Central Oregon is a dream destination for the outdoor adventurer. Over the years, visiting Central Oregon also has become one of our favorite family vacation traditions. In winter, we hit the slopes at nearby Mt. Bachelor. In summer, we spend lazy summer days in the dry desert heat, riding bikes around the nearby Sunriver Resort, navigating the Deschutes River, and canoeing the many glacial lakes. On our last visit to the region, we were blown away by how much the area has been able to maintain a family-friendly, outdoor-enthusiast culture as it has grown.
Today, Bend, the main city in Central Oregon and a four-hour drive from Portland, offers an extraordinary selection of guided tours, self-guided excursions, and a burgeoning craft brewery scene. Looking to plan your first visit to Central Oregon? Here are a few tips on what to do and where to go.
Bend concerts and beer festivals
Bend’s outdoor riverfront amphitheater, located in the historic Old Mill District, brings top-name music talent to a beautiful outdoor setting. From Sugarland, to Phish, Steely Dan to Michael Franti, there is no shortage of outdoor concerts and festivals in Bend during the summer. In August, Bend’s amphitheater plays host to the annual Bend Brewfest, a four-day festival that features beer-tasting from a big selection of Central Oregon breweries. Admission is free, but you have to purchase a tasting mug; after that, tasting tokens can be purchased in packs of five for US$5 apiece. If you have the family with you, children are welcome until 7:00 p.m. each night.
Bend craft beer tasting
Canoeing and other active outdoor adventures
On our visit to Bend in the summer of 2014, we did a guided canoe tour with Wanderlust Tours. This half-day tour took us up to the scenic Cascade Lakes area, where we paddled through calm, crystal-green water with the majestic Mt. Bachelor in the distance. We saw bald eagles and other native birds flying overhead. Our guide was so good with the kids, and made the three-hour ride fun and educational. The tour was the perfect length and skill level for our younger children (at the time, the girls were 6 and 10).
Another fun, self-guided activity to consider on your trip to Central Oregon is a visit to the High Desert Museum, a wildlife history museum celebrating the best of nature in the Oregon high desert. During your visit, you can see native wildlife such as owls, otters, bobcat, and badgers, and learn about early Oregon explorers and settlers.
Central Oregon is also home to a volcanic rock wonderland. At the Lava River Caves and the Lava Lands Visitor Center, run by the U.S. Forest Service, you can go spelunking and explore the longest, continuous lava tube in Oregon. At more than 7,000 feet long, the underground cave is a chilly 45 degrees and is pitch black, so be sure to bring a coat or warm sweatshirt for you and your brood. You also might want to bring flashlights to illuminate your path, although lanterns are available for rent at the visitor’s center. From the Lava Lands Visitor Center, you can walk the Trail of Molten Land and the Trail of the Whispering Pines, travel the 5.5 mile Sun-Lava paved path, or hike to the top of Lava Butte for a spectacular view of Central Oregon.
Where to stay in Central Oregon
No matter what active adventures you choose, there are a number of hotels and resorts around Central Oregon to use as a home-base during your trip. The new Hampton Inn & Suites is Bend’s newest hotel, and is located in the heart of downtown Bend. Another one of our favorite places to stay in Central Oregon is at Sunriver Resort. If you opt to stay here, consider renting a house or staying at the historic Sunriver Lodge. Sunriver is located just 30 minutes from Bend and staying at this huge resort gets you access to miles of meandering bike trails, the Sunriver Aquatic Center and water park, horseback riding, and much more.
From craft breweries to active water sports, biking, and beyond, Central Oregon offers families, couples, and large groups of friends outdoor fun in any season. It’s one of our favorite places in the Northwest; you’ll love it, too.
What are your favorite kinds of family adventures to have on vacation?