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8 top hiking tips for Bend, Oregon

Spark Lake in Bend, Oregon.

Year after year, hiking in Bend tops search lists and wish lists for folks traveling to Central Oregon. It’s popular thanks to infinite variety, accessibility, and the fact that you can lace up those hiking boots 365 days a year.

From waterfall hikes to family-friendly trails, you’ll find endless kinds of adventure for Bend hiking. Here’s what you should know before shouldering your day pack and heading out.

Spark Lake in Bend, Oregon.

There are so many alpine lakes to visit along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway! Keep in mind, the road will close for the season in early November!

Pick the best trail for the season

Maybe you long to hike the Ray Atkeson Memorial Trail around Sparks Lake (a personal favorite of mine). But you’re in for a mighty big bummer if you plan a March visit when seasonal snow closures make reaching it impossible. Same goes for scoping out the Oregon Badlands Wilderness in the heat of summer when a lack of shade turns desert trails into an oven—the exact thing that makes it a perfect hike for winter. Read up on altitude, conditions, and road closures to pick the best hike for the season. Online resources like make handy starting points, as does a good guidebook like Scott Cook’s All Around Bend, which we sell in the Bend Visitor Center. Check out these posts rounding up Bend’s best activities for each month, including which hikes make the most sense for any time of year.

Scout Camp Hike in Bend, Oregon

Temperatures are quick to change in the high desert—be sure to pack plenty of layers before setting out on your next adventure.

Pack the 10 essentials

Staying safe, hydrated, warm, dry, and not sunburned to a crisp will ensure your Bend hike becomes the stuff of fond memories and not a story you tell while wincing and clutching your head. The ten essentials include things like navigation tools, fire-making supplies, and enough food and water to keep you alive if the worst should happen on the trails. Go here for a complete list, then make sure you’ve got everything—even for short hikes, since you never know what Mother Nature might throw at you.


Match your skills to the trails

A cautionary tale from my personal archives: Last summer, I picked a summer hike for my visiting parents. They’re avid hikers, but in their mid-70s and not used to Bend’s altitude, heat, and dusty conditions. Friends, I chose wrong. I didn’t consider how reaching Lucky Lake would tax my folks’ endurance so they wouldn’t have juice left to…yanno… actually hike around the lake (the whole freakin’ point). Chagrined by my dad’s aching back, I wrote this post spotlighting 12 short, sweet hikes of 3 miles or less with minimal elevation gain. Learn from my mistakes. Choose your hike based on everyone’s abilities—not just what you’re eager to see or hoping to tick off some list.

Sunset view from Paulina Peak in Bend, Oregon

The Newberry National Monument offers amazing views from the top of Paulina Peak.

Find those hidden gems!

Search the Instagram feeds of a hundred Bend visitors and I’ll bet eighty of them include pics of Smith Rock or Tumalo Falls. They’re pretty, no doubt, but they’re also at risk of being loved to death, and you know what? You’ll find plenty more places just as beautiful but off the beaten track. Skip the crowds and flock to less trekked spots like Newberry National Volcanic Monument, Steelhead Falls, and Gray Butte, which offers epic views of Smith Rock, minus the mass of cars in the trailhead parking lot. If you must visit the popular destinations, go early in the morning or on weekdays for a better shot at beating the crowds. And if you do show up and find the parking spots full, please don’t invent your own. Just move on to plan B, plan C, or plan D (you’ve got those, right?) since there’s plenty of beauty to go around.

A dog hikes in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness Area near Bend, Oregon.

Make sure Fido is fully prepared before heading out on your next trek together.

Plan for your pup

You know to pack poop bags and water, and to bone up (snicker!) on leash laws wherever you roam. But one oft-overlooked issue when hiking with dogs is how hot Bend’s dusty trails can be. I’m fanatical about never walking my dogs on hot asphalt and treating their paws with musher’s secret for snowshoe treks, but you know what? I goofed on a recent hike in La Pine State Park when I set out on a trail that turned out to have less shade than I banked on. My pups let me know right away, and thank dog we got back to the shade quickly and saved that hike for another day. Rule of thumb paw: If you can’t walk barefoot, neither can Rover. For more tips on hiking with dogs, see this post.

Be sure to fully put out your fire and leave no trace.

Before building a campfire, be sure to check local fire restrictions. Be sure your fire is completely out before you leave the area.

Follow Leave No Trace principles

If you’ve ever uttered the phrase, “take only photos, leave only footprints,” you’ll feel right at home hiking in Bend. If you haven’t, here’s a great opportunity to learn Leave No Trace principles. Spend 24 hours in Central Oregon and you’ll quickly learn how fiercely we love our outdoor spaces and want to protect them for future generations. It can be as simple as packing out all your trash and toting water in reusable bottles, or as devoted as volunteering for trail restoration projects or packing a small trash bag to pick up litter when you hike. For ideas on honing your Leave No Trace skills, check out this page with tips specific to Bend. Want a tangible reminder? Stop by the Bend Visitor Center for a durable hang-tag to hook on your backpack and cue you to recreate responsibility. We’ll even throw in a free Leave No Trace sticker sheet to decorate your eco-friendly Hydro Flask water bottle.


Whose turn is it?

Bend’s surrounded by multi-use trails, which means horses, mountain bikes, and hikers all share the same track. It’s wise to know who has the right-of-way, so here’s a quick primer: In general, horses have top priority. That’s partly because they could squish you, but mostly because they’re prey animals who get easily spooked, and you want to avoid startling them. Speak softly to alert both rider and horse that you’re human, and step to the side when you see them approach. In a hiker/bike meetup, cyclists should yield to both hikers and horses, but that doesn’t mean you go trekking down the trail oblivious to your surroundings. Keep your ears and eyes open when hiking. If you see someone coming on horseback or bike, step aside when you can easily get out of the way. At the end of the day, it’s better to be safe than right!

A family enjoys the river trail in Downtown Bend, Oregon.

The Deschutes River Trail is the perfect spot for an afternoon bike ride with the family.

Smile. You’re in Bend.

One of my favorite things about hiking in Bend is how often folks greet you with smiles and kind words. Embrace the Bend way and give a friendly wave to your new friends on the trail. It’s a fine way to spread warm fuzzies, both for others and for yourself. Happy hiking, everyone!


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