Category: Family Fun
Everything’s ready. You’ve packed the kids’ bags, your Bend hotel reservations are set, and you’ve planned the perfect family weekend in Bend.
Then it happens. Something unexpected threatens to derail your perfect family vacation.
Been there, done that, forgot to pack the t-shirt. Fortunately, you can still pull off an awesome family vacay when life throws you for a loop. Here are three uh-oh scenarios for families (and some fun workarounds for each!)
Rainy days aren’t common here in the mountainous high desert, but they do happen. Fortunately, a drizzly day in Bend isn’t a dream-killer the way it might be with, say, a beach getaway.
First, check the Mt. Bachelor conditions report. What looks like rain in Bend (3,600 feet in elevation) might be perfect, fluffy snowflakes at Mt. Bachelor (elevation 5,700 to 9,065 feet). You could score a perfect day of powder skiing after all.
If skiing isn’t on the agenda, there are plenty of other options for staying dry while having fun. Escape the wet stuff by going underground with a cave adventure from Wanderlust Tours. Your naturalist guide will provide all the gear and transportation, not to mention a top-notch education on Central Oregon’s unique lava tubes.
Need help getting the wiggles out? Hit Mountain Air Trampoline Park for an hour or two of bouncy fun. The main court has 26 trampolines, plus a jumping and tumbling runway and a giant airbag that’s fun to pounce on from above. For more ideas on indoorsy fun in Bend, check out this blog post.
Okay, but what if you’re really, really itching to play outside? Don’t let the rain stop you. The high desert’s rare rainstorms don’t tend to last long, and they’re actually quite remarkable to experience. The scent of wet juniper and sage is an olfactory explosion everyone should savor at least once, and puddle jumping can be a giggle-worthy game for the kids. Just make sure you stay off mountain bike trails when conditions are muddy, or you’ll risk wrecking the trails for other users.
You’re battling picky eaters or food allergies
Moms and dads with challenging eaters: I feel your pain. Our family currently grapples with a lifelong egg/peanut/shellfish allergy in kid #1, plus a newly-diagnosed lactose intolerance in kid #2.
For those with younger kids, it can be an endless evolution of food preferences and tantrum-inducing meal planning. Your four-year-old who looooooves grilled cheese on Wednesday might think it’s the grossest thing ever by Friday.
Don’t worry, guys—Bend restaurants have your back.
Outside those parameters, you’ll find oodles of other Bend restaurants accustomed to handling special dietary needs. Zydeco is particularly great with food allergies (and with tweaking items on their menu to accommodate your needs). Ditto that for Broken Top Bottle Shop, which has most menu items carefully identified by their dietary properties.
Generally speaking, you’ll find staff in most Bend restaurants are friendly and knowledgeable when asked about specific allergens and dietary needs, and servers are happy to check with the chef for detailed info.
Not dealing with allergies, but just need a place with a solid kids’ menu that’s good for finicky eaters? Try Flatbread Neopolitan Pizzeria in the Old Mill District, where kids can assemble their own pizzas and watch them cook up in the big wood-fired oven. The Old Mill also boasts a Red Robin, which can be a godsend when you just need to fill their faces with familiar-sounding food (bonus: killer river views).
Most of the breweries along the Bend Ale Trail also boast impressive kids’ menus, so don’t think you have to miss out on tasting Bend craft beer just because you have the young’uns in tow.
Someone gets hurt
This one sucks. It’s tough enough when your loved ones get injured, but when it happens right before vacation, it can throw a serious kink in the family’s plans.
First, remember you have options. My stepdaughter’s broken arm a couple summers ago could have put a serious crimp in her dreams of swimming from June to September, but a quick google search led us to some awesome cast covers for swimming. Don’t be afraid to poll other parents on what they’ve done in your situation.
Second, roll with the punches. Maybe you can’t do that twelve-mile family backpacking trip you’d hoped for, but there are tons of shorter hikes to be found. Check out the Deschutes River Trail or Pilot Butte (which also allows you to drive up May through October if mobility is limited). Stop by the Bend Visitor Center and grab a good guide book or ask our friendly front desk staff for tips on great hiking spots to meet your needs.
Plenty of other Central Oregon attractions are easily accessible when mobility or stamina is an issue. Spend the day checking out critters and natural history at the High Desert Museum. They offer wheelchairs for use at no additional charge, plus ramps into outdoor exhibits, wheelchair accessible trails, and benches throughout the grounds for resting.
In the Old Mill District you can cruise the paved riverfront paths and sidewalks and find tons of easily accessible spots for shopping and dining.
But don’t think you have to give up your dreams of skiing, biking, paddling, rock climbing, or zillions of other sports just because a family member is facing mobility issues or other challenges. Oregon Adaptive Sports offers a huge range of activities, adaptive equipment, and professional instruction to help everyone enjoy Central Oregon’s great outdoors regardless of ability. They have experience working with a huge range of populations, including amputees, visual impairment, Cerebral Palsy, ADD/ADHD, Down Syndrome, PTSD, spinal cord injury, stroke, and much more. Check out their website for info.
Oh, blog readers. I have a treat for you!
For almost 7 years, you’ve gotten my weekly reports about my favorite things to do and see around town, including detailed itineraries for my perfect day in Bend.
But every now and then (like when I go on vacation!) I invite a special guest blogger to share his or her idea of a perfect Bend day. This week I summoned Courtney Van Fossan, whose job title is “Cultural Agent of Change” (love it!) with Bend Electric Bikes.
You can find their tours through The Bend Tour Company, and you can find Courtney’s idea of a perfect day in Bend below. Take it away, Courtney!
I’ve lived in Bend for about 5 years and, while I would call Bend a “small-ish” town, I never run out of new things to do and places to explore. The main reason I relocated here was to ditch the car and enjoy a biking/walking lifestyle with my kids. While there is always more progress to be made, Bend hasn’t disappointed. I ride and walk almost everywhere with a little help from electric cargo/family bikes.
Early Rising and Mount Bachelor
We woke up early and headed to Mt. Bachelor for a couple hours of skiing and snowboarding. We’re enjoying our first season at the mountain and took advantage of the Ski and Ride in 5 program offered for folks who are new to snow sports.
Now that we’ve graduated, we ski and snowboard as a family and it has been an invaluable bonding experience. I can’t recommend it enough—your kids will thank you for it! My son, Ike (age 9) loves the new Cloudchaser lift, and let me tell you, it’s a different world up there! The wide open views are stunning. Ike is also our mountain guide and helped plan our route for the day. With so many trails to explore, I’m glad we have him!
We often enjoy biking to the Park & Ride and taking the shuttle to the mountain, which is a convenient way to reduce traffic headed to the mountain and to avoid the fight for a parking space.
Urban Trails – Hidden Gems of the East Side
Our life revolves around family biking and working at a bike shop definitely helps when it comes to fun options for tootling around town and using our awesome Bend Urban Trail System.
We stopped at the shop to grab a couple of family/cargo bikes as an alternate to our usual ride—we like variety! I wanted to put a new family bike, the Benno Boost, to the test so we grabbed it and a nicely accessorized Xtracycle set up for family fun. The bike shop recently partnered with The Bend Tour Company and will be offering fun new eBike tours, so our exploration was part family time and part research into the best family riding in Bend.
My kids and I have been family biking since they were wee ones and they are the experts, giving me plenty of feedback on comfort, safety and fun factor. Both bikes got the stamp of approval from kids and parents.
We chose to explore the Coyner and Larkspur Trails, which are accessible on the east side of town. We picked up the Coyner Trailhead which is near Franklin and the 8th/9th Street roundabout. A community garden and a smooth, paved path enticed us to get going and see what we could find. Our first discovery was the Community Labyrinth, right off the trail. We stopped and ran around and around. The posted sign says, “The circular nature of a labyrinth reminds us that life is a journey rather than a destination.” That’s the truth, and it certainly worked for us!
We continued on the trail and came to Ponderosa Skate Park where we saw the beginnings of skateboarding season with a bunch of kids doing some amazing tricks—we could have watched for hours! After the skate park cleared a bit, we took some turns on our bikes and enjoyed the smooth concrete. We’ll be sharpening our family biking stunts in the coming months!
