Ah…springtime. It’s the season where Bend locals find themselves cranking the car heater in the morning and the air conditioning in the afternoon. The season where you might feasibly use the same muscle groups to paddle a kayak and shovel snow in the same 24-hour period.
It’s one of my favorite times of year in Bend. With that in mind, here are 8 things that make springtime in Bend so uniquely awesome.
Snow or blossoms?
There’s nothing quite like strolling down the street and finding yourself in a cloud of white fluttery bits. Are they snowflakes? Are they spring blossoms from that nearby fruit tree?
You’re never sure at first, and that moment of wide-eyed wonder is one of Bend’s most oddly cool experiences.
The season’s first sunburn
Wearing sunscreen year-round is a necessity in Bend, where our high altitude and the albedo effect of a bright white surface like snow can earn you a nasty sunburn even in December. Locally-made Oregon Lavender & Sage sunshade lotion by Angelina Organic Skincare is an awesome product to slather on every day.
That said, we sometimes forget. Or maybe we fail to realize that sunny spring temps mean reapplication is important throughout the day.
I know my dermatologist would punch me for saying so, but there’s something about the season’s first pink shoulders and nose that fills me with giddy excitement for the summer to come. It’s like the Bend version of Groundhog Day.
What’s that smell?
Springtime can bring spring showers, which are infrequent in our dry high desert climate. But those showers bring some of my very favorite fragrances in Bend.
Damp juniper, blooming bitterbrush, rain-soaked ponderosa pine bark baking in the sun….they’re some of the most unique smells in the world. I know some folks struggle with allergies this time of year in Bend, but it’s almost worth it to enjoy the explosion of olfactory goodness.
A little birdie told me…
Springtime brings oodles of birds out for nesting and migration, and sometimes you feel like a Disney character whose every movement is accompanied by birdsong.
A great way to enjoy it to its fullest is through a partnership between the Old Mill District and the East Cascades Audubon Society offering free guided weekly bird walks. These walks are led by an expert from the local Audubon Society and wind around the trails of the Old Mill District. The area is a migratory corridor, so you’re guaranteed to see lots of feathered friends.
The walks are appropriate for all ages, and free rental binoculars are available for checkout. You can even grab a specially-designed birding list to help identify what you’re seeing along the way.
More skin in the whitewater park
In mid-December, you’ll sometimes spot brave surfers clad head-to-toe in hooded drysuits as they catch waves in the Bend Whitewater Park.
But when spring arrives, they multiply. Not only that, but some swap the full-body suits for shortie wetsuits and attire meant for warmer weather.
The river is still icy cold, but it’s exciting to see such a visible sign of rising temps. It’s fun to watch, especially if you’ve only ever witnessed the sort of surfing that takes place on sandy tropical beaches.
Daffodils in the snow
It happens every year: spring sunshine coaxes the tulips and daffodils out of their underground slumber, and suddenly Bend is awash in oceans of pink and yellow flowers.
Then it snows. It always does, at least once. It’s weirdly beautiful to see those cheerful blooms poking up through a blanket of glittery white, and it’s one of the most quintessentially Bend things I know.
Skiing in a T-shirt
While a lot of other ski resorts are winding down for the season, Mt. Bachelor still has plenty of season ahead of it. Bend’s beloved ski hill has one of the longest ski seasons in the nation, lasting all the way through Memorial Weekend.
Their popular Springtacular Season Pass is your ticket to ride up to 58 days in April and May. It basically pays for itself after your third visit, so it’s like getting 55 days for free.
Cruise the corduroy, slash the corn snow, and enjoy incredible spring powder days at one of the best spring ski mountains in North America. The events calendar is packed, too, so there’s no shortage of fun to be had.
The canals are running!
Bend’s irrigation canals aren’t a landscape feature most tourists ever see, but they’re a common sight flowing through residential areas of southwest and northeast Bend. Some folks think of them as glorified ditches, but most of us see them as burbling creeks that add an eye-catching sparkle to daily dog walks.
While the canals are shut off in late-fall each year, spring is the time they gush to life and keep flowing for the next six months.
There are some particularly lovely spots in the northeast part of town along Butler Market Road. You can head east or west from starting points along Brinson Blvd. or Purcell Ave., and the maintenance easement running along the west side makes a lovely walking trail (particularly for those with dogs).
2018 is officially here, and there’s a lot of chatter about rebirth, renewal, rejuvenation, and probably a bunch of other “re” words I’m forgetting.
In case you’re looking to hit refresh (hey, there’s another!) at the start of a new year, here are 4 unique experiences in Bend that can help.
Float away your worries
At Float Central in Bend, you can let all your cares float away while you do the same.
Floating is a wellness and healing technique that allows a person to be free from gravity and external stimulation in a relaxing environment. You slip into a tank that’s roughly four feet wide and seven feet long and filled with water that’s heated to skin temperature. Basically, you lose track of where your body ends and the water begins.
The idea is to let your mind slow down and your body achieve the ultimate relaxation. Since the tanks are soundproof and your ears are below the waterline, noise from the outside doesn’t reach you (though there’s no shame if you’re a wee bit claustrophobic and want to leave the door open).
The water is saturated with Epsom salts at a level that relieves your body from gravity, so you don’t exert any effort to stay afloat. Since your body isn’t fighting gravity or listening to chattering voices and the pinging of cell phones, your brain can spend its energy pumping out dopamine and endorphins while the rest of your body gets to rest, de-stress, and heal by lowering cortisol levels. Think of it as the ultimate meditation!
You can do a one-time float, but multiple floats over the course of several days, weeks, or months is the ideal way to get maximum benefits. Visit their website for pricing and info.
Commune with the stars
Some folks feel a strong connection with astral bodies and the heavens above, and if that’s your jam, you’ll find plenty of ways to reset your celestial clock in Bend.
