Every year as summer rolls around, the locals of Bend, Oregon prepare themselves for the inevitable onslaught of tourists. This town of 81,000 that butts up to the Cascades mountain range in Central Oregon has become one of the worlds top destinations for outdoor adventure. From skiing in the winter at Mt Bachelor to camping, hiking and mountain biking the hundreds of miles of trails that criss cross the area, there’s something for everyone.
You can join the throngs, or check out a few of the places the locals go to get away from the crowds.
Whether it’s summer or winter there’s always something to do in the great outdoors of Central Oregon. Here are a few of the spots preferred by locals.
Climb to the Top of Broken Top
Just to the south of the Three Sisters mountains is Broken Top. This rugged and jagged peak is all that remains of a once active volcano. It’s not quite as tall as Sisters, but it offers both hiking and climbing on the way to the top. You can access it from any number of trails around the area.
One of the prettiest ways to get to the top is via the Green Lakes trail network. It’s a long climb so bring lots of water. The weather can sometimes be unpredictable even in the summer, so bring something warm in case the wind kicks up.
Climb the South Sister
The tallest peak in Central Oregon is the South Sister (10,358 ft). No technical climbing abilities are required on this trail, but it is a long and rigorous hike to the summit. The best time of year for the ascent is between late July and October when the weather is clear and warm. However, even in summer you should avoid the summit if it’s covered in clouds.
The South Sisters Climbers Trail can be found at the Devil’s Lake trailhead 6.5 miles past Mt Bachelor on the Cascade Lakes Highway. Take along lots of water and a snack. You won’t need climbing equipment, but a good pair of boots will come in handy as the last mile or so is steep and covered in volcanic scree. (Imagine gravel, but lighter and sharper.)
Camping at Waldo Lake
This remote lake is located a short distance west of the Cascades Lake Highway. It has a maximum depth of 420 ft and covers about 10 square miles. While it is beautiful year round, the mosquitos can be unbearable until later in the summer. Waiting until the forest dries out in late July or early August is a must unless you don’t mind living and eating with the bugs.
There are a couple campgrounds around the lake that take reservations. The northern end of the lake tends to be a bit drier and therefore less buggy.
If you’re coming from the Cascades Lake Highway be sure to follow it all the way south to Hwy 58. GPS directions will sometimes direct you across fire roads, and these can be extremely bumpy.
There are dozens of lakes in this area that can be accessed from this highway. Many are no bigger than a football field and can get quite warm in the summer.
Hike-in Camping at Lucky Lake
Lucky Lake is a great place to do some hike-in-camping. Located about a mile off of the Cascade Lakes highway this small body of water is just far enough away from the road to discourage big crowds. There are dozens of prime camping locations all around the shore.
The distance from the parking area to the lake is about a mile. It’s far enough that you won’t want to lug too much gear, but not so far or difficult that small children can’t make the trek. It’s a fantastic location for a family’s first hike-in experience offering peace and quiet, and phenomenal starlit nights.
Walk or Ride in Shevlin Park
This park located on the west side of town offers a little bit of everything. There are trails for hikers and bikers, picnic tables, and fishing spots. If there’s snow, you can enjoy a bit of cross country skiing through the beautiful ponderosa pines and aspen trees. The trail runs parallel to Tumalo creek as it winds its way down from the mountains.
No matter the time of year this 652 acre nature preserve is a great spot to get out of town and into nature without having to drive more than a few miles.
Ride Phil’s Trail
This part of Oregon is home to some of the best mountain biking in the world. In fact Bend has become a bit of a mecca for trail enthusiasts. The Phil’s Trail network isn’t the most scenic ride, but it is good for bikers of all skill levels. There are dozens of turnoff’s and intersections so even local’s never get bored of this trail. You can download a good map here.
In some places you’ll likely see runners, but for the most part this trail system is all mountain bikers. This means you can ride as fast as your skill level allows. Here’s a great video of parts of the trial.