Next, we stopped at the Ponderosa Park playground, which is set up on a hill. The slide was the favorite for the day. It was long and fast—high marks from the shortstuffs. Our ride took us around the Bend Senior Center and we lollygagged on the trail for quite a while longer, enjoying the freedom and safety of the car-free path. We like to take advantage of these trails whenever we can and they are such a nice relief from the traffic on the roads.
Doggy time & curling—new and old Bend traditions
We had to take a break from the trail for a bit to head home and check on our new pup, Alice. We recently adopted her from the Humane Society of Central Oregon and she’s not quite ready to for the excitement of the trails and dog parks along the way. We had several visits to meet dogs and take them on walks before we adopted Alice. Many of us miss our pets when we’re traveling and this way, so this is one way to give you time with a cuddly dog or cat and give them some much needed exercise and attention.
We live a few short blocks from Miller’s Landing Park, where there is a wonderful paved trail that connects to the Old Mill District and the Colorado Bridge over the Bend Whitewater Park. My daughter, Georgia (age 7) and I walked Alice along the path, while Ike and Amy rode their bikes to the Pavilion where Bend curling action takes place.
Amy is new to the curling league, and was lucky to get a much coveted spot mid-season. The sport is very popular and gives way to more on-ice inspiration at the Pavilion, which goes from ice skating, ice hockey, and curling in winter, to warm weather recreation like basketball and pickleball in the summer.
Another zip along the trails
Back to bikes and trails! We picked up the Larkspur Trail by way of the Bend cemetery, (a quiet place to ride!) and a quick shortcut to the tunnel under Highway 20. The trail leads to the base of Pilot Butte State Park and around to the other side.
We took this fun and easy safe route and headed to dinner at Jackson’s Corner East. They have a great location near the hospital with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, fire feature, and much lighter crowds than the Westside location.
We walked right in, ordered a wonderful, local, healthy meal, and relaxed. Our favorite menu items are the fusilli pasta, meatball small plate, and kale Cesar, plus any of the specials. The kids like the cheesy sticks, elbow pasta, and sometimes the kids’ entrée with steak or chicken and seasonal veggies. The cold cases are filled with all kinds of fun drinks for kids and adults, and it’s always a treat that’s well worth the ride.
We headed back on the trail, dropped off the bikes at the shop and walked home through the lovely, historic Old Bend neighborhood. I’d say most days in Bend are near perfect, but when you can avoid traffic and get around by bike with the family, enjoy trails, parks, and easy recreation, we’ve got perfect pretty well figured out. Happy kids, happy parents, and happy trails!
By the way, visitors interested in group rides should check out Bendbikes.org. They coordinate group cycling events throughout the year, and it’s a great way for Bend visitors to try a fun, local activity with other families and folks who enjoy biking.
The clock is ticking, guys. It’s just a matter of weeks until Mt. Bachelor opens for another winter season, and it’s going to be AWESOME!
Today they released their brand new Mt. Bachelor trail map and an exclusive 96-hour lift ticket sale that goes from noon on Thursday, Nov. 17 though noon on Monday, Nov. 21. There’s also a brand new chairlift under construction that’ll be complete sometime in December.
Besides scoring discounted lift tickets and having the new trail map tattooed across your chest, what should you be doing to get ready for winter fun in Bend? Here’s the inside scoop!
Gearing up for a grownup getaway
Planning an adults-only winter vacation in Bend? Here are a few things you can do right now to make sure you’re ready for Mt. Bachelor’s opening day, along with all kinds of other winter recreation opportunities:
- Get pumped up. Whether you’re a skier, an ice skater, or a competitive bobsledder, we want everyone to stay safe when playing in the snow this year. Now’s a good time to work some of those key muscle group like legs and core. Squats and hamstring stretches are a great place to start to ensure your legs are up to the task of transporting your body over slippery terrain. Go here for some pre-season workout ideas.
- Tune it up. Since you have a little time to kill, it’s a great opportunity to prepare your gear for the season. Get your skis or board waxed (or find a local professional to do it for you). Dig through your garage for those missing poles and spend some time walking around the living room in your ski boots so your feet don’t scream in protest the first time you hit the slopes.
- Cyberstalk the mountain. If you have a little flexibility in your schedule, it’s a smart idea to bookmark the Bachelor conditions report on your desktop or mobile device. You’ll see daily details about trail conditions and lift schedules, along with webcam images that update every 15 minutes. When conditions look perfect, hop in your car and go!
- Repair, reuse. While getting new gear can be fun, it’s kinder for the environment (not to mention your wallet) to repair the gear you already have. With a few weeks to go before winter sports season, now’s a good time to get that jacket patched and your busted goggles fixed. Same deal with sleds, which often get chucked in the landfill when they’re a little banged up. Start your season right by paying a little extra for high-quality gear that’s less prone to breakage. If your sled does sustain an injury, look into repairing it before you toss it (and whatever you do, please, PLEASE don’t stuff busted sleds in the garbage bins at Sno-Parks—it’s crazy expensive to have that trash hauled away at the end of a holiday weekend). For more tips on being kind to the environment and the Bend community when you visit, check out our Visit Like a Local
- Prepare your tummy for goodness. In a matter of days, you’ll be able to cap off a day of skiing with a Nacho Mountain and a Bloody Mary in the Clearing Rock Bar at Mt. Bachelor. Start salivating now.
- Nail down a place to stay. While winter is a quieter time to visit Bend than, say, mid-August, lodging can still book up fast on weekends and peak holiday dates. Whether you’re looking for a budget hotel or for a Bend vacation home to share with a big pack of pals, book nice and early to ensure you have the optimum spot to rest your bones.
- Double check the safety gear. If you’re a back-country skiing enthusiast, you already know it’s crucial to have your safety tools in tip-top shape. Get out your beacon, probe, shovel, and other safety gear and inspect it with a fine-toothed comb to make sure everything is in good working order. For tips on back-country skiing around Bend, go here.
- Plan your downtime activities wisely. As much as you might dream of eating powder for breakfast, lunch, and dinner when you’re in Bend, you want to sprinkle in a few non-snow activities, too. If the Bend Ale Trail is on your wish list, make plans beforehand to have the Bend Brew Bus haul you around so there’s no risk of driving while impaired. If you’re a foodie who wants to experience the best of Bend’s culinary scene, peruse our dining pages or skim the drinking and dining category on this blog for ideas. Then make reservations so you won’t miss out on any of your top spots.
Prep for your family-friendly winter adventure
While many of the tips above apply to traveling parties of all sizes, there’s an extra layer of planning when you’re vacationing with kids.
I just spent the weekend helping my stepkids purge ill-fitting snow gear from their closets, so I know what a pain it can be to get everyone ready for winter with no missing mittens. Here’s where to start if you’re gearing up for a family vacation this winter.
- Try on all the gear. Yes, your kids will think it’s silly to pull on snow pants when it’s 65-degrees and sunny outside, but now’s the time to figure out what you’ve got to work with. Have the youngsters try on everything—jackets, snow pants, gloves, thermal underwear, hats, boots, wool socks, and hats. Look for rips, tears, or things they’ve outgrown, and get those items replaced or repaired so you don’t figure out someone’s boots are too small two miles into a snowshoe trip. BONUS: Places like Costco still have a good selection of quality winter gear right now, but that won’t be the case in a few weeks when everything’s been picked over.
- Wash everything. All those hats and gloves I mentioned? They’re carrying some serious stank after sitting in the closet all summer. Get everything washed and ready to wear. You’ll thank me in a few weeks when you’re not doing loads of laundry at 2 a.m. the night before your Bend vacation.
- Stockpile necessities. Treats are crucial when you’re traveling with kids, so make sure you have goodies on hand like granola bars and fruit leather. Stock up on post-snow sustenance like cocoa and cider packets or easy-to-mix chai. My stepkids are nuts about Trader Joes’ seasonal spiced cider, so we buy bottles in bulk and keep them on hand to warm up after a day of snow play.