Wanderlust Tours lets you combine outdoor adventure with a chance to be dazzled by the night sky. In the wintertime, book one of their Moonlight or Starlight Snowshoe Tours, or their ever-popular Bonfire on the Snow snowshoe tours for the chance to revel in glittery fields of snow underfoot and glittery blankets of stars overhead. All gear, transportation, and snacks are provided, plus a knowledgeable naturalist guide.
In the summer months, they’ll take you out on one of the high Cascade Lakes with an epic Starlight or Moonlight Canoe Tour (the difference being the phase of the moon, of course). Your naturalist guide will point out constellations and planets, and pack your brain full of awesome information about everything from trees to animals to the geology of Central Oregon.
If you prefer your stargazing to be a bit more indoorsy (perhaps with a beer in hand?) check out the Hopservatory at Worthy Brewing. Brewery guests climb a spiral staircase or take the elevator to the third floor of the Hopservatory to witness one of the best views in Bend, with a stunning panorama from Mt. Bachelor to Mt. Hood.
Tours take you inside the 17-foot rotating Ash dome to view planets, galaxies, star clusters, nebulae, the moon, and the sun through their 16″ reflecting telescope. Visit their website for tour schedules and information.
For other stargazing options around Central Oregon, check out the Pine Mountain Observatory (located 26 miles southeast of Bend) or the Oregon Observatory at the Sunriver Nature Center (about 19 miles southwest of Bend).
Seek solitude on a hike
For me personally, there’s no better way to re-center myself than a hike in Central Oregon’s great outdoors.
Sometimes I crave the silence and solitude of a desert landscape like the Oregon Badlands Wilderness. Other times I want the power and splash of a waterfall. On other occasions, I’m looking to reconnect with family on a kid-friendly hike.
Whatever floats your boat, check out Visit Bend’s hiking page for lots of ideas. You can also snag a good hiking guide book in our Bend Visitor Center.
Make sure you incorporate Leave No Trace practices (like picking up litter and staying on the trail) when you’re out there hiking. You’ll find ideas on how to do that on our Visit Like a Local page. Speaking of which…
Pledge to leave Bend better than you found it
The New Year is all about vowing to do better for many of us, and one way to do that is by taking The Bend Pledge.
The idea is simple: Everyone who spends time in Bend is invited to vow they’ll abide by a set of values that Bend lovers hold near and dear. Things like kindness and courtesy, safety and respect. Everyone who takes the Bend pledge will be entered to win a Bend vacation that includes three nights of lodging, meals, and activities for the entire Bend stay.
Go here right now and take The Bend Pledge and start your New Year off on a positive note!
Is there anything more serene, more inspiring, more enchanting, than an evening spent gazing up at the stars in wonder?
While you can check out the astral wonders almost any time of year in Bend, summer is primo season for stargazing, with warmer nights and clear skies. Here are 6 spots in Bend and Central Oregon to get your star fix.
Pine Mountain Observatory
The crème de la crème when it comes to Central Oregon stargazing, the Pine Mountain Observatory is located 26 miles southeast of Bend at an elevation of 6,500. To put that into perspective, Bend is at 3,600 feet, so even during the warmest months of summer, you’ll want to pack a few extra layers to avoid freezing your butt off.
But oh what a view you’ll have once you get there! Since this observatory is part of the University of Oregon Physics Department, they have the biggest and best equipment you could possibly imagine. You can try out a telescope of aperture 15, 24, and 32-inches, or just wander around staring up at the sky with your naked eyes.
The facility is open to the public May through September, and hours are limited. Go here for schedule info, directions, and more useful details.
The Oregon Observatory at the Sunriver Nature Center
The stargazing in Central Oregon is so awesome, we have not one, but two observatories within 30 minutes of Bend!
Like Pine Mountain, the Oregon Observatory at the Sunriver Nature Center (which you’ll also see referenced as the Sunriver Observatory) requires a little drive time to reach. Located at the Sunriver Nature Center, the Observatory is about 19 miles southwest of Bend. They boast the largest collection of telescopes for public use in the entire country, which is pretty impressive. There are too many to describe them all, but you can go here to see a complete list of both lunar and solar telescopes.
The Oregon Observatory at the Sunriver Nature Center also boasts a nice, long season, with a schedule that spans from spring through fall and even offers some occasional wintertime hours. Their website has up-to-date info on everything from scheduled hours to private parties to school programs and more.
Bonus: Daytime viewings and solar telescopes give you a chance to scan the skies long before the sun sets.
Nighttime adventures with Wanderlust Tours
Looking for a way to combine outdoor adventure with a chance to be dazzled by the night sky? Wanderlust Tours has you covered whether it’s the height of summer or the chilly days of winter!
During the summer months, head out on one of the high Cascade Lakes with an epic Starlight or Moonlight Canoe Tour (the difference being the phase of the moon, of course). Your naturalist guide will point out constellations and planets, and pack your brain full of awesome information about everything from trees to animals to the geology of Central Oregon.
In the wintertime, take your pick between the Moonlight or Starlight Snowshoe Tours, or their ever-popular Bonfire on the Snow snowshoe tour. Both are a terrific way to revel in glittery fields of snow underfoot and glittery blankets of stars overhead.
No telescopes are needed, but they do provide all the gear you’ll need for canoeing or snowshoeing, plus snacks, transportation, and the best education you could possibly ask for on Bend’s natural wonders.
High Desert Museum
While there’s no planetarium or permanent exhibit devoted to the stars, you’ll frequently find programs and temporary exhibits celebrating the night sky at the High Desert Museum.
For instance, next week (July 25-29, 2016) there’s a Kids’ Camp for second and third graders called Out of This World. Kids will learn about Sir Isaac Newton, investigate zero gravity, explore the solar system, and even launch a rocket. While next week’s camp is full, there’s currently a wait list, so contact them if your little astronaut would like a shot at getting called up.