Climb or Hike Around Smith Rock
This world renowned rock climbing destination is also a great place for hiking. The Crooked River winds it’s way through this beautiful park making it one of the most scenic spots in Central Oregon. If you’re in the mood for exercise, you can reach the top without the need of any sort of climbing gear.
The trail is steep and in many places resembles a long, long staircase. Once at the top you can see the entire area from Mt Hood to the north (on a clear day) to Mt Bachelor and the Sisters to the south and west.
There is camping in the park. It’s highly recommended, as the color of the basalt rock formations are especially beautiful at sunrise and sunset.
Hike Tumalo Mountain
The top of Tumalo Mountain offers some of the best views of the Three Sisters and Broken Top in the area. The climb is relatively short (1 1/2 miles each way) but it’s steep grade the whole way. It can get pretty dusty in the summer so be sure to bring along plenty of water. This is a great trail for those who are looking to burn off some excess energy but don’t have a lot of time.
The trailhead is located just across the road from Mt. Bachelor and is only 20 minutes from downtown.
Stroll Up to Tumalo Falls
For those in favor of instant gratification the Tumalo Falls hike is pretty ideal. The viewpoint of the magnificent falls is only a 1/4 mile from the parking area. If you’re feeling more adventurous continue on up the trail to Twin Falls and Upper Falls.
This hike is great for any skill level. The trail follows Tumalo creek all the way up so there is no shortage of beautiful scenery. The trail is open year round, but be prepared for snow on the ground in the winter.
Go Mushroom Hunting
While Central Oregon’s climate is mostly high desert, there are still ample opportunities for finding delicious wild mushrooms. In particular both morels and chanterelles grow in abundance in areas that get a decent amount of rainfall. Most locals are VERY hesitant to give out their secret mushrooming locations, but you can do pretty well just checking areas like lost lake on the Santiam Pass.
If it’s been a heavy snow year, you’ll have better luck finding these fungi at lower elevations. Just stick to locations with damp or boggy soil and you’ll be sure to stumble across a few tasty ones. Always verify that what you find is edible. Some varieties like the ‘false morel’ are still edible, but are prone to causing tummy aches.
Festivals and Activities
Downtown Farmer’s Market
Oregon has an amazing abundance of produce and locally raised livestock. Get down to the Farmer’s Market that happens every Wednesday downtown in Brook’s Alley. Here you’ll find everything from fresh vegetables and locally raised grass-fed beef to sinfully delicious artisan gelato and locally produced cheese.
You can then stroll down the hill into Drake Park and take a walk along the Deschuttes River. The hours for the market are 3:00PM – 7:00PM starting in June and ending on the 2nd Wednesday of October.
Bite of Bend
Did we mention that Bend has an incredible food scene? Chef’s from all over the country move to this area to take advantage of the amazing produce and meats. And every summer the best food is on display at the Bite of Bend. It’s typically the last weekend of June and features live music, beer gardens, and tons of food.
Many of the local restaurants prepare small plates that allow you to sample their creativity. It’s a great way to get a small taste of a place before deciding where to eat your next meal.
Just a couple weeks after the Bite of Bend is Summer Fest. Here you’ll find all sorts of locally produced foods and products on display. You’ll also hear dozens of great bands on a number of different stages around the downtown area.
More info on Summerfest
First Friday Art Walk
Every first Friday of the month there is an Art Walk in Downtown Bend. Many of the stores and buildings host an artist and their work. They also offer free wine or cocktails to those over 21.
The even is free and is a great way to learn about local art and some of the local businesses. Some businesses even bring in bands during the busier summer months. It’s a great reason to get out into the beautiful summer nights of Central Oregon, and it’s free.
Enjoy Last Saturdays at the Workhouse
The Workhouse is an artists cooperative that’s located in the Old Ironworks District just on the east side of the parkway. Originally built to equip and supply Bend’s booming lumber industry, it has since been transformed to a source of locally produced art, jewelry, colorful fabrics, and a wide variety of unique items.