- Buy snow chains. Most folks visiting Bend from less snowy areas don’t have snow tires the way locals do, so it’s smart to have a set of chains in your car and the ability to put them on. Trust me: it’s a lot easier to learn to put chains on your car in the comfort of your garage than it is when you’re face-down in a snowbank on the side of the highway. I’m a big fan of Les Schwab, where they’ll not only tell you what sort of chains your vehicle needs, they’ll show you in an idiot-friendly fashion how to put them on.
- Plan early for tours and special adventures. Last year my whole extended family visited Mt. Bachelor the day after Christmas to enjoy the Snowblast Tubing Park. While we were there, we watched the sled dog teams from Oregon Trail of Dreams and called to inquire about booking. The person who answered was kind enough not to laugh, but she did point out that the two weeks around Christmas had been booked solid for months. Lesson learned! I won’t make that mistake twice, whether I’m planning a snowshoe adventure with Wanderlust Tours or booking a snowmobiling tour. Book early at peak times so you don’t end up missing out!
- Read up on deals and discounts. There are oodles of great promotions out there for families on a budget. Besides the 96-hour lift ticket sale I mentioned earlier, there’s the popular Kids Ski Free option and the Ski or Ride in 5 program for lessons. Off the snow, you’ll find several local restaurants with special deals for families. Both 900 Wall and Fire in Bend have kids-eat-free deals on Sundays, and Longboard Louie’s does it all weekend (that’s assuming you pay for adult meals, too). If you plan to do some ice skating at The Pavillion, buy a punch pass or season pass to save a bundle for the whole fam.
Traveling with kids can be a roller coaster ride.
You love the shared adventure, but you don’t love guessing which restaurant is your best pick to avoid the glares of diners unaccustomed to young voices pitched with excited energy. You love exposing the young’uns to new experiences, but you don’t love the prospect of selling a kidney to afford it.
Rest easy. Here are 7 lifehacks (kidhacks? Er, no) to make traveling with kids a little easier in Bend.
Let someone else help you
Ahem. A story.
When my husband and I decided to take the kids to Mexico this past summer, my brain went into a tizzy. I traveled Mexico a ton in my pre-kid life, so I wanted to plan jungle hikes and beach excursions and cram ALL THE THINGS into our 7-day trip.
As you might imagine, I burned out fast. Luckily, I did it before we left town, which gave us time to schedule a few organized tours that took the burden off the grownups for planning and logistics.
Did it cost a little more? Yes. Was it worth every penny as far as my own peace of mind and relaxation went? Oh, dear Lord in heaven, YES.
Do yourself a favor. Don’t cram the car with kayaks or snowshoe gear and spend your time studying maps and getting lost on forest roads. Book an outing with Wanderlust Tours and let them handle all the details (including gear, transportation, and really fun, educational narratives during your adventure).
Ditto that if you want to go mountain biking (Cog Wild can hook you up!) The Bend Tour Company offers a variety of organized outings ranging from Segway tours to art exploration. Cowboy Carriage Company has a cool family-friendly outing called Pizza and a Wagon Ride Wednesday, which includes dinner for the whole family and a ride through Downtown Bend in a horse-drawn carriage.
But seriously, let someone else play tour guide for your family, at least for an afternoon. I promise you’ll thank me for it.
Time to eat!
Mealtimes can be a challenge when vacationing with kids, particularly if you have picky eaters, food allergies, or super young ones still learning when to use inside voices.
Luckily, you’ll find plenty of Bend eateries prepared to handle your brood. At Flatbread Community Oven in the Old Mill District, kids build their own pizzas, then watch with giddy glee as their creations bake in big wood-fired ovens.
If someone in your family has special dietary needs, you’ll find a cornucopia of options in Bend, ranging from vegan and vegetarian to gluten-free dining. Kids who only eat specific foods like burgers or grilled cheese will find plenty of spots for those delights, or check out our roundup of on-the-go breakfast picks for morning grub you can eat en route to your next adventure.
Budget-conscious families will be thrilled to know that kids eat free all day on Sundays at Fire in Bend, and their pizzas, wings, and salads will tempt most palates. Kids also eat free at 900 Wall after 5 p.m. on Sundays, so that’s a great spot to score creative Northwest cuisine with a “date night” vibe and enough kid-friendly choices to keep everyone happy. Seeking a more casual kids-eat-free scenario? Your young’uns will gobble up burritos and tacos at Longboard Louie’s, which offers free kids meals on Saturdays and Sundays. Keep in mind that all of these deals are contingent upon the parents ordering adult meals of their own.
And don’t think you have to miss out on the legendary Bend Ale Trail just because you have toddlers in tow. Check out the drool-worthy kids’ menus at Deschutes Brewery (which brews their own non-alcoholic root beer and ginger beer) and the kid-friendly fare at Bend Brewing Company, or set the wee ones loose on the wide, grassy lawn at Crux Fermentation Project while mom and dad sample some of the best beers in town.
Know where the toy stores are
Time for a special reward for kids who’ve been extra good?
Bend has several shopping zones, but the Old Mill District and Downtown Bend are the ones you’re most likely to visit during your Bend vacation. Lucky for you, they both have toy stores packed to the gills with unique offerings for all ages.
In the Old Mill, check out Wonderland Toy Shop. In Downtown Bend, don’t miss Leapin’ Lizards. If the kids are extra well-behaved, it’s worth knowing there’s a candy shop close by each shop (that’s Sweet Tooth Candy Shoppe in the Old Mill and Goody’s Chocolates downtown, with Powell’s Sweet Shoppe just a couple blocks from that).
Kids ski free at Mt. Bachelor
The snow hasn’t begun flying yet this season, so we’re a couple months away from knowing yet what sort of snow year we’ll have at Mt. Bachelor.
But one thing for certain? Mt. Bachelor will keep their kids ski free offer running. To learn more about it (and to start planning ahead for your winter vacation) go here!
Want more free stuff?
Plenty of fun things in Bend don’t cost you a penny. Take a family hike up Pilot Butte (and to make things extra fun, pack a bottle of bubbles and let the kids chase them around in the breeze at the top).
Go for a stroll through the Old Mill District and stop by the Ticket Mill to grab their free birdwatching guide and a pair of rental binoculars (also free!)
If your kids are nuts for volcanos (and who isn’t?!) cruise over to Newberry National Volcanic Monument and spend the day exploring a volcano the size of Rhode Island. There, you’ll see ancient lava flows, jagged volcanic glass, rivers, lakes, caves, hot springs, waterfalls, and forests.
If you’re feeling more indoorsy, keep an eye on the Facebook page for the High Desert Museum to see when their next free admission day is coming up. Or better yet…
Buy a family pass for the High Desert Museum
The High Desert Museum has long been one of my family’s favorite spots for fun, and we never seem to tire of checking out the otters, watching a birds of prey demo, or seeing what new exhibits they have on tap.
Want to support the museum AND get in as many times as you want throughout the year?
Become a Member! A family membership costs less than $100, and ensures your whole fam (that’s parents and all kids 19 and under) get in as many times as you want throughout the year. It’s a screamin’ deal, it helps keep the museum up and running, and makes an excellent holiday gift. Win/win!
Schedule something super-memorable
Without a doubt, your Bend vacation will be memorable. But with every family trip I take, I like to plan one special activity that’ll keep us talking around the dinner table for years to come.
For some families it’s something daring like bungee jumping or a scenic flight. For others it’s an evening telling ghost stories and making s’mores by a campfire. For some it’s a family photo shoot with a talented local photographer.
The possibilities are endless, and whatever you choose is sure to fix this vacation in your memories for as long as you’re all still kickin’.
Driving along a country road Sunday afternoon, I heard a voice from the backseat.
“Thank you so much for taking us on that hike. It was really fun.”
The voice belonged to my 14-year-old stepson, and those of you with teenagers know it’s kind of a big deal to have anything declared “fun” when it doesn’t include electronic devices or friends.
But the hike was fun, which got us talking about other fun family hikes we’ve done around Central Oregon over the last five years. There were tons. But we narrowed it to a few of our faves, as voted upon by Cedar and his 10-year-old sister, Violet.