And in the meantime, keep your eyes on their website for more amazing programs and exhibits being added to the schedule constantly.
Set out on your own
Prefer to have a little privacy for your stargazing adventures? There are lots of spots to throw down your blanket and gaze heavenward for a clear view of the night sky.
If you want to stick close to the center of Bend, just seek out spots a bit removed from the bright lights of downtown or surrounding neighborhoods. Sprawl out on a soccer field at Pine Nursery Park, or don your headlamp for a sunset hike up Pilot Butte (uh, you’ll want to switch off that light for the best star views!)
Willing to drive a bit? The Oregon Badlands Wilderness just east of town is a nice wide-open area away from the city lights. Keep in mind you’re venturing into a wilderness area at night, so be smart about staying on the trails and sticking close to your vehicle.
Other primo spots for solo stargazing include the Dee Wright Observatory, anyplace east of Horse Butte, and any campsite up at the high Cascade Lakes.
Also, Brasada Ranch makes an excellent spot to enjoy a nice dinner and a bit of stargazing on the lawn before you head back to your Bend hotel or vacation rental.
Coming soon to Worthy Brewing
I’m jumping the gun a bit with this one, but I’m so freakin’ excited that it’s worth including!
Worthy Brewing is known for its killer beers, fabulous food, and unique location on the Northeast edge of Bend. It’s the unique location that puts them in a primo spot for stargazing, so the powers-that-be decided to do something about that.
Earlier this summer, they began construction on a brand new Hopservatory. The dome was installed earlier this week, and the brewery has ordered a state-of-the-art telescope that customers will be able to use.
The Hopservatory is expected to be complete sometime in the fall of 2016, but for those who want to scope things out a little early, Worthy has partnered up with the Oregon Observatory at the Sunriver Nature Center. From 8:30-10 p.m. on Monday, July 25, and Mondays August 1, 8, 15, 22, and 29, Observatory staff will be on hand with a telescope for customers to use. They’ll also offer solar viewing on Saturdays from 12- 2 p.m. July 16, 23, and 30 as well as August 6, 13, 20, and 27.
Keep an eye on the Worthy Facebook page for news on grand openings and special star viewing parties. In the meantime, you’d better start sampling some Worthy beers so you know which pairs best with a heaping scoop of stars.
I’ve just returned from a dreamy vacation in New Zealand, and I’m pondering something a few kiwi locals said to me during my travels.
“Oh, you don’t want to do that . . . it’s too touristy.”
The first time was in reference to visiting a popular beach, and I quietly blew off the advice and had a fabulous time. The next time I heard it, I had to speak up. “You know, I actually am a tourist.”
Then I felt guilty, because how many times have I thought that about popular Bend attractions? But in most cases, these things are popular for a darn good reason. While there’s a certain charm in trying offbeat adventures during your Bend vacation, many tried-and-true Bend activities are worth putting on your bucket list no matter how “touristy” they might seem.
Doing an organized tour
The very idea of “booking a tour” sounds touristy, right? But since a chief purpose of vacation is to relax and experience new things, there’s no better way to do that than with the help of a professional.
During our three weeks in New Zealand, my husband and I paid pros to drive us around wine country, take us to remote landmarks, and introduce us to culinary highlights of the region. I can’t tell you what a relief it was not to hassle with rounding up specialized gear, studying road maps, or arm wrestling my husband over who’d skip wine to be the sober driver. Every tour we booked was worth ten times what we paid for the relaxation factor alone, and it’s no different in Bend.
If you’re planning to hit the Bend Ale Trail, there are oodles of options to not only give you a designated driver, but a great behind-the-scenes experience. The Bend Brew Bus is an excellent option that includes pickup and drop-off from your Bend hotel or vacation rental, or opt for a super-unique tour option with Cowboy Carriage (a beer tour in a horse-drawn wagon!) or Cycle Pub (a bicycle bar with sober driver provided). For more Bend Ale Trail tour ideas, go here.
Awesome Bend tours aren’t limited to the Bend Ale Trail. Want to do some snowshoeing, canoeing, or cave exploration without the hassle of packing all the gear and figuring out the best spots? Wanderlust Tours offers a huge array of offerings, with a naturalist guide that’ll give you much cooler insights than you’ll find in any guidebook. Ditto that for the folks at Tumalo Creek Kayak and Canoe, who will be delighted to take you kayaking or SUPing on Bend’s rivers and lakes. And speaking of water, you really don’t want to attempt whitewater rafting in Bend without professionals like Sun Country Tours guiding the way.
Need a tour with a little less adrenaline? Learn about Bend’s culinary scene with a foodie tour from the Well Traveled Fork, or get to know the city in a unique way with an Art Safari or a Segway tour from The Bend Tour Company.
You’ll find more Bend tour offerings on this page.
Hiking Pilot Butte
I know, I know. Everyone and their dog (literally!) hikes this 500-foot cinder cone in the middle of Bend. But there’s a good reason folks love Pilot Butte, and it goes beyond the exercise benefits of hoofing it to the top. You get KILLER views of the whole city, which is invaluable when you’re trying to orient yourself in a new place.
Amble to the top on your first morning in Bend to get the lay of the land. If hiking’s not an option, the road is open to motorized vehicles in warmer months (usually May through October). Reward yourself at the end with a tasty breakfast or lunch at Pilot Butte Drive In.
Visiting Deschutes Brewery
We’re beer snobs in Bend, and locals love to boast about swilling some new limited-release beer that’s only available if you knock six times with your left hand on the back door of the brewery hidden in a cave under the secret ponderosa in Drake Park.
But everyone knows about Deschutes Brewery. The fifth largest craft brewery in the United States, you’ll find their beers in more than 30 U.S. states and around Canada. I’m not exaggerating when I say Bend’s beer scene would not exist if Gary Fish hadn’t started that first little Bend brewpub back in 1988.
