A mecca for nature lovers and outdoor aficionados, Bend is set in a scenic spot at the foot of the Cascade Range in Central Oregon. On its doorstep you can find everything, from majestic mountains, vast forests and valleys to craggy canyons, and even cinder cones. The Deschutes River also runs through the center of town.
Thanks to all the diverse landscapes surrounding it, there are plenty of outdoor activities and other things to do in Bend. These range from hiking, rock climbing and skiing in the mountains to swimming, fishing and whitewater rafting.
While most people visit for the wealth of adventure activities and proximity to the great outdoors, you can also find pockets of restaurants and shops, a scattering of museums and historic tourist attractions in Bend too.
With bright blue skies almost a given, it is no wonder that the small city is such a popular year-round destination, and is regularly ranked among the best places to live in the States.
12. Drake Park
Set right in the center of the city is the big and beautiful Drake Park which offers fun outdoor activities and recreation opportunities. Lying alongside lovely Mirror Pond, it has gorgeous green spaces for you to enjoy with paths, picnic areas, and playgrounds.
Established in 1921, it is named for Alexander M. Drake who was the original owner of the site and the founder of Bend. Right next to it you can also find the handsome historic district of the same name that contains scenic streets and wonderfully restored old homes.
Aside from strolling and cycling around the park, you can play games on its lush lawns, bask in fine views over the Deschutes River, or attend a cultural event or festival.
11. Go Mountain Biking
Bend is known as a mountain biking destination. Impressively, over 900 miles of trails can be found in Central Oregon that cater to all levels and abilities.
Popular with both locals and out-of-towners alike, mountain biking is a great way to see some of the city’s scenic surroundings—mountains and forests, rivers and valleys all located nearby. While some routes are very challenging and technical, others are much easier and more accessible.
A number of shops in town rent bikes out to visitors and even offer tours and shuttles to trails. The most popular of these include Funner, Flagline, and Phil’s with The Lair and ODP also attracting freeriders and adventure seekers due to their exhilarating jumps and downhill stretches.
10. Deschutes National Forest
Sprawled across a huge part of Central Oregon is the delightful Deschutes National Forest, boasting landscapes, viewpoints, and outdoor activities. Set just a short drive to the southwest of the city, its vast forests and wilderness areas are a treat to explore.
Located on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range, it has soaring mountains and sweeping valleys, glimmering lakes, rivers, and even lava fields. While its five wilderness areas are well worth visiting for their outstanding beauty and nature, there are also three scenic byways to drive along taking you past a plethora of viewpoints.
Besides hiking and mountain biking, visitors can also enjoy swimming, kayaking, and camping. Skiing and snowboarding can also be had during the snowy winter months.
9. Go fishing
Another very popular pastime with both locals and tourists alike is fishing as Bend lies near lovely lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. Regularly ranked among the best fly-fishing towns in the States, it has countless scenic and serene spots where you can fish to your heart’s content.
The Deschutes River that winds its way through the center has over 250 miles of fishable waters for you to enjoy. While you can fish at various spots dotted about the city, many visitors prefer to venture off on epic multi-day fishing trips with rods and reels available for rent in town.
Particularly popular places to fish are the Metolius and Fall rivers with prize catches including Redside Rainbow Trout, Pacific Steelhead, Bass, Mackinaws, and Browns.
8. Tumalo Falls
Tumalo Falls can be found just forty minutes drive to the west of town, tucked away amidst the soaring Cascade Range. Towering 100 feet in height, it makes for a stunning sight and even better photos with lush foliage and undergrowth lying all around it.
Coursing their way down a craggy cliff, the white waters of the falls stand out delightfully against their surroundings before they plunge into the creek below. Aside from basking in beautiful views of the waterfall from the viewing platform at its base, you can also hike to the top to snap photos of them from a different perspective.
In addition, other small falls, rapids and nature spots are located upstream with hiking paths and mountain bike trails weaving their way about the nearby woods and mountains.