And the grownups. We sometimes get a vote, too.
Alder Springs Trail
Let’s start with the hike that inspired my stepson’s comment last weekend, since it’s the newest one in our repertoire.
The Alder Springs Trail hike offers stunning glimpses of high desert landscapes with sagebrush-dotted plateaus and sweeping vistas in all directions. Unlike some of my other favorite desert-centric hikes (i.e. the Oregon Badlands Wilderness), this one has water thrown in, which makes it nicer for both kids and pets.
There’s a bit of elevation here, but don’t let that stop you. En route down toward Whychus Creek, we passed two families with kids around five or six and one mom with a toddler in a backpack. While laziness and an abundance of caution (not to mention the fact that I don’t actually have a toddler) would preclude me from doing that, you’ll do fine with kids in the 7+ age range.
It’s about 1.5 miles from the trailhead down to Whychus Creek, which is an excellent spot for a picnic. Many folks opt to wade through the river and keep hiking another 1.5 miles to reach the confluence of Whychus Creek and the Deschutes River, but springtime flows made the water a bit too deep and swift to risk it with the 10-year-old. But there was still plenty to see, especially on the hike back up when we detoured toward the old bridge site for more awesome access to Whychus Creek.
The adventure took us about three hours, plus about 90 minutes of total drive time. Be aware that the road leading to the trailhead is pretty rutted, and that there are no bathroom facilities anywhere nearby. Make a potty stop in Sisters or plan on holding it for a little while. The folks at Cascade Hiking Adventures offer great, detailed directions for reaching this area, so go here to check those out.
Tamolitch Pool (aka Blue Pool)
Where the Alder Springs hike offers the best of high desert scenery, Tamolitch Pool covers the opposite base with an abundance of towering, mossy trees and damp earth. Getting here requires a drive of about 1.5 hours southwest of Bend, but that makes it a perfect day trip (especially when you reward everyone with a soak afterward at nearby Belknap Hot Springs, which is much more kid-friendly than lots of hot springs you’ll find around Oregon).
But back to the hike. There are two potential starting points, and while the one beginning at the Koosah Falls parking area offers the bonus of waterfall views, 8+ miles of hiking might be a bit much for families with younger kids in tow. Personally, I prefer to start from the trailhead near Carmen Reservoir or Trailbridge Reservoir, which reduces your hiking time by roughly half, but still gives you plenty of great river and forest scenery to savor.
The end result is the same either way, with glorious views of the Blue Pool (which really is as blue as it looks in photos). Bring a snack and sit on a log or boulder near the rim to enjoy the views while nibbling your cheese and crackers. Expect the kids to sleep well on the drive back to Bend.
If your time is limited and you don’t feel like driving far to enjoy a Bend hike, Pilot Butte is the ticket. It has the bonus cool factor of being a dormant volcano, making Bend one of the only cities in the U.S. with a volcano in the city limits (and providing bragging rights for your kids when they return to school and tell their friends, “yeah, I hiked a volcano. . . I’m kind of a big deal.”)
This 500-foot cinder cone offers a couple different routes to the top. The unpaved trail is steeper and gets you to the top a minute or two faster, but with one kid prone to dust-inspired asthma attacks, we usually opt to hike alongside the paved road. It’s closed to motorized vehicles between November(ish) and April(ish) depending on snowfall, so if you’re hiking between those months, feel free to let the kids run wild in the road. Otherwise, you’ll want to herd everyone into the shoulder to keep them safe from speeding cars.
Regardless of how you get to the summit, plan on spending a little time up there to savor the 360-degree views. When the kids were younger, we used to bring a container of bubbles to blow in all directions so they could chase them as they floated along the wind.
I suspect the 14-year-old wouldn’t find that quite as cool these days.
Deschutes River Trail
This is another good option for families who prefer not to drive far from a Bend home base to reach the trailhead. Your distance depends on your starting point. The main trail starts at the Meadow Camp picnic area just off Century Drive. You can access a lot of other trailheads off FS road 41, so pick your starting point and your route depending on your family’s skill and endurance.
To keep it nice and short, try the Meadow Camp to Lava Island hike, which clocks in at just over a mile. If you’re game for a bigger hike, you can hoof it all the way from Meadow Camp to Benham Falls, passing Lava Island Falls, Aspen Camp, and Dillon Falls along the way. That one will require about 8.5 miles of hiking, so plan accordingly.
The nice thing is that you can set out from Meadow Camp and decide along the way what you feel up to. If everyone’s still feeling strong after a couple miles, keep going. If someone in your party (possibly a parent) has a temper tantrum meltdown after mile one, just head back. Easy-peasy!
No matter how far you go, you’ll be treated to splendid views of the Deschutes River and the towering ponderosas and lava rocks that line the trail. This is a pretty well-trafficked trail, so expect crowds if you set out in the middle of summer.
Waterfall hikes are a big hit with kids, and this one is another favorite for my family. The kids love the winding, woodsy trails and the fact that they get to see not one, but two magnificent waterfalls along the loop.
While the trails are fairly well-maintained, there are some spots where you’ll have to scramble a bit, so keep that in mind if you have teeny-tiny kids or anyone in the party who isn’t sure-footed. But the fact that this is a fairly short hike (1.5 miles) and the fact that it’s a loop instead of an in-and-back hike makes it a great choice for families.
Be sure you have plenty of space on your camera for this one, as the biggest set of falls is touted as the most photographed waterfall in the whole state. Our local paper, The Bulletin, had a great piece a few years ago on visiting Proxy Falls from Bend, complete with handy directions. You can check that out here.
Another good choice for the waterfall chasers, Steelhead Falls has the added bonus of being handy to combine with a visit to Smith Rock State Park, since both are near Terrebonne about 20 miles north of Bend on Highway 97.
This is a relatively short but scenic hike, and another one like Alder Springs that highlights more of Central Oregon’s desert landscape. The hike from the trailhead to the main waterfall is a little over a mile that winds down a gorge dotted with sagebrush and ancient juniper. In summer months, the trail can be packed with people looking to swim in the peaceful waters just downstream from the falls.
I prefer doing this one in the springtime when most of the folks you’ll encounter are fishing quietly along the riverbank. Tread carefully if you go when there’s still a threat of ice or snow. Once you reach the waterfall, spread out a blanket for a picnic, and give the kids a chance to chuck rocks into the foaming, churning water.
For terrific, detailed driving details, check out the hike description from Cascade Hiking Adventures.
Smith Rock State Park
This one is nice to combine with the aforementioned Steelhead Falls hike to make it a full day of hiking in two different areas, or you can do it all by itself for a shorter day.
Smith Rock State Park is regarded as one of the seven wonders of Oregon, and for good reason. Towering basalt cliffs, gorgeous river views, and jaw-dropping landscapes will leave even the not-easily-impressed members of your family staring in wonder at the incredible views.
There are lots of spots to hike around this 651-acre state park, so you can choose whatever fits your family’s skill level. If you want to keep it simple, opt for an easy 2.5 mile stroll on flat ground along the River Trail from the park bridge to Monkey Face (which really does look like a monkey’s face!)
If you’re feeling more ambitious, hike up the Misery Ridge Trail (elevation 3,360 feet) for killer views of the entire Central Oregon Cascade mountain range.
You’ll find longer and shorter hikes, and even the opportunity to try a little sport climbing if you book with a skilled climbing guide (many of whom are happy to work with families of all ages).
And no matter which hike or climb you choose, make sure to stop along the way and stare at the river for a few minutes. Odds are good you’ll be rewarded by views of river otters frolicking in the cool water.
One of Central Oregon’s quintessential Bend experiences, Tumalo Falls has the added bonus of being close to town. Depending on how far you choose to hike, you can cross this one off your bucket list in just a couple hours (including drive time and hiking time).
That’s assuming you go in the late-spring through early-fall when FS Road 4603 isn’t closed. If you show up before the road opens for the season, you’ll need to add another couple miles of hiking, which isn’t the worst thing in the world considering how beautiful this area is.