And although they’re big, Deschutes Brewery is still family-owned and operated. Want to know the reason you see their beer everywhere? It’s because it’s darn good. Few things taste as magical as a Black Butte Porter on a snowy winter evening, and just one sip of their Deschutes River Ale will always take me back to the first time I tasted it after whitewater rafting with Sun Country Tours.
So go ahead and embrace the granddaddy of craft beer in Bend. Do a brewery tour at their impressively massive production facility, then head to the downtown pub for a family-friendly dinner. Order extra hot wings for me in case I decide to join you.
Stopping by the Visitor Center
The internet has made it easy to get all your travel information with a few mouse clicks, and it’s true you can find tons of Bend travel info at www.visitbend.com.
But there’s something to be said for stopping by a visitor center in person. You can talk directly to locals who know all the best restaurants and sights worth seeing. You can grab maps and brochures and learn about activities you didn’t know existed. Heck, you can even use their wifi connection (invaluable when you’re traveling!) Best of all, it’s free.
Luckily, I went to New Zealand already knowing this, so I had the good sense to hit local visitor centers immediately upon arrival in a new town. Armed with maps and advice, I could tackle the city’s best attractions more efficiently instead of bumbling around town wondering when the shops would open or how to find a gas station.
Bonus: The Bend Visitor Center has an amazing array of unique souvenirs and gift ideas, so it’s a terrific spot to grab a few things for the folks back home. The Bend Visitor Center is located on the corner of Lava and Oregon in Downtown Bend, and it’s open 9-5 weekdays and 10-4 on weekends.
Dining at Pine Tavern
Built in 1936, the Pine Tavern is one of Bend’s most famous restaurants. It’s best known for the iconic ponderosa pine trees jutting through the center of the restaurant (one’s alive, one’s not).
And while it’s popular with the tourist crowd, it’s worth making a reservation there so you can see firsthand what’s kept this place in business for 80+ years. It might be the sourdough scones with honey butter, it might be the killer views of the Deschutes River, it might be the stellar happy hour, or it might be a combo of all three.
Peddling around in a bike surrey
For years I’d seen families peddling around on a bicycle surrey from Wheel Fun Rentals and thought, “Oh, that’s a cute thing for tourists to do.”
Then I tried it myself with my own family. You guys, this is seriously more fun than you can legally have in most states. The kids loved it, the grownups loved it, and it was a great way to check out the beautiful Old Mill District and the Deschutes River.
We weren’t sure at first if a one-hour rental would be enough, but it turned out to be just perfect. Insider tip: Go slowly when you’re threading the needle between the concrete barriers that keep motorized vehicles off paths. Otherwise, you’ll bang a pedal and possibly your foot (er, not that I’d know).
Bend locals love to joke that there’s a new brewery opening every week or two in Bend, which isn’t far from the truth.
And while it’s true the legendary Bend Ale Trail helped put this city on the map, that map is also dotted with dozens of outdoor spaces devoted to Bend’s unquenchable need to play outside. It seems like every time I venture from my own backyard, I discover a Bend park that’s either brand new, or new to me.
Bend Park & Recreation District manages more than 80 of our local parks, which make up 2,600 acres of outdoor space that ranges from trails to playgrounds to off-leash areas for your furry friend. To put that into perspective, you could consult their online park directory every week to find a new park to frolic in, and you’d still be discovering new places to play after 18 months. That doesn’t even count state parks like Smith Rock or vast outdoor playgrounds like Newberry National Volcanic Monument.
But if you have a limited time in Bend and you want to see the best of the best, here’s my not-so-humble opinion of which Bend parks should make your shortlist.
This one’s a no-brainer, and if your Bend vacation time limits you to only one park, this is the one you should pick.
Drake Park spans 13 breathtaking acres along the Deschutes River in Downtown Bend, and you can stroll the entire length of it and discover a postcard-perfect view every three steps. It’s home to Mirror Pond, the scenic section of glassy river that inspired the name of Deschutes Brewery’s famous Mirror Pond Pale Ale.
A visit to Drake Park is a perfect accompaniment to a stroll through Bend’s historic Downtown. Grab a cup of coffee or a bowl of gelato, then mosey west until you reach the entry point along Franklin Avenue or through Mirror Pond Plaza.
Bonus: If your kids aren’t satisfied with tossing pine cones and frolicking in grassy fields, amble across the footbridge to adjacent Harmon Park. There, you’ll find a playground with an awesome centerpiece—a life-sized boat that’s been a fixture there for decades.
Not far downstream from Drake Park is its quieter cousin, Pioneer Park. One of Bend’s oldest parks, it boasts a covered group picnic area, formal rose garden, and tons of open lawn and riverfront woods. It’s a popular site for weddings, and was actually the runner up venue choice for my own nuptials a little over a year ago (keep reading to learn where we actually tied the knot).
What I love about Pioneer Park is that it feels a bit more tucked away and quiet. I like to go there with a picnic lunch, then wander north along the path until I reach First Street Rapids Park and its iconic footbridge.
Got a little extra energy to burn? Keep walking north along the Deschutes River Trail all the way to Sawyer Park. It’s a great spot for birdwatching, and for wandering a woodsy mix of juniper and pine and some of the coolest rock formations you’ll ever see.
Pilot Butte State Park
Bend is one of the only cities in the U.S. that boasts a dormant volcano in the city limits, and that’s Pilot Butte. A 500-foot cinder cone, Pilot Butte is part of the larger Pilot Butte State Park, which also includes a playground, running track, and expansive trails.
But you’re coming here for the views you’ll get from the top of this majestic peak, so start walking! In the warmer months (May through November) you can drive to the top, but hiking it is a great way to get your heart pumping and your body acclimated to the higher elevation in Bend.
