We visited Bend, Oregon in the summer of 2015 and had a really great time. We had planned on returning to view the solar eclipse near Bend, so I started working on an even more extensive itinerary in that area. Our plans have since changed but I still want to share with your our list of things to do in Bend and around it.
Why you should visit Bend, Oregon
Oregon is such a beautiful state that it’s too easy for travelers to miss the Bend area. We did that on our first trip to Oregon and have traveled mostly along the coast. After all, the Oregon coast line is spectacular in its own right. When we returned to Oregon for a second visit, we traveled up the coast again but this time we returned via the Cascade mountains and the Oregon high desert.
Bend is the largest city of the central Oregon region and the county seat of Deschutes County. It’s on the eastern side of the Cascade mountains in an area that’s all about volcanic landscapes dotted with ponderosa pines, junipers and sagebrush. It’s a very special place that’s worth spending a few days at. Bend itself has everything you need in terms of accommodation, eating and shopping, so it’s a great base from which you can explore the area.
9 Awesome things to do in Bend, Oregon
Here’s a list of 13 really awesome things to do in Bend and around it. Everything on this list is within a one-hour-drive range from the city.
1. High Desert Museum
A museum as your first item on the list of things to do in Bend? Yup! 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. This place has a collection of local animals that will keep kids entertained for hours; A recreation of a local pioneer farm with live actors; a beautiful interactive display of the history of the region and so much more. There are 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 and is part of the Volcanic heritage trail. In fact, a great place to see the Oregon lava beds is just a few miles south of Bend, at the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Start your visit at the Visitor’s Center where you can get guidance from the local rangers. Then, climb the cinder cone volcanic mountain that’s simply called “The Lava Butte”. 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? 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 the city of Bend actually has one. 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 Trip Advisor 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. This 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.
9. The Cascade Lakes: Todd Lake, Sparks Lake and Hosmer Lake
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.
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!