But assuming you show up at a time of year when you can park right at the trailhead, you’ve got a whopping hike of about 200 yards to reach the first waterfall viewpoint. That’s stunning, and maybe it’s plenty if you’ve got a young baby or you’re tired out from other hikes.
But if you have a bit more energy, it’s only a five-minute hike to the top of the falls, which offers another awesome viewpoint of this shimmering 89-foot curtain of rushing water. Want to keep going? Hoof it for another mile or two before turning back, or head all the way to Happy Valley for a four-mile out-and-back hike you won’t forget.
If you’re hiking in springtime, keep in mind the snow can take a while to melt, so wear hiking boots instead of Tevas if you’re here in May or even June. But for the most part, there’s not much elevation gain to this hike, so it’s a good one for families who don’t want to do lots of climbing.
I hosted a houseful of out-of-town relatives over Christmas, an endeavor that left my living room looking like someone detonated an explosive filled with pine needles, giftwrap, and empty beer growlers.
But one upside to hosting guests who visit Bend once a year is the opportunity to experience the town through the eyes of a tourist.
Comes in handy when you work in tourism.
If you’re looking for a Bend winter vacation itinerary to entertain family members ranging from 5 to 65, here’s what I suggest.
Day one: hiking and sledding and eating, oh my!
Round up the early risers and go for a morning walk. There’s nothing quite like watching the sun rise in Bend, whether you’re strolling along the Deschutes River near the Old Mill District with a cup of coffee in hand, or taking Fido to the 18-acre Bob Wenger Memorial Off-Leash Area in northeast Bend. The sun rises late this time of year, so bring a headlamp if you need to, and make sure you’re bundled up nice and toasty warm.
Time for breakfast! You’re headed up to Mt. Bachelor today, so nudge the late sleepers awake and grab something quick you can eat in the car. Check my post on 9 spots for a grab-and-go breakfast in Bend if you need ideas.
The best thing about Mt. Bachelor is that there’s something for everyone. The ski bums and snowboarders will love shredding 3,700 acres of lift-accessible terrain with the highest skiable elevation in Oregon and Washington. Non-skiers will appreciate activities like snowshoeing, sled dog rides, and my family’s personal fave, the Snowblast Tubing Park. Be sure to check Mt. Bachelor’s website for hours and condition reports before you head up.
If you opted for a two-hour session in the tubing park, you should be back in Bend by lunchtime. Reward yourself with a stop at Longboard Louie’s, where you’ll find options for everyone from picky kids to vegans and gluten-free diners. (Pro-tip: Ask for the Recession Buster Burrito. It’s not on the menu, but it’s a basic bean and cheese number you can trick out to make it the perfect lunch. Have ‘em toss in some meat, fajita veggies, and guac, then hit the salsa bar for a delicious all-in-one meal for under $6).
With bellies full and fingers still a bit chilled from your morning on the mountain, it’s a good time for something indoorsy. Sun Mountain Fun Center is a fun option with kids in tow, or try the High Desert Museum for a good mix of education and critter love. For something active and super unique, head to Peak Airsoft for some family warfare at their indoor arena, or see if you can solve your way out of Bend Escape Room.
By now, you’ll have a few members of the family feeling tuckered out, so grab takeout from Cibelli’s Pizza and head back to your Bend vacation home or hotel for an evening of games or soaking in the hot tub.
Got a few family members who aren’t ready to call it a night? Leave the grandparents in charge of the young’uns and head out on the town for an evening cocktail. Try Dogwood Cocktail Cabin if you’re looking for some of the most unique concoctions in Bend, or if you’re craving a late-night happy hour, hit 10 Below or The Blacksmith to wind down your day in style.
Day two: more food, more snow play, and beer!
After the hustle and bustle of your first day, you’re due for a more leisurely breakfast. Check out my post on 6 spots for Bend’s best eggs benedict. Then get ready to lick the plate clean.
Now you’re ready to hike off a few of those extra calories. The Oregon Badlands Wilderness is one of my favorite spots this time of year to explore craggy lava flows and ancient junipers. If you prefer a snowier scene, strap on the snowshoes and sashay out to Tumalo Falls. Winter road closures mean you’ll need to park at the gate and hoof it 2.5 miles each way, but it’s well worth the trip.
Lunchtime? If your family is like mine, you’ve got a crazy mix of dietary needs ranging from carnivore to vegetarian to allergies that can make dining out a little scary. Simplify things by checking out this blog post featuring 10 vegan dishes you’ll love even if you’re a meat-eater (I promise!) or this post offering 7 gluten-free eats you should devour even if you’re not gluten-free. Of course, if you’re a family of carnivores, you can also reference this post on Bend’s best burgers or this one on Bend’s best hot wings.
Feeling full? Time for more exercise! If you’re craving another round of snow play, leave the driving, gear-wrangling, and decision-making to Wanderlust Tours when you book a family snowshoe adventure with them. Not so keen on the white stuff? No problem! Opt for a snow-free outing with one of their lava cave tours instead.
If the Bend Ale Trail is on your wish list, don’t feel like you have to miss it just because you have little ones in tow. Bend Brewing Company and Deschutes Brewery both boast excellent kids’ menus, scrumptious grownup offerings, and beer taster trays that will give your family a chance to sample a variety of styles and flavors.
If you’re feeling fancy for dinner, cap off your vacation with a meal at one of Bend’s best dining establishments. Among those I routinely recommend to foodie journalists: 5 Fusion, Zydeco, Jackalope Grill, Ariana Restaurant, and Trattoria Sbandati. Relative newcomer Fire in Bend has a kids-eat-free deal on Sundays, so head there if your party includes a few members 13 or younger.
Cap off your night with a soak in the glorious turquoise-tiled saltwater pool at McMenamins Old St. Francis School. Study the stars though the open-air ceiling, and admire the luminous stained glass and hand-painted artwork. Ahh . . . this is living!
You’re really quite smart, you know that?
No, this isn’t some newfangled inspirational blog post. It’s my way of saying you’re pretty darn clever for planning to spend Turkey Day 2015 in the land of snow-capped mountains and high desert stars.
So now that you’re here, what’s happening Thanksgiving week in Bend? Tons of fun! Here’s what’s in store for everyone who plans to be in Bend, Oregon for Thanksgiving 2015.
Gobble up some good grub
First things first. Let’s talk about where you want to have your main meal on November 26 this year.
For some, the thought of preparing your own feast in the kitchen of your Bend vacation rental has the homey sorta vibe you’re craving. If that’s the case, go here to scope out a variety of vacation homes and condos with ovens waiting to welcome that big, juicy bird.
If you’d rather leave the cooking to someone else, you have plenty of options to pick from. Check out this list for a roundup of restaurants ready to make your holiday meal extra special. The Thanksgiving buffet at McMenamins Old St. Francis is one of the most popular offerings in town, with mealtimes offered from noon to 6 p.m. Reservations are required, and the roundup of food will include fresh-carved turkey, fireside port cranberry relish, roasted pork loin with Edgefield cider jus, poached salmon, tortellini salad, garlic green beans, mashed potatoes, stuffing and turkey gravy, along with a wide array of fresh fruit, salads, and desserts.
Other hotspots include 10 Below, Brasada Ranch, Black Butte Ranch, Crossings at the Riverhouse, Greg’s Grill, and oodles more. Be sure to check the list for a complete roundup of options!
Not in the mood to eat in a restaurant, but still don’t want to do the cooking? Not a problem! Catering experts Tate & Tate, The Well Traveled Fork, and Country Catering all offer holiday meals for pickup. Depending on when you read this, you may have missed the cutoff for Turkey Day, but now’s the time to plan ahead for Christmas Dinner!
Burn off those Turkey Day calories
Feeling guilty about that sixth helping of mashed potatoes? Never fear, Bend has a variety of Thanksgiving-themed runs and walks to help burn off those extra calories.
The Bend Thanksgiving Classic 10k/5k walk/run and the I Like Pie Thanksgiving day walk/run both kick off at 9 a.m. in different parts of Bend on Thanksgiving morning. The day after Thanksgiving, the Turkey Trot is taking place at 10 a.m. in Sunriver.