On the last Saturday of every month The Workhouse host’s an open house. There is live music, free drinks (with donation), food carts, and a featured artist of the month. It’s become a fun local scene that is welcoming of visitors. On cold nights there are fires in the hand made iron fire pit on the patio.
The Local Food Scene
Many visitors are surprised to learn that Bend also has lively and energetic food scene. For such a small town there is a wide variety of cuisines to explore. Everything from the traditional to the exotic. Here are just a few of the restaurants you should try on your next visit.
Breakfast or Lunch at The Sparrow Bakery
Best known for their world-famous Ocean rolls, The Sparrow Bakery is one of the best breakfast or lunch spots in town. Their original cafe on Scott Street is located in the Old Ironworks District. The atmosphere is warm and comfortable and the smells are intoxicating.
For a bit more space check out their Northwest Crossing location where you can get all of the same amazing foods plus enjoy more indoor seating. They offer pastries, sandwiches, breads, a full coffee bar, and seasonal soups and salads.
Must haves: ocean rolls, hand-rolled croissants, bacon breakfast sandwich.
Dinner at Spork
While the name might sound strange, the food is absolutely amazing. Locals know this as one of the most flavorful spots in town. The restaurant originally started as a food cart in a 1962 Airstream Tradewind. In 2013 they opened as a brick and mortar restaurant on Newport Ave and 10th.
They describe their fare as globally inspired street food. You’ll find flavors from South America, Africa, and Asia. From carnitas tacos and gluten-free spicy fried chicken to the coconut curry with pork belly you literally cannot make a bad choice at this establishment.
They also have a long list of homemade cocktails that are unique and VERY tasty.
Must haves: carnitas tacos, green coconut curry, shakshuka, gluten-free fried chicken.
Delicious Desserts at Bontá Natural Artisan Gelato
You might not to expect to find world class gelato in a small mountain town in Central Oregon. But that’s exactly what you’ll get at Bontá Gelato. They’ve been hand-crafting small batch gelato’s since 2011 and selling these delicious concoctions at farmer’s markets and festivals throughout the state. In the spring of 2015 they opened a scoop shop in downtown Bend.
Here you’ll find 18 varieties of gelato made locally at their creamery on the East Side. Some of the top flavors are Dulce de Leche, Vanilla Bourbon Pecan, Peanut Butter with Theo Fudge, and Salted Chocolate. They also offer a variety of dairy free flavors that are made with coconut milk instead of dairy. All of their flavors (with the exception of Vanilla Bourbon Pecan) are gluten free.
Flavorful Food at Barrio
Located in Downtown Bend, Barrio offers Spanish-style dishes that are packed with flavor. Like Spork, this restaurant started out as a food truck and eventually graduated up to a brick and mortar location on Minnesota. It’s easy to find as there’s usually a line out the door. As of February 29, they are moving into a new and larger location at 915 Wall St.
They offer a wide variety of pinchos (tapas) including grilled green beans, cauliflower tagine, and brussels sprouts with bleu cheese and bacon. The jibarito pork carnitas consists of a sliced plantain sandwich with slow roasted spicy pork. They also have traditional paella with chorizo, chicken, sofrito, rice, and saffron.
The lines can be long so expect a bit of a wait on weekends. The drink menu is a great place to start while you wait though.
Simple Fare at Brother Jon’s Public House
Situated in an old house on Galveston Ave on Bend’s West Side, BroJo’s as it is known locally, is a great casual spot to hit after a day on the slopes or the trails. They have a wide selection of foods but are famous for their mac and cheese which is silky and creamy.
For something hotter try their Spicy Buffalo Mac. Made with real buffalo, sautéed jalapeños, onions, tomatoes, and peas and then tossed in a spicy sriracha cheese sauce, it’s a classic. They also make several mean burgers including the Fire Marshal and the Black and Blue.
