Central Oregon was home for a little over a year and I place I traveled to when I wanted to Snowboard while living in over the mountains in Eugene, Oregon. I always loved Bend, it was and is, just cool. With its mountain resort vibe and easy access to everything outdoors you really cannot go wrong there. So I wanted to put together a Central Oregon short list for you because everyone should go there and experience the best the Great Pacific Northwest has to offer.
Here are 7 things to do in Central Oregon in no particular order:
1. Hike or Climb in Smith Rock State Park — Smith Rock State Park is EPIC! There is no other way to describe it. It is the climbing mecca in the North West and when you pull up to it you can see why. The cliffs are dotted with climbers at various heights and the surrounding terrain is beautiful. If you are not a climber there are a few hikes you can do from the parking lot. The aptly named misery ridge trail is steep but well worth it. You pass the infamous Monkey Face where you can see climbers suspended off the overhangs and make your way up to the top where there are panoramic views of the valley below and different paces where you can adventure out and take pictures as well as take over the scenery. If hiking up the steep terrain is not for you you can wander down into the canyon from the parking lot (which is also steep but worth it) and wander along the river and just marvel at the awesomeness of Central Oregon.
2. Hike and take pictures in the Painted Hills and Explore the John Day Fossil Beds and the Blue Basin — Oregon was once tropical, who knew? Not me, at least not until we went to the John Day fossil Beds. The Painted Hills are one of the “7 Wonders of Oregon”. It is kind of off the beaten path but worth the day trip out there. It is what I imagine the Badlands looking like. The hills are this amazing red color and combined with the surroundings does not look like any other place in Oregon that I have been to. Central Oregon is crazy that way. The geography is very diverse, one minute you are in the lush mountains then suddenly you pass into the high desert. There are some fun hikes in the Painted hills and if you are into photography it is well worth the trip out there. The hills make for some amazing back drops and landscape shots. If you continue on from the Painted Hills you and head towards the Sheep Rock unit of the John Day Fossil Beds there is a little visitor center museum there where you can check out the lush tropical landscapes and crazy animals that used to inhabit the formerly tropical now desert landscape. From there you cruise on down the road and back into the canyon where there are endless spots to stop for a little photo shoot and the Blue Basin Hike. This was super fun. The mountains have a blue tint and they are just unique. There are little bridges you have to cross as well as fossils that have been uncovered in the area and preserved. It almost looks like you are on another planet when you are there. The hike is easy and there is some really cool things to see and the surroundings make it worth the couple hours it will take you.
3. Ski, Snowboard, or Mountain bike Mt. Bachelor — Mt. Bachelor is a fun mountain to ski or snowboard in the winter and they also set up a pretty bad ass mountain bike park in the summer. I started snowboarding here in the early 2000’s and I have always loved it. It is really close to Bend, Oregon which has some delicious food and is a cool mountain/resort town, The snow is good and it is not overly cold. So if you are looking for a little outdoor sports when you are in the outdoor mecca of Central Oregon plan a stop at Mt. Bachelor. As a little plus, there is a really fun hike when you drive past Mt. Bachelor at the green lakes trail head. The terrain is beautiful, wide open valleys, rivers, and waterfalls everywhere. They keep the roads plowed pretty well in the winter and in the summer there is a ton to see.
4. Go White Water Rafting — Life in Central Oregon is centered on the Outdoors, from road biking and hiking, to skiing and mountain biking Central Oregon has it all. If you are there in the summer you should definitely book a day trip and go white water rafting. If you have never been, you are missing out. There are really fun, mild, rapids and the guides are awesome. The trips do not take up the entire day and you can even choose your duration and thrill level. There are quite a few guide companies and rivers around Central Oregon and quite a lot of fun to be had. We used Sun Country Tours and did the half day trip and had a blast.
5. Eat Delicious Food and Enjoy Craft Brews in Bend — We lived in Bend for a little over a year and like Portland, it is pretty progressive as far as food and drinks go. There are a TON of delicious local spots to grab food, Spork is a fusion of thai and everything else and has amazing tacos, curries and fried chicken. Barrio is Latin cuisine that always has bomb specials, delicious tacos, tostones, and jibarritos (a carnitas sandwich where the bread is replaced with tostones). There is also Wild Rose Thai which is some of the best authentic Thai food I have had. For breakfast the best place you can go is CHOW! House made everything and bomb specials every day. We don’t drink so I cannot give you any suggestions in this department but Bend is known for its local breweries so don’t be shy, try them all!
6. Float the Deschutes River — You literally float right through the Old Mill District of Bend on the picturesque Deschutes River. This is a really fun and relaxing way to kill time and spend an afternoon, tie together a couple of tubes and a cooler and you have a the makings of the perfect summer day. If you do not want to float on a tube you can rent kayaks, canoes, and stand up paddle boards at different places in right in the old mill. You could also just swim and hang out by the river at certain or catch a show at the Les Mills Amphitheater across from the Shops at the Old Mill and on the banks of the Deschutes. Play in the deschutes river.
7. Check out the Lava Lands south of Bend — If you are in Bend or to the south in Sunriver this is a fun little excursion. Lava Lands looks like it is another planet. This is straight up a super cool lava flow that looks like you are about to step onto the moon. In fact, I read that they trained the astronauts to walk on the moon here (This could be false and I in fact could be spreading rumors but I have a really good memory and I swear I read this at the lava lands. So when you go there, let me know if I am right!) There are a couple cool hikes here where you wander through the lava lands and see really cool fossilized trees and lava formations and you can get a pass and drive to the top of the Lava Butte and check out the whole Newberry Volcanic complex. It is a really neat cinder cone volcano that you can look into the crater and from the view point you can see the surrounding area and the lava lands. If you are feeling really adventurous you can drive accross the street to the Lava Caves and go into the giant Lava Cave, bring a head lamp and flashlight and a sweatshirt for this one. Going into a dark cave that heads into the Earth is pretty amazing and it is HUGE so do not be worried about doing some The Descent movie style caving.