To learn more about each of these races, check out our Event Calendar.
Who’s ready to ski at Mt. Bachelor?
I know plenty of you are waxing your snowboards and tuning your skis in anticipation of Mt. Bachelor’s first day of operations. While things are always subject to change based on the whims of Mother Nature, Mt. Bachelor is currently scheduled to open Wednesday, November 25—the day before Thanksgiving.
Shop ‘til you drop
For those who favor indoorsy pursuits over outdoorsy ones (or for those who simply love a good bargain), don’t miss the Black Friday shopping deals around town.
Bend’s Old Mill District features stores like Victoria’s Secret, Banana Republic, Bath & Body Works, Zumiez, and more. Check out their Black Friday Specials page for info on who’s opening on Thanksgiving day, as well as who’s opening at midnight, 2 a.m., 3 a.m., 5 a.m., and other more sane hours.
Fans of outlet shopping will want to check out the Bend Factory Stores for big bargains. Shops include spots like the Coach Factory Outlet, Nike Outlet, Eddie Bauer, Columbia Outlet, and much more.
For deals at places like Best Buy and Cost Plus World Market, head north to the Cascade Village Shopping Center. And if big-box stores like Macy’s, Kohl’s, and TJ Maxx are on your agenda, be sure to hit the Bend River Promenade in the middle of town. While you’re on the north end of town, pop into Pomegranate Home & Garden, a locally-owned shop in a historic farm house, for some really unique gifts.
To help you spread things out a bit, many shops in Downtown Bend are participating in Small Business Saturday. Check out their page for details about shops and specials, including deals at great local boutiques like Hot Box Betty, Local Joe, and newcomer Clementine Urban Mercantile.
Before we’ve even stashed the Thanksgiving leftovers, a lot of us are gearing up for the next major holiday. If you’re ready to get a jump on Christmas, check out the Old Mill District’s Holiday Happenings page for a roundup of what’s going down. Santa will arrive via helicopter around 10 a.m. on Friday, November 27, to begin his tour of duty at Santaland. There will also be oodles of other Christmassy offerings like free carriage rides, carolers, kids’ activities, and more. Go here to see what’s in the lineup.
Downtown Bend is another festive place to be, with oodles of lights and decorations adorning streets and shops. One of Bend’s most cherished holiday traditions is the annual Christmas tree lighting on November 28 (the Saturday after Thanksgiving). The live tree is located at the top of Drake Park near Mirror Pond Plaza, and guests get to sing carols and watch Santa light the tree. Festivities get underway at 6 p.m., but you’d be smart to arrive at least half an hour before that to find a spot.
Only in Bend
Yes, I acknowledge there are Black Friday sales and Christmas tree lightings happening in most towns around America this time of year. While I encourage you to enjoy those activities, here are a few only-in-Bend things to add to your holiday agenda:
- Snowshoe with Wanderlust Tours. Let the naturalist guides at Wanderlust lead you into the wilderness to traipse through pristine fields of pillowy snow. Tours include all gear and transportation, not to mention snacks and warm drinks. They offer daytime or starlight outings, and kids are welcome, too.
- Visit the High Desert Museum. Bend’s popular High Desert Museum offers fascinating exhibits, cool animals, and tons of opportunities to learn more about the culture and history of the high desert. Check out their website to learn more about the schedule of special events and exhibits at the museum.
- Special programs at the Tower Theatre. Even if they weren’t having any shows at all, Bend’s historic Tower Theatre would be worth checking out just for the beauty of it. But during Thanksgiving week, you’ll have the chance to see the popular holiday film Elf on the big screen. The show starts at 7 p.m. on November 28, and you can get tickets here.
There are many things that make Bend unique. Endless sunshine. A spellbinding volcanic landscape. More breweries than you can shake a pint at. But it goes beyond that into the little idiosyncrasies of our language and the things you will (and won’t!) hear folks say around here.
Before someone takes me to task in the comments, I’m not saying no one has ever uttered the following phrases in Bend, Oregon. Heck, I might have said one or two of them myself.
But your odds of hearing them are a whole lot smaller in Bend than in most other places around the country.
If you’re a recreation enthusiast who loves hiking, biking, kayaking, and skiing (all before breakfast on a good day!) you’ll find plenty to keep you busy in Bend. But if a lazy Bend vacation is more your style, we’ve got you covered there, too.
Pretty much any end of the entertainment spectrum is covered in spades when you’re in Bend. Love culinary adventures? Yep, we’ve got that. Crazy about arts and culture? We give you the Roundabout Art Route, the Tin Pan Alley Art Collection, and an endless array of other artsy options like galleries, theaters, art festivals, museums, and more.
If you’re in Bend and you’re bored, you need to seriously reevaluate your life. Like make sure you have one. Have you checked your pulse today?
I wish it would stop raining.
I thought of this the other day when someone on our Facebook page (150,000+ page fans and counting!) asked if Bend is as rainy as other well-known cities in Oregon like Portland and Eugene. At first I thought the guy was joking. Then I remembered not everyone knows how dramatically different Bend’s weather is from the rest of the state.
The high desert oasis of Bend sits at an elevation of 3,600 feet, and we have the Cascade Mountains blocking most of the weather moving through from the west. What does that mean for our weather?
Hot, dry, summers with endless blue skies. Chilly winters with lots of powdery snow and the aforementioned blue skies. Spring and fall with wildly-fluctuating temperatures that can leave you bundling up for a 36-degree morning and then flipping on the air conditioner by 3 p.m. when temps climb into the 80s.
And did I mention the blue skies? Yeah, we get those pretty much year ‘round.
There’s nothing fun for kids to do.
I have a 14-year-old stepson and a 9-year-old stepdaughter, and I don’t think there’s been a single moment in the five years I’ve known them that we’ve struggled to come up with something fun to do.
Need ideas? Check out this post featuring 12 things my stepkids rattled off as their favorite Bend attractions, or this post (or this one) featuring family-friendly activities.
Then yank the iPods out of their sweaty little hands and get out there to have some fun!
Don’t bring your dog there!
In 2012, Dog Fancy magazine named Bend the nation’s dog-friendliest town. Since that time, the city has only gotten more accessible to your furry friends.
From off-leash dog parks (8 and counting!) to dog-friendly skiing and snowshoe trails to pet-friendly lodging options to restaurants that let your pooch join you on the patio for a meal, there’s not a whole lot Fido can’t do with you when you’re traveling in Bend.
Well, maybe think twice about bringing him into the dressing room at the lingerie store. That’s just weird.
I can’t find a beer I like.
A few weeks ago I fielded an inquiry from a journalist writing about Bend for a major national publication. Her assignment: To cure herself of a lifelong aversion to beer by journeying to the beer capital of the universe (Bend, Oregon) and sampling her way around the city. The goal would be met if she found a beer she liked enough to consume a whole pint.
I don’t want to give away any big spoilers before the article comes out, but suffice it to say, this was one of those moments I really, really loved my job and the opportunity to introduce someone to the wealth of craft beer along the legendary Bend Ale Trail. From porters to IPAs to lagers to radlers to unique beers you’ve probably never even heard of, they’re brewing it up in Bend.
Want to plan the ultimate beerventure in Bend? Bend Ale Trail month is coming up in November, with your chance to score a trophy in addition to the prizes you normally earn for gathering passport stamps at the breweries.
I haven’t seen a Subaru for ages.
Stand on any street corner in Bend. Wait one minute. If you haven’t seen a Subaru drive by, get back in your car and check your GPS, because clearly, you are not in Bend.
You really shouldn’t wear that to dinner.
I should start by saying that if you feel like putting on a pretty dress or a tie before you head out for a nice dinner at Ariana Restaurant or 900 Wall or Trattoria Spandati or 5 Fusion or one of Bend’s other fine dining establishments, go ahead and rock on with your fancy-pants self. I’ve been known to break out the little black dress myself from time to time.
But it’s not mandatory. You could walk into the nicest restaurant in all of Bend (see the aforementioned list) and no one would bat an eyelash if you were sporting cargo shorts and a clean fleece sweatshirt. It’s that kind of place.
