d rather start small, hit the outdoor Go-Kart track at Sun Mountain Fun Center, or take a break from outdoorsy fun with a family race on the indoor track at K1.  

Park Ranger at Newberry National Volcanic Monument near Bend, Oregon.

Newberry National Volcanic Monument has over 54,000 acres of lakes, lava flows, and spectacular geologic features. | Image Credit: Whiteney Whitehouse

Get your lava fix

Bend’s unique geological landscape sets it apart from so many other areas of Oregon, so plan to check it out while you’re here. Visit the Newberry National Volcanic Monument to see glittering obsidian fields and lava flows galore. There’s a timed entry system to see Lava River Cave, so book your reservation here. If you’d prefer a more interactive experience, the Paulina Plunge—a quirky combo of biking and natural waterfall slides—remains one of my kiddos’ favorite adventures more than 10 years after we first did it. Embrace your inner spelunking enthusiast with a lava cave tour from Wanderlust Tours, and get the added bonus of cool conditions and a naturalist guide who can answer all your questions about Bend’s unique geological history.


Go mountain biking

Bend loves bikes, so you’ll find lots of ways to explore this town on two wheels. Plan a mountain bike tour with Cog Wild or bring your own bikes to try road cycling, gravel cycling, or mountain biking. You can also try an e-bike tour if you need a bit of extra oomph behind you. Lots of Bend bike shops offer bike rentals and handy trail maps so you’ll know where you’re going and won’t have to worry about bringing your own gear. Be sure to brush up on your hand signals and other bike rules so you stay safe while pedaling around town.

Hayden Homes Amphitheater in Bend, Oregon.

There’s not a bad seat in the house within the Hayden Homes Amphitheater’s intimate riverfront venue.

Enjoy a concert

Live music is one of summer’s greatest pleasures in Bend. Scope out the concert calendar for Hayden Homes Amphitheater and you’ll find several family-friendly shows on the docket. If “free” feels like a better price, Munch and Music is one of Bend’s most beloved summer events held each week in Drake Park. If you’re more of a music festival family, don’t miss the Fairwell Festival held at the Deschutes County Fairgrounds. For more ideas to make your heart sing, scan our Event Calendar for Bend concerts happening throughout the summer.


And no matter what adventures you choose in Bend, don’t forget to follow Leave No Trace principles!

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