The viewing area at the top is handy for orienting yourself to Bend and the surrounding areas. On a clear day, you get stunning views at the Cascade Mountains to the west, the Oregon Badlands Wilderness to the east, and all the little subdivisions and shopping areas scattered around the rest of the city.
Depending on your hiking speed, you should be able to make it up and down in about an hour, so try timing it out to reward yourself afterward with a burger at Pilot Butte Drive In.
Pine Nursery Park
One of Bend’s most expansive parks, Pine Nursery Park offers a little (or a lot!) of everything. This 159-acre whopper of a park boasts softball fields, soccer fields, pickleball courts, a disc golf course, a fishing pond, a playground, and a 14-acre dog park known as the Bob Wenger Memorial Off-Leash Area.
I’ll confess a certain fondness for this park since it’s about 200 yards from my front door, so I quite literally walk here every day. But even when I used to have to drive here, I used to do so at least a couple times a week.
My dog goes nuts for the Off-Leash Area and its cool spray park, woodsy trails, and endless fields for fetching. My step-kids love the paved trails for bike riding and skateboarding, which they usually enjoy en route to the brand-spanking-new playground. Our whole family loves the pickleball courts, and the fact that the four of us can usually find a court and play for free pretty much any day of the week.
Bonus: Bend tourists tend to stick to the uber-popular Westside of town, but Pine Nursery is on the Northeast side where very few vacationers venture. In other words, this is a good spot to visit if you want to see Bend from a slightly less-touristy angle.
Tumalo State Park
As you probably gathered from the name, this is a state park, rather than one operated by Bend Parks & Rec. Also worth noting: Tumalo State Park and Tumalo Falls are NOT the same thing, and in fact, are separated by about 15 miles).
But Tumalo State Park is the aforementioned site of my Sept. 2014 wedding, and for good reason. The day use area spans some of the most breathtaking riverfront acreage you could ever hope to see, and the adjacent campground allows you to park your tent just a few hundred yards away.
Fishing, birdwatching, looking for deer, or just lazing around on the riverbank are all great options here. It’s a terrific spot for a small family picnic or a big event like a wedding or family reunion (which require only a small fee and a reservation to ensure you have dibs).
Tumalo State Park is also a great place to visit year-round, whether you’re strolling the river banks in your puffy coat during the winter months, or wading in the Deschutes on a sunny day in August. Campsites book up fast at the nearby campground, so plan ahead and book a reservation if you hope to stay the night.
Another cherished Bend park that’s been part of the community since the 1920s, Shevlin Park offers a terrific mix of undeveloped forest and developed picnic areas, along with historic Aspen Hall (the site of many local weddings and family events).
It’s a popular spot for snowshoeing when the white stuff blankets the ground in winter months, and trail runners are especially fond of its elaborate network of great running routes.
Pick this park if you want a little room to spread out and explore with your mountain bike, cross country skis, or running shoes. If you’re here in the fall, this is an incredible spot to watch the aspens change color.
While “beautiful” is certainly an adjective that describes Riverbend Park, it’s actually not the first one that comes to mind for me. “Convenient,” is how I’d describe this sprawling expanse of riverfront property along the Deschutes River Trail.
The sandy beach in the middle of it is the most common spot for river floaters, kayakers, and SUPers to put in during the warm months. From there, you can paddle upstream toward Farewell Bend Park (which has a terrific playground), or drift downstream toward the amazing Bend Whitewater Park.
But even if you’re not looking to hop in the water, there’s plenty to do here. Stroll along the paved path to reach the Old Mill District for a bite of lunch or a bit of shopping. Walk the opposite direction for a stunning look at towering basalt cliffs lining the edge of the Deschutes River Trail.
If you have your pooch in tow, wander over to the fenced off-leash area to let Fido frolic for a bit. Then plop down in the grass and read a good book or let the kids tear around like wild banshees on the riverbank.
What the @#$% is shoulder season? Six reasons you should know (and should plan your Bend vacation around it!)
When I started working for Visit Bend four years ago and first heard the term “shoulder season,” I thought of bare arms in a summery sundress on a warm July day in Bend.
Turns out I wasn’t even close. Shoulder season refers to periods of lower tourism activity sandwiched between the busiest times. In Bend’s case, tourism is booming in the summer months when everyone shows up for rafting, hiking, standup paddleboarding, and other warm-weather activities. Same deal with winter, when folks arrive in droves driving cars loaded down with skis, snowboards, snowmobiles, snowshoes, and sleds.
Does that mean fall and spring are less desirable times to plan a Bend vacation? Nothing could be further from the truth! Here are six reasons Bend’s shoulder seasons are an amazing time visit Bend, Oregon.
Score screamin’ deals
When tourists get scarce, Bend hotels and resorts get competitive. That means fall and spring are some of the best times to score killer deals on Bend lodging. If you’re considering a shoulder season visit to Bend, check out Visit Bend’s Hot Deals page for the latest promotions and specials.
For instance, the Riverhouse Hotel and Convention Center has a list of dates offering a 25% reduction off their normal room rate. Go here to see what they are. Brasada Ranch has a wide range of specials offering free nights and deep discounts on their luxury cabins.
Avoid the crowds
Introverts like me especially appreciate Bend’s fall and springtime seasons when the crowds thin out around town. Plan a visit to Bend during the shoulder season and odds are good you’ll never have to fight for dinner reservations at any Bend restaurant or wait long to be seated while you’re scoping out the city’s best eggs benedict for breakfast.
Had trouble in the past with organized tours filling up during a peak-season visit? Not a problem when you show up in October or April. You’ll have the place to yourself!
If snowplay is your thing, you’ll be thrilled to know Mt. Bachelor consistently has one of the best spring skiing seasons in North America, with snowpack that sticks around longer and deeper than anyplace else.