I wish I could find a restaurant that serves… (fill in the blank)
Before the last item leads you to the conclusion that Bend’s dining options are limited to a couple of truck stops, let me dispel that myth right away.
Bend has such a huge variety of cuisine options that it’s really quite staggering. Looking for Asian cuisine? You can pick between Chinese, Japanese, Middle Eastern, Asian fusion, Thai (both northern and southern) and more. Need gluten-free options? Yep, we’ve got those. How about vegan cuisine? No problem.
Unless you’re a cannibal whose hunger can only be sated by dining on the flesh of your mortal enemies, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll find a Bend restaurant that serves your favorite food.
There was one day last winter when an early snowstorm collided with freezing temps and a sudden influx of out-of-town visitors, bringing traffic to a standstill in several parts of Bend right around 5:15 on a weekday. I’ll admit it. I got annoyed that my regular 10-minute commute took closer to 30 minutes.
Then I remembered I’ve lived here for almost 20 years. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been stuck in traffic in Bend. Even on our busiest days, I can still get from one end of town to the other in less than 15 minutes.
Compare that with traffic jams in places like Portland or Seattle. It’s really no contest. Besides that, the photo over there to the side is my view from the traffic light where I’m routinely stopped on my way to work. Frankly, I’m kinda disappointed when I don’t hit a red light.
I’m tired of Bend and I want to go home.
My office sits 20 feet from the front desk of the Bend Visitor Center, which sees roughly 200 visitors a day during high season. I’ve worked for Visit Bend for more than five years, and since eavesdropping is one of my most cherished hobbies, I can assure you this phrase has never once been uttered in our building.
I can’t speak for the rest of the city limits, but I’ll go out on a limb and say the number of times anyone’s said it is roughly the same as the number of people who can’t find at least one Bend beer they enjoy.
Everything you need to know for a September vacation in Bend, Oregon (plus win $100 to dine in the Old Mill District!)
I can find something magical about every month in Bend, Oregon, but if you ask my favorite of the twelve, I won’t hesitate to tell you it’s September.
Summer is still going strong for the first 2/3 of the month, but crowds have thinned out. Our days are still warm enough for floating the river, but our nights are cool enough to make sleeping with the windows open feel blissfully like camping. There are still enough people milling about to create the energetic feel of summer, but you won’t have to fight for a table at your favorite restaurant.
Sounds nice, huh? Here’s what you need to know about visiting Bend, Oregon in September (plus keep reading to win $100 to spend on a fabulous dinner in the Old Mill District!)
What to bring
I’m pretty sure you can manage to round up your own toothpaste and underpants, so don’t use this as an all-inclusive packing list.
But when you plan a September vacation in Bend, here are a few things you should bring:
- Sunscreen. Yep, you still need it (though you can buy it in plenty of places around town if you forget). The sun is still strong, and there’s a good chance you’ll be playing outside, so slather it on and stay safe.
- A bathing suit, a jacket, and a pair of lightweight gloves. I’m lumping these three things together not because you’ll be wearing them all at once (though I’d pay to see a photo of that!) but because it’s important to plan for extreme ends of the weather spectrum when you visit Bend in September. I walked my dog at 6:30 this morning and wished I’d worn a thin pair of gloves to keep my fingers from freezing. By 2 p.m., I was sweltering in 90-degree heat. Here in the mountainous high desert, you have to be ready for anything on the cusp of a season change.
- Golf clubs, kayak, standup paddleboard, bike… You get the idea. This is still the time of year when you want your warm weather toys, so whatever they may be, make sure you toss them in the car.
- A cardigan and a sundress. Er, the male readers may want to skip this one (or not—hey, I’m not here to judge). September is still a terrific time of year to dine outdoors in your strappy little sandals and cute sundress. But if you’re opting for an evening meal outside (like that one you could win in the Old Mill District if you keep reading!) make sure you stash a sweater in your bag. You’ll thank me later.
- Hiking sandals. I know a lot of folks prefer to hoof it in hiking boots year-round, but I’m not one of those people. I live for months where I can comfortably hike in a pair of Keens or Tevas, and September still counts as one of those months. I love the feeling of splashing through a creek and not getting my socks all soggy, and if you’re the same, go ahead and pack the sandals.
For an even better roundup of 10 things you may not know you need to pack for your Bend vacation, check out this blog post.
What to do
You can peruse www.visitbend.com to find oodles of ideas for activities ranging from arts and culture to restaurants to water recreation to hiking. But for the sake of this blog post, let’s focus on the things you should definitely add to your September agenda:
Watch a sunset. September is arguably the best time of year to catch dramatic, colorful sunsets in Bend. For ideas on where to get the best view, go here.
- Stroll through Drake Park. The leaves in Bend don’t typically change colors until mid-October, but I’ve heard a few weather geeks predicting it could happen earlier this year. Even if all the leaves are still green and in their proper place on the trees, there are few places on earth more spellbinding than this 13-acre riverfront park in downtown Bend. Walk along the water with a bowl of Bonta Gelato. Hit the Bend Farmers Market on Wednesday for a cornucopia of fresh produce, meats, cheeses, jams, and more.
- Cruise up Pilot Butte. I’m a staunch advocate for traveling on foot to reach the summit of the 500-foot dormant volcano in the middle of Bend, but I know that’s not an option for everyone. Maybe you’re pressed for time, or maybe mobility is limited. Whatever your reason for preferring to drive to the top, September’s a good month to do it. The road closes to motorized vehicles in October, and icy conditions in late-fall or early-winter can make it trickier to hike. One way or another, put Pilot Butte on your bucket list for killer views of the city.
- Catch a concert. The most amazing concert season in Les Schwab Amphitheater history is coming to a close with two remaining shows: Weird Al Yankovic on Friday, Sept. 4, and Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals on Sunday, Sept. 6. You can still buy tickets here. While you’re at it, take advantage of the chance to dine outside on the riverfront in Old Mill District. You’ll find a roundup of those restaurants here. (Pssst….for a chance to win a $100 to dine in any Old Mill restaurant, follow the directions at the bottom of this post!)
Where to go
Some of Bend’s most popular hotspots are teeming with people in the summer months, so September is your prime opportunity to visit them when the weather’s still great but the crowds have thinned out. Among them:
- Your favorite Bend Ale Trail stop. We have oodles of amazing breweries along the Bend Ale Trail, but there are several where you’ll almost always encounter crowds. That’s especially true in the summer months, but things thin out just a tad when summer ends, making it a little easier for you to nab a seat at Crux Fermentation Project, Worthy Brewing, Deschutes Brewery, and 10 Barrel Brewing. Now’s your chance to claim that outdoor table you’ve been coveting!
- The High Cascade Lakes. Bend locals occasionally fuss if they arrive at popular summer spots like Elk Lake or Green Lake and find hiking trails and picnic areas teeming with people. Thankfully, that tapers off in September, so if you’re hoping for a bit of solitude at a mountain lake without the threat of snow falling, September’s your time to find it.
- Smith Rock State Park. Another Central Oregon hotspot popular with hikers, climbers, sightseers, and birdwatchers, Smith Rock can get a little busy in the summer months. That’s why September makes an extra special time to swing by, with the bonus of offering slightly cooler temps that make it more inviting to wander amid the towering basalt rocks.
- All the hiking trails. Rather than listing them one by one, I’ll just say that all the great hiking trails in Bend and Central Oregon see a slowdown of traffic once September comes, so now’s a great time to cross one off your bucket list. Need ideas? In addition to Visit Bend’s hiking page, the folks at Cascade Hiking Adventures have some terrific suggestions.
Where to stay
One more thing that’s awesome about September? It gets a whole lot easier to get reservations at your favorite hotel, resort, or vacation rental. Go here to start looking!
WIN $100 to dine in the Old Mill District
Want to enjoy a delicious, romantic meal at your choice of restaurant in the Old Mill District? Winning a $100 gift card would be a great way to do that, and you can take your pick of restaurants. Just think….it would be a fabulous date night if you also bought tickets to see Weird Al Yankovic on Sept. 4 or Ben Harper on Sept. 6 at the Les Schwab Amphitheater (you can still buy tickets here).