As with any good restaurant in Bend there is often a line, but you can sometimes grab a seat at the bar while you wait. Their bartenders offer one of the best pours in town. During the summer and on warm winter days they open the back patio as well.
Sample a Variety at The Lot
Looking like something transported from Portland, The Lot offers a variety of food carts, beers on tap, and covered (and warmed) seating. This is an especially popular place during the warm summer months. It can get pretty busy and finding a seat can sometimes be a challenge, but it’s a great atmosphere and lot’s of good food.
You check out the current list of food carts on their Facebook Page.
Like many places in the Pacific Northwest Bend is a coffee town. There are a multitude of great places to get a good cup of coffee such as Thump and Back Porch. Two spots that offer an experience that is distinctly Bend are…
Sip While Enjoying the View at Looney Bean Coffee
If you want to sip your coffee while enjoying vistas of the the Deschutes river and the Cascades mountains you’ll find no better place than Looney Bean. They offer delicious coffee, a wide variety of local baked goods (including Fireweed cookies from Fearless Baking) and the absolute best view in town. The lawn spills from the back patio to the edge of the river. There’s plenty of seating and room for the kids to play.
Adam and Sarah, the owners, are transplants from the East Coast. They have done an amazing job creating a warm atmosphere and an incredible place to get a great cup of coffee.
Lone Pine Coffee Offers Coffee at It’s Best
This small coffee shop is hidden in Tin Pan Alley just down from the Tin Pan Theater. A favorite for locals, Lone Pine offers what many consider the best coffee in town. The owner, Scott, roasts everything himself right there in the shop.
The atmosphere is laid back and the staff is extremely friendly and knowledgable. They take everything about their coffee very seriously. You can get all the traditional drinks such as latte’s and cappuccinos, plus more specialty drinks like pour overs, and the most amazing Chai you will ever taste. They even have their milk shipped in from an organic grass-fed dairy in Western Oregon. It’s amazingly sweet and makes for an unforgettable cappuccino.
The breweries in Bend and throughout Central Oregon have helped put this area on the map. All three of these breweries are popular with Bend’s local crowd because of the amazing beer, good food, and comfortable atmosphere. These obviously aren’t all the breweries, but they’re a great place to start.
Deschutes Brewery, Where it All Started
The granddaddy of them all, Deschutes Brewery was started in 1988 when the population of Bend was around 19,000 (currently 81,000). Most well known for it’s Black Butte Porter and Mirror Pond Pale Ale, they have since expanded to large number of regular and seasonal flavors.
The original brew pub on Bond Street is where all the magic used to happen. Now the production takes place on the other side of the river in a newly renovated and expanded facility. Total production, including their Pearl District brewery, is 460,000 barrels per year.
Even though the pub has been expanded and fully renovated, you’ll still find a local crowd hanging out there after a day on the mountain or biking the trails. This is especially true on Monday’s which is local’s night.
Great Atmosphere and Great Beer at 10 Barrel
These guys caused quite a stink when they sold their operation to AB InBev, but they are still bringing out award-winning beers. On top of that, their brew pub on Galveston is a great spot to meet up with friends for a couple pints. They offer a wide variety of foods and have both indoor and outdoor seating (with fire pit). And of course they offer all of their world class beer on tap.
No matter the night of the week you’re more likely than not to see a crowd hanging out at 10 Barrel.
Crux Fermentation Project
The Crux brewery and tasting room is a thing of beauty. While sipping your favorite lager, pilsner, or pale ale you can take in all the sites of the brewery behind the glass. They offer a full menu including two ridiculous sandwiches; the Cubano and the Optimus Prime. The bacon wrapped figs shouldn’t be missed either.
There’s lots of seating and in the summer you can spread out on the lawn. The brewery is located in an industrial area so it can be a bit tricky to find, but any map app or GPS can get you there.
Whether you’re visiting in the summer or in the dead of winter there is always something to do in Bend.