See the seasons change
As you probably noticed, Bend’s shoulder seasons correspond with the transition from warm weather to chilly, or vice versa. Visit Bend in late-September to watch the leaves change, or show up in October and November to savor the sight of pumpkins on doorsteps and the ear-to-ear grins of folks giddy at the sight of those first falling snowflakes (a much nicer sight than the mid-March scowls when we’re all tired of shoveling snow).
When springtime rolls around, it’s a great time to enjoy the first buds on trees and the amusing sight of folks jumping the gun on warm weather recreation by heading out to standup paddleboard in puffy jackets and gloves.
Sights like these are the sort of things Bend residents treasure and savor, but few tourists get to enjoy them. Dontcha kinda want to enjoy Bend the way the locals get to?
Play outside all year round
But let’s not forget Bend offers a wealth of other recreation opportunities even when you can’t ski or splash in the river in your bikini.
Fall is the perfect time of year to plan a fishing trip to Bend, with oodles of steelhead just begging you to break out that fly rod. Mountain biking is another terrific shoulder season sport, with the folks at Cog Wild offering guided trips all year long.
When the weather is less-than-stellar, it’s a great time to explore Bend’s volcanic landscapes with a cave adventure from Wanderlust Tours.
Did someone say seasonal beer specials?
The Bend Ale Trail is a popular attraction all year long, but there are some added incentives for trekking this trail of craft beer during Bend’s shoulder seasons.
For starters, there’s Bend Ale Trail Month. Each November, anyone who completes the Bend Ale Trail and submits a completed passport at the Bend Visitor Center during the month will receive a special trophy, along with some killer bragging rights.
If that’s not enticement enough, consider the fact that fresh hop season happens in September and pumpkin brews abound in October. Fall is also when Deschutes Brewery starts to trot out seasonal favorites like Jubelale and The Abyss.
When springtime rolls around, it’s a great time to be here for the release of brews designed for swilling in the sunshine on the back deck of your Bend vacation rental. You can also plan a spring trip around Zwickelmania, the statewide celebration of craft beer happening every February over President’s Day Weekend. Go here to check out the schedule of events for this year, then plan your vacation accordingly.
Come for the special events
I don’t think I’m giving away any huge trade secrets when I tell you tourism folks like to plan cool festivals during the shoulder seasons. It’s a great way to draw visitors here when the city needs a bump in business.
Visit Bend’s Event Calendar is a great place to scope out what’s happening throughout the year. You can search by date or by the type of event you prefer.
Some of the highlights from the fall season include Bend Fall Festival and BendFilm Festival in October. In early November, come out for the Halloween Cross Crusades cyclocross race and all the fun events associated with it.
The annual Springtacular event at Mt. Bachelor spans several weeks in March and April, and offers a great opportunity to score great deals on spring skiing (not to mention tons of fun competitions and live music!)
Take your smartphone for a scenic stroll in Downtown Bend with a cool, free app from the Des Chutes Historical Museum
When guests ask about don’t-miss activities for a Bend vacation, I always suggest a walk around Downtown Bend. It’s a great way to get a taste of the city’s historical buildings and scenic Mirror Pond, not to mention a bit of fresh air.
So what could make it even better?
There’s an app for that!
No, seriously. Several weeks ago, the Des Chutes Historical Museum launched the Bend Heritage Walk application for smart phones and tablets. It’s totally free to download, thanks to a generous grant from the Oregon Heritage Commission.
Go grab it right now for Apple products or for Android, then poke around through the audio narration, historical photographs, and trivia questions. You can do it without leaving the comfort of your couch, but it’s way more fun to enjoy it while walking between the seven landmarks on the tour.
I decided to take the app for a test run so I could tell you guys what it’s like. Because I’m a poor planner not terribly bright always eager for a new challenge, I set out for my heritage walk on an afternoon of single-digit temperatures in Bend.
Fortunately, the app makes it easy to pause along the way, stopping to warm up in downtown coffee shops or browse cool boutiques. You can restart whenever you feel like it or opt to read transcripts instead of listening to the audio.
You can even see the landmarks out of order by jumping around on the map. Go on, be wild and crazy like that. I won’t tell.
The tour features seven downtown locations, ranging from the oldest standing structure in Bend to the first “modern” school built by Bend residents.
If you do it straight through, the walking tour is designed to take 20-30 minutes. Personally, I enjoyed taking my time meandering. The Goodwillie-Allen-Rademacher House (Bend’s only example of a very early Craftsman Bungalow) is now Crow’s Feet Commons, which is an awesome little café and bike/ski shop. I seized the opportunity to pause the audio and have a big mug of tea before moving on.
Likewise, my stop at the Tower Theatre was a great chance to wander inside and check the schedule of performances for the coming months.
The app even lets you use Facebook or Twitter to check in at the various sites, and it’ll ask you fun trivia questions if you want. I’m pretty sure it can even shovel snow off your car, but I couldn’t find the button for that.
Wanna know something cool? The app was designed by SideStreet, which is the same company that created the Bend Ale Trail app. Just don’t confuse the two and go staggering around to historic sites with a bottle of Mirror Pond in-hand.
For more info about the app or the DesChutesHistoricalMuseum, check ‘em out here. And stay tuned for announcements about future apps for other areas of Bend.
Now go get that app!
It’s only a matter of days until they’re all completely naked.
No, I’m not promoting a nudist event in Bend. I’m talking about the trees and this wonderful, magical period when they go from leafy green to vibrant bursts of yellow, red, and orange.
Want to catch some fall colors before all the trees drop their tops? Here are a few spots worth exploring.
This historic park is centered around the sparkling gem of Mirror Pond. It’s on the must-see list for most Bend visitors any time of year, but it’s especially worth a stop in the fall. The leafy trees lining the banks of the Deschutes cast their golden reflections on the water, with pockets of vibrant orange and red scattered throughout the 13-acre park. Leaves are beginning to fall now, so this is a good time to go kick through a big pile of them. Wander north toward the Veteran’s MemorialBridge on Newport to do double-duty with a stroll into tiny little Brooks Park tucked on the other side of the bridge.
