If you're planning a visit to Oregon, you may be wondering -
Is Bend a good travel destination?
Is this small city in the middle of the state worth the detour? After all, there's no shortage of places to visit in the Beaver State (that's Oregon btw).
I know the feeling.
We've traveled in Oregon extensively in 2011 and never visited the Bend Area. We only got there in 2015. And let me tell you, it is WELL WORTH visiting.
There are tons of things to see and do in Bend and around the city. You could easily spend a week sightseeing in this area of Oregon, using Bend as your homebase.
In this post, I'm going to show you 9 fantastic things you can do in Bend and how to incorporate them into your itinerary.
Why you should visit Bend, Oregon
Bend is the largest city of the central Oregon region and the county seat of Deschutes County. With more than 90,000 residents, there are tons of urban activities to be enjoyed.
And here's the kicker:
These stores are all tax-free because, well, you're in Oregon.
No, I'm not counting shopping as one of the nine things to do in Bend, but did want to mention it off the bat. Mostly to show you that this is a busy hub that can cater to all your traveling needs.
Back to sightseeing.
Bend is on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains. This area is all about volcanic landscapes. Lava-based rock features dotted with ponderosa pines, junipers and sagebrush. The natural setting is absolutely unique (and having traveled in 45 US states, I know what I'm talking about). If you're into special scenery, you should spend a few days here and explore.
Moving on to our list -
9 Awesome things to do in Bend, Oregon
Here's a list of 9 really awesome things to do in Bend and around it.
Yes, I did say "around it" too. Everything on this list is within a one-hour-drive range from the city.
If you're coming into the US from another country, it's worth mentioning that you definitely need a car to visit the places listed here. Americans tend to take that for granted but us foreigners sometimes thing a city can be visited sans a rental car. Bend is definitely not that kind of city. You need your wheels here. And once you have them, there's nothing stopping you from taking day trips in the area. Which is why these places are listed as "in Bend".
1. High Desert Museum
A museum? Didn't I just say this place has great scenery? Why go indoors? Yes, I do think you should start your Bend sightseeing by visiting this museum.
For two reasons:
First, this is one of the best museums I've ever been to. It's one of those museums that bring together a superb indoor display with an outdoor one. You will be enjoying the local scenery here, trust me.
This place has -
- A collection of local animals that will keep kids (and adults) entertained for hours
- Live history setting of a local pioneer farm with
- An interactive display of the history of the region
- Guided tours and activities too, all included in the entry price.
Secondly, a tour of the High Desert museum is going to prepare you for all the others things to do in Bend and the area. Many of the suggested places in my list showcase the region's unique geological features. Getting a good overview of the area in the High Desert Museum is going to help you understand what you're seeing as you explore the area.
2. Newberry National Volcanic Monument & Lava River Cave
The Bend region is all about volcanic activity.
The Newberry National Volcanic Monument - a short drive from Bend - is where you get to see all of these cool volcanic cones.
Start at the Visitor's Center where the local rangers will be happy to help you plan your day. Don't miss out on climbing the cinder cone volcanic mountain that's simply called "The Lava Butte".
"Climbing a volcano?" I hear you asking.
Don't worry. This is definitely not an "extreme" kind of climb. There's a road that takes you up there by car, and you just finish the very last part of the climb on foot. You can then hike around the cone's opening for some great views of the surrounding lava fields.
There are several caves in the park, the most famous one being the Lava River Cave - Oregon's longest lava tube cave. You can take a self-guided tour which lasts about 1-2 hours, depending on your speed. It's pitch dark inside which means you need a strong lantern or flashlight that will last you for at least two hours. The rangers simply won't let you in without one and no, your phone's flashlight is not enough (the battery won't last for that long in the cold dark cave). Fortunately, you can rent a proper lantern from the rangers for $5.
3. Pilot Butte
Did I mention this was prime Volcano land?
Yeah, I'm pretty sure I mentioned the word volcano somewhere 😉 You don't even have to go to the Newberry National Monument to climb a cinder volcano (although you should!) There are so many of them around that there is actually one within city limits! You can climb up with your car for some spectacular views of Bend all around you.
4. Distillery or Brewery tour
Bend has several breweries and distilleries that offer tours. If you want to sample some local beer or wine in an authentic setting, just choose one (or more!). These come recommended by Tripadvisor reviewers: Crater Lake Spirits, Atlas Cider co. and Boneyard Beer brewery.
5. Tumalo Falls
This beautiful 97-foot-high waterfall just 14 miles west of Bend is a popular local attraction. The USDA manages this as a day use area and it's a great picnic and hiking spot. A short walk takes you from the parking lot to the first viewing platform. You can keep hiking for another mile to see a second waterfall (Middle Tumalo Falls). Short and pretty, this definitely should be on your list of things to do in Bend.
6. Tumalo State Park
Despite the similar name, this is not where Tumalo Falls are. Tumalo State Park is a park by the Deschutes River where you can spend a day fishing, splashing in the river or hiking the forest trails.
7. Peter Skene Ogden State Park
Drive for half an hour north of Bend and you'll reach this unique little spot.
This is a designated scenic view point where you can look down right into the steep Crooked River canyon and the nearby railroad bridge. If you're traveling with young children or pets, keep them close to you. A low-lying stone fence is all that's keeping visitors from diving right into the gorge.
8. Smith Rock State Park
Not far from the Peter Skene Ogden Park, you'll find one of the most beautiful places in Oregon. The Smith Rock State Park is considered one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon. That's saying something in a state as pretty as this one.
is a spectacular area of towering volcanic cliffs that attract climbers from around the world. You don't have to climb them to enjoy them. There are beautiful trails along the canyon where you can just admire the view.
This is actually on my suggested Oregon Bucket List too!
9. The Cascade Lakes: Todd Lake, Sparks Lake and Hosmer Lake
Fancy some mountain views?
It's your lucky day! Bend has those as well!
Bend is right by the Cascade mountain range and its awesome peaks are clearly visible from just about anywhere. An hour's drive will take you into the mountains themselves.
Drive the pass that takes you between Mt Bachelor in the south and Broken Top and the South Sister peaks in the north for the majestic views of the Cascades. Three lakes that are well worth a longer stop are Todd, Sparks and Hosmer Lakes.
There you have it! This is my list of top things to do in Bend and the area. I put them all on a map for you to quickly see where they're at. If you click on the markers, it'll open up the details about that place.
Are you getting to Bend from Portland? Make sure you read my posts about traveling along the Columbia River Gorge, and also about these awesome museums in Portland! Oh, and if you're headed south from Bend, you'll probably want to check out my post about the ultimate Crater Lake road trip, and possibly the one about Lassen National Volcanic Park too. And wherever your itinerary takes you, check out my 37 true and tested road tripping tips!
Have you been to Bend yourself? Or are you planning a visit? I'd love to hear more of your ideas about what would make a great itinerary in this area, so please leave me a comment! Happy travels!