Comment on this post with one thing from this blog post that you really, really want to do in Bend this September. Better yet, come up with your own! We’ll pick a winner on Wednesday, September 2. Good luck!
The Bend Visitor Center has seen a surprising surge in inquiries about rockhounding in recent months.
Actually, I should take back the word “surprising,” since it’s an activity my step-kids have been nuts about for the last three years. But I’m delighted to see a wider burst of interest in this fun, educational way to see Central Oregon’s great outdoors, and I figured folks could benefit from a few of the things we’ve learned along the way.
First off, rockhounding in the city limits of Bend isn’t really a thing. You’ll need to drive at least an hour to reach any major rockhounding site, but Bend makes an excellent home base to explore many of the top spots.
Though you don’t need any serious equipment to go rockhounding, here are a few things we’ve found helpful in our explorations:
- The Central Oregon Rockhounding Map available for purchase in the Bend Visitor Center or online from the S. Forest Service website. This thing has become our Bible for rockhounding, so don’t leave home without it.
- Sturdy gloves for each family member
- Plenty of water and snacks. Most of the areas you’ll visit are remote parts of the desert without facilities nearby, so plan accordingly.
- Sunscreen and bug spray. The latter won’t be necessary in most places you’ll visit, but it’s handy to have just in case.
- Buckets or backpacks to carry your rocks (unless you’re visiting Richardson’s Rock Ranch, where they provide this for you).
- Small hand tools like chisels and spades are handy, but not mandatory (and again, Richardson’s Rock Ranch gives you loaner chisels for free).
- A snakebite kit. I’m a fourth-generation Oregonian and 18-year Central Oregon resident and I have never once run across a rattlesnake in the high desert. That said, I believe in being prepared, so I usually have one in my backpack.
What can I find?
The aforementioned Central Oregon Rockhounding Map spells it out beautifully, but generally speaking, the primary treasures you’ll be seeking include thundereggs, obsidian, and various forms of jasper. You can also find petrified wood, calcite, and moss agates, depending on where you’re searching.
Be sure to scope out photos in the Central Oregon Rockhounding Map or online so you know what you’re looking for. Thundereggs (one of the primo finds in Central Oregon) actually look quite ugly on the surface, so kids who prefer seeking out sparkly, colorful stones might lose interest quickly on a thunderegg quest.
Where do I go?
Your Central Oregon Rockhounding Map will include tons more ideas, but here are a few of my faves.
Richardson’s Rock Ranch for thundereggs (roughly 1.5 hours from Bend)
My personal favorite rockhounding spot is Richardson’s Rock Ranch. The shop is located 11 miles north of Madras, though you’ll drive another 20 minutes on dirt roads to get to the actual rock pits.
The shop has oodles of rocks to admire and purchase, plus some lovely scenery and glorious peacocks strutting around the grounds. If these three things are all you’re after, you might prefer to stick closer to Bend by visiting Petersen Rock Gardens halfway between Bend and Redmond.
But if you want to actually hunt for your own rocks, Richardson’s is worth the extra drive time. You start off in the shop, where they’ll give you an idiot-friendly tutorial on where to drive, what to look for, and what it will cost you to lug back a bucket of rocks. They also loan you the buckets and chisels, which are handy for folks who don’t travel with those things in the trunk of the car.
(Sidenote: If you actually do travel with a chisel in your car, I might be a little afraid of you).
Smashing rocks at the Richardson’s dig site is strictly forbidden. You’ve gotta wait until you get home or get back to the shop where they’ll cut them for you. In addition to whole thundereggs, you’ll find plenty of crunched up thundereggs, jasper, and sparkly crystals I couldn’t possibly name, but that caught the eye of my 9-year-old stepdaughter.
My 13-year-old stepson had a little more patience for seeking out the ugly-on-the-outside thundereggs that would eventually prove to be much prettier when sliced open in the shop. The fact that they actually cut thundereggs for visitors on-site is a huge bonus in my book, since it gave us a chance to see what our treasures looked like on the inside.
Prices are subject to change, and you can scope those out here, but when we were there July 2015, there was a $1 per pound price with a $10 minimum. A full 5 gallon bucket weighs about 50 pounds, but between myself and the two kids, we only hauled out 17 pounds. We chose 10 or so small thundereggs to have sliced open on-site, and at a rate of 35-cents a square inch, we paid less than $15 for the cutting. All told, for the rocks, the cutting, several stones and trinkets from the gift shop, and the pleasure of exploring their well-maintained rock beds, we paid $48. Totally worth it, in my opinion.
White Fir Springs for thundereggs (roughly 1 hour from Bend)
If freebie rockhounding is more your speed and if you know what you’re looking for, a trip to the Ochoco Wilderness might be in order. We followed the directions in our Central Oregon Rockhounding Map to reach White Fir Springs outside Prineville.
The rocky, uphill dirt road leading there is a little tricky to navigate, but we made it just fine in my little 2013 Honda Fit without four-wheel-drive (though I suspect winter/fall/spring conditions might make it tougher).
Once you’ve reached the site off the rugged Forest Service road, you’ll find several pits where you can dig. We showed up with only small hand trowels for digging, and kinda wished we’d brought full-sized shovels instead. Even so, we had a blast poking around in the dirt and unearthing small thundereggs.
The more experienced thunderegg hunters we met seemed to have no trouble hauling out a dozen or more larger rocks to take home for cutting. Since the kids were more interested in smashing open small grape-sized geodes to find the crystals inside, we let them go nuts whacking the rocks open using other small rocks (don’t worry, we used eye protection).
Meanwhile, I explored well-treed forest in search of morel mushrooms while my husband snapped photos from the lovely hilltop location. Afterward, we let the kids splash around in nearby Prineville Reservoir.
Fischer Canyon for jasper, calcite, petrified wood, and agates (roughly 1 hour from Bend)
Another site on the fringes of the Ochoco Wildnerness, Fischer Canyon is further north than White Fir Springs and reachable via several routes you’ll find in the Rockhounding Guide (we opted to take Highway 20 east from Bend and cut north on 27, though there are other routes that take you through Prineville instead).Be prepared for more dirt roads, but again, we made it fine in my little Honda.
This spot is perfect for seeking out red and green jasper, orange-tinted agates, white crystalline calcite, and petrified wood. In contrast to the dense forest of White Fir Springs, this area is more desert-like mesa and plateau, with rock-covered hills the kids found fun to scramble up and poke around for rocks.
Most of what we found was small but colorful, and it’s the perfect place for a kid to add to (or start) a nice rock collection with a lot of colorful variety.
Glass Butte for obsidian (roughly 1.5 hours from Bend)
This is a site I haven’t visited personally, but since many guests in our Visitor Center ask about places to pick up obsidian, I wanted to include it.
I sought the advice of Visit Bend volunteer, Vic, who spent an afternoon there hunting for glassy obsidian. Glass Butte is located about 70 miles east of Bend off Obsidian Road (mile post 77). Refer to your Central Oregon Rockhounding Map for more detailed directions.
Vic described the roads as “decent,” but they’d likely be dicey in adverse weather. He suggested bringing a shovel and a backpack to haul rocks. Visitors can easily find rainbow, black, mahogany, and double-flow obsidian pieces that are quite large. There’s a 200-pound limit, so you can gather quite a bit out here without any trouble.
Bring plenty of water and a lunch, since there’s no place nearby to purchase anything.
Other rockhounding resources
Want to just buy rocks and/or gems? Here are a few places to do that:
- Canutt’s Gems in Redmond.
- Petersen Rock Gardens between Bend and Redmond
- Richardson’s Rock Ranch north of Madras
- Sunriver Rock & Gem in Sunriver.
Want to score some rockhounding equipment? Try The Lifestyle Store off Hwy 20 in Northeast Bend.
Want to buy me a piece of Oregon Sunstone jewelry? Why than you! I’ll take anything they have in the case at Douglas Fine Jewelry Design in Downtown Bend.
Happy rockhounding, everyone!