Just a bit downstream on the Deschutes is DrakePark’s quieter, less flashy cousin. PioneerPark is a meandering, five-acre, riverfront oasis tucked away in the junction of Portland Avenue and Wall Street. It’s been one of my favorite Bend spots since I moved here in 1997, which is probably why it’s on the short list as a site for my upcoming wedding.
The park contains a formal rose garden, grassy hills for kids to roll down, and an awesome paved path meandering all the way to the new bridge at the First Street Rapids. You’ll see a nice blend of fall colors in PioneerPark, ranging from striking yellow aspens to leafy red maples. I’m particularly fond of all the picnic areas tucked among the trees, so bring a cozy jacket and a warm lunch to enjoy while you take in the fall colors.
Mount Washington Drive
You can travel this stretch of road by car, but wouldn’t you rather enjoy the journey at a leisurely pace without fretting about your fellow motorists backing up behind you? This is a great spot for a bike ride (go here for info on rentals). Pedal your way along this pleasant, winding road on Bend’s Westside, taking in endless rows of colorful trees that range from red to yellow to orange to green. At the end of your ride, reward yourself with a stop at Portello Wine Café for something to sip and an order of their delicious bruschetta.
The side streets off Colorado Avenue
Colorado Avenue itself has a lovely sprinkling of colorful trees dotting the roadway and medians, but I’ve found even nicer gems on the side streets just off the main road. Pick one at random and weave your way around narrow neighborhood streets and small riverfront viewpoints.
You’ll spot plenty of splashy oranges and vivid yellows, and it’s a great way to discover quiet pocket parks and lovely little avenues you never knew existed.
If aspens are your fall foliage of choice, this is the place to be. They’re practically neon yellow right now, and you’ll see oodles of them scattered around this park abutting 647 acres of old growth forest. This is a great spot for trail running, so if you’re up for some exercise, lace up those running shoes and set out along sparkling Tumalo Creek to enjoy the views.
’80s era subdivisions in northeast Bend
Bend tourists typically only venture into northeast Bend when visiting Pilot Butte or Costco, but there’s a lot more to discover in this quieter, less-showy part of town. Take Greenwood out of Downtown, but hang a left at the light on Eighth Street before you get to Pilot Butte.
Soak in the views along Eighth as well as the little offshoot streets (an area known as Mid-town), then loop your way through the roundabout at Eighth to head East on Butler Market. Tamarack Park subdivision is on your right, and this ‘80s era neighborhood is chock full of mature trees bursting with vibrant fall hues. Drive slowly to avoid annoying residents, and to give yourself the best possible views of all the lovely, leafy colors.
Surely I’m not the only person to grapple with Bend’s great wintertime conundrum: you’re just energetic enough to crave outdoor exercise, but too lazy to dig up the snowshoes or rent nordic skis.
Folks come to Bend in search of snow this time of year, but sometimes you just want some winter recreation without the risk of sinking in snow up to your crotch. For a fun winter hike that doesn’t require any special equipment, here are three great options.
Take your bad self to the Badlands
I have a special fondness for the sprawling desert landscape of the Oregon Badlands Wilderness, but I particularly love it in wintertime. Even when much of Bend is blanketed with snow, the white stuff is generally sparse in this 30,000 acre stretch of wild desert just a few miles east of town.
There are plenty of places to access the area, but one of the easiest is the Larry Chitwood Trailhead. To find it, head east on Highway 20, then north on Dodds Road and continue about four miles before hanging a right on Obernolte Road.
There’s a sign at the trailhead with a good map, and you’d be smart to study it a bit before heading out. The trail offers a flat 4.5 mile loop dotted with an abundance of craggy old-growth juniper, ancient lava flows, and a lot of random rusted items ranging from cans to cars. They’re protected as artifacts, so leave them alone and just enjoy the random quirkiness as you move along.
The trail is marked, but be aware that people sometimes steal the signs, so pay attention. When in doubt, remember it’s a loop, and you can always follow your own footsteps back out.
I’ll admit I sometimes get spooked hiking alone, and I become convinced a cougar is stalking me each time my dog pricks her ears. Play it safe and bring a buddy, along with plenty of water and a decent map.
Enjoy a car-free Pilot Butte
There are two routes up this 500-foot cinder cone in the center of Bend: a wide, paved road, or a slightly shorter, steep dirt trail. I’m partial to hiking the paved road, but fear for my life half the year when I share it with massive SUVs barreling up the asphalt and careening around corners.
That’s why I love having the paved road all to myself during the winter vehicle closure from late fall to mid-April.
Well, not all to myself. There are plenty of other hikers with the same idea, which is to enjoy a brisk hike to the summit for a rewarding 360-degree view of Bend and surrounding areas.
Technically an extinct volcano, Pilot Butte State Park is a 100-acre State Scenic Viewpoint that was acquired by the city in 1927. The views from the top are incredible, and Bend is one of the only cities in the nation with a volcano right in the middle of town.
There’s an outhouse at the top and a small park at the bottom. You’ll need to keep dogs on-leash, and there are baggies at the bottom for picking up Fido’s droppings. When conditions are icy, keep a close eye out for patches of black ice on the road, or play it safe by walking in the gravel shoulder.
For added family fun, consider bringing a small container of bubbles to the top. I’m not sure why, but my gentleman friend’s offspring adore scurrying to the summit and running around chasing bubbles adrift on the wind.
Just remind them to save some energy for the hike back down.
Tumalo Falls isn’t falling so much as trickling
Tumalo Falls is gorgeous 365 days a year, but it’s a special treat to visit when temperatures drop below freezing and the falls begin to look more like a giant, drippy popsicle.
That sounded weirder than I meant it to.
Though you’ll encounter plenty of snow up there this time of year, the area is so well-trodden that you can hike it easily without snowshoes. You can keep your explorations in the lower area near the falls, or keep hiking beyond that for some lovely river views and solitude.
