Central Oregon boasts a surprising abundance of state parks, national parks, and state scenic viewpoints. Lucky for you, Bend makes a great home base to explore them all.
Smith Rock State Park belongs on everyone’s Central Oregon bucket list, with its towering basalt cliffs and sparkling gem of the Crooked River. You can scale rock walls in the birthplace of modern American sport climbing, or set out with binoculars and a hope of spotting golden eagles, prairie falcons, mule deer, river otters, and beaver. While you’re in the area, don’t forget to stop by the Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint for killer views of the river canyon.
If you’d rather stick closer to Bend, Tumalo State Park is a great option for camping, hiking, splashing in the river, or even planning a picnic, wedding, or family reunion. (Hint: This is not the location of Tumalo Falls, which is 14 miles west of Bend off Skyliner’s Road—we know, it’s kinda confusing!)
Another state park smack dab in the center of Bend is Pilot Butte. This ancient cinder cone gives Bend bragging rights as one of the only towns in the continental U.S. with a dormant volcano in the city limits, and you can hike all the way to the top for jaw-dropping 360-degree views of the city. During months the road is ice-free (usually late-April through late-October) you can even drive to the top, or stick near the bottom to enjoy a fun playground and exercise track.
To fully embrace Central Oregon’s volcanic heritage, plan a visit to the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Dotting a dormant shield volcano the size of Rhode Island, you’ll find ancient lava flows, jagged volcanic glass, rivers, lakes, caves, hot springs, waterfalls, and forests.
For national parks a bit farther from Bend, pack up the car for a day trip to Crater Lake National Park. It’s well worth the two hour drive from Bend to see the deepest lake in North America, which was formed when Mt. Mazama erupted more than 7,700 years ago. The hole is now filled with the most stunning turquoise lake you’ll ever see, so bring extra camera batteries for this one.
Craving another awesome day trip from Bend? Journey to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument where the Painted Hills will knock your socks off with delicately colored soil stratifications in layers of yellow, gold, black, and red.