Keep Rover leashed in the parking area and at the trailhead, but feel free to unleash him as you get further up the trail. On sunny days, find a dry stump at the edge of the river and enjoy a nice winter picnic as you enjoy the burble of the river and the cleanest, freshest mountain air imaginable.
Got any favorite winter hikes of your own in Bend? Please share!
We all know Bend has great skiing, beautiful scenery, fabulous beer—pretty much the same things most mountain towns have.
But plenty of things make Bend extra-special, and a handful of those things can only be experienced right here. Allow me to share five of my favorites:
Pet a porcupine
Okay, you don’t really get to touch them. But you can come pretty darn close at the High Desert Museum, where their wildlife exhibits are so interactive, you feel like you have your own pet badger. And owl. And skunk. And turkey vulture. But you don’t have to clean up after them, so isn’t that better?
The animal exhibits at the High Desert Museum are like nothing you’ve ever experienced. Through April 7, you can meander through their Butterflies & Hummingbirds display and have the little winged creatures actually land on you. So cool!
Their special programs are amazing, too, and I’m especially excited about the one coming up November 17-24 twice daily at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. For one week only, you can enjoy the Survivor: Animals Adapt! program for just $6 on top of your admission fee (members pay only $4 plus admission). The program will demonstrate how animals have adapted to the high desert climate. See a Harris hawk and barn owl fly right over the audience, and watch as the owl follows the high-pitched squeak of a mouse to find his dinner. Get a close look at a porcupine and learn how he’s uniquely built to thrive in a high desert environment. Check out the skunk as he sniffs for grubs, and get a good look at a turkey vulture and a peregrine falcon (the world’s fastest animal!)
I’m planning to hit opening day of this awesome program, and while I’m pretending it’s for the educational enrichment of my gentleman friend’s two children, I’ll be honest—it’s totally for me.
Take a bath with strangers
It’s the quintessential Bend experience—cap off a day of frolicking in the snow by heading to McMenamins Old Saint Francis for a hearty dinner and a good beer, followed by a soak in their breathtakingly gorgeous soaking pool. The pool is semi-enclosed in shimmering turquoise tile, with an open-air ceiling. In the wintertime, few things are more thrilling than sitting in the steamy, warm water while snow drifts down around you.
The pool is filled with soft, non-chlorinated saltwater, which makes for a more environmentally friendly (and a more bouyant!) soak. It’s open daily from 7 a.m. to midnight for hotel guests, and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. for the general public. Kids are permitted between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
What’s really cool is that your soaking experience can be anything you want it to. When we were there a few nights ago, a couple was tucked in one corner in a romantic embrace behind a veil of steam, while a group of adults sat in another corner discussing a football game. In the middle of the pool, my gentleman friend’s kids giggled and paddled laps through the fountain. No matter how you enjoy it, it’s an experience you won’t soon forget, and for just $5 a person, it’s worth every penny.
Smell weird things
When I visit family on the other side of Oregon, there’s a moment during the drive home when I actually start to smell Bend. It’s a unique perfume of juniper, sage, and ponderosa pine, and I love it so much I roll down my window and breathe it in no matter how cold it is outside.
Bend is one of the most fragrant places I’ve ever been, and it’s something I’ve heard guests remark on over and over. Though the juniper/sage/ponderosa scents are most unique, you’ll pick up other fragrant notes depending on which part of town you visit. Strolling through Downtown Bend or the Old Mill District, you’ll pick up hints of river water mixed with the scrumptious aromas wafting from local restaurants.
When you’re in Bend, be sure to breathe deeply!
Watch a river appear by magic
For the purists among you, I’ll acknowledge this is not technically in Bend. But since we encourage people staying in Bend to venture out and see sights in surrounding areas, I’m going to claim the headwaters of the Metolius River as one of the amazing, don’t-miss sights you should see when you’re here.
Just a bit west of Sisters, the Metolius River emerges like magic from beneath a mossy hillside. Technically, you’re looking at a cluster of two springs about 300 feet apart and bubbling up from underground. The river flows north from there, before turning sharply east and heading toward Lake Billy Chinook. It’s a tributary of the Deschutes River from there, so there’s your Bend connection.
There are some great hikes in the area, or you can just stand there and stare in awe at this magically appearing river and all the gorgeous scenery surrounding it. Truly one of the loveliest sights you’ll see in Central Oregon!
Drink like no place else
Sure, plenty of towns have great breweries. Plenty have wineries and distilleries, too. But there are some pretty unique things about Bend’s mix of all three, which is one thing Wanderlust Tours set out to capture when they created the Local Pour tour.
Your guide will pick you up at your hotel or home and take you on an educational tour through one micro-brewery, one winery, and one distillery. You learn about three different artisanal practices, and get plenty of samples along the way. Best of all, your tour guide is your designated driver!
So what makes the whole thing unique?
- Volcano Vineyards—the winery stop on the agenda—is the smallest winery in the world, with a production facility of only 228 feet. Not bad, considering the quality of the wine they crank out, not to mention their famous sangria.
- Your distillery will be one of two places—Oregon_Spirit_Distillers or Bendistillery. Both make amazing spirits, but a couple things set them both apart. Oregon Spirit is the only distillery in the world making a marionberry cordial (the Black Mariah, a signature cordial distilled from grain spirit and blended with a puree of fresh marionberries, Oregon hazelnut and other Oregon botanicals). And Bendistillery is famous for being America’s most award-winning small-batch distillery.
- Did you know Bend has more breweries per capita than any other city in Oregon? That’s a whole lotta great beer! You’ll sample some great beer and learn a bit about the brewing process no matter which tour stop you hit along the famous Bend Ale Trail.
So there you have it—five things you can only experience in Bend. Now get out there and enjoy a few of them!