7. Smith Rock State Park
Boasting dramatic cliffs, canyons, and rock formations, Smith Rock State Park is well worth visiting. Set in Central Oregon, it lies around forty minutes drive to the north of Bend with hiking, camping, and rock climbing on offer.
Considered to be the birthplace of modern sport climbing in the States, the park now impressively has close to 2,000 climbing routes. While some are relatively simple, others are very technical or involve multi-pitch climbs. The Monkey Face and Picnic Lunch Wall are just two of its most popular areas to climb.
Besides scaling steep cliffs and spires, visitors can take in the park’s striking scenery. It’s named after huge Smith Rock which dominates its surroundings and towers over 3,250 feet in height.
6. Old Mill District
One of the best places to shop, dine and go out in the city, the lively Old Mill District lies just five minutes drive south of the center. Instantly recognizable, thanks to its three silver smokestacks, it has shops, restaurants, and even art galleries, for locals and tourists to enjoy.
Once home to two competing lumber mills, the rejuvenated area and its handsome historic buildings now house dozens of unique boutiques and local eateries. Dotted about are various trails and informative plaques and photos that document the history and heritage of Bend.
The happening district also offers fine views over the Deschutes River while concerts, cultural events, and festivals can be enjoyed in its riverfront Les Schwab Amphitheater.
5. High Desert Museum
Offering a fascinating look into the history, culture, and nature of Central Oregon, the excellent High Desert Museum can be found just ten minutes drive to the south of the city center. Aside from interactive indoor and outdoor exhibits, it also has pretty paths and pine forests for you to explore.
Established in 1982, the museum’s colossal collection now encompasses more than 30,000 artifacts, artworks, and archaeological findings. These shine a light on both the Plateau Indian Nations and the early settlers with a replica of a Native American camp lying next to an old Western town and mine.
In addition, it has a Desertarium where you can see lizards, snakes, and tortoises up close and learn about their natural habitats. There are also outdoor exhibits, an authentic old sawmill and a birds of prey center to explore.
4. Whitewater Rafting on the Deschutes River
If you’re after an exciting and unforgettable experience, you can’t beat whitewater rafting down the rushing rapids of the Deschutes River. While some parts are peaceful and calm, the lower reaches of the river are fun and fast to shoot down.
From the center, numerous companies run half-day excursions and multi-day trips which are ideal for first-timers and experienced outdoor enthusiasts alike. With a professional guide on hand you’ll run wild and wet rapids like Wapinita and Boxcar, with Surf City and Oak Springs also being popular.
As you float along the river, you’ll pass through vast forests and below majestic mountains with the Lower Deschutes River also taking you through a beautiful desert canyon.
3. Pilot Butte State Scenic Viewpoint
One of the city’s standout symbols and sights, the prominent Pilot Butte rises up dramatically above Bend below. Located just ten minutes’ drive to the east of the center, the craggy cinder cone offers all kinds of outstanding outdoor activities and is now protected as a State Scenic Viewpoint.
Thought to have been formed around 800,000 years ago, the large lava dome reaches almost 500 feet in height. Fantastic views of the city and its surroundings can be enjoyed from its summit. From here you can not only gaze out over the Cascades but spy distinctive peaks such as Broken Top, the Three Sisters, and Mount Bachelor too.
Winding their way up the side of the cinder cone are several picturesque trails, as well as a scenic road. Fiery sunsets at the top of Pilot Butte are particularly stunning.
2. Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort
Boasting one of the biggest and best ski resorts in Oregon, the snow-coated Mt. Bachelor is not to be missed when in Bend. Set just half an hour’s drive west of town, it has over a hundred fun and fast runs that cater to beginners and experts alike.
Located within Deschutes National Forest, Mt. Bachelor towers over 9,000 feet in height and has a vast swathe of skiable areas. Serving its many scenic slopes are a dozen chair lifts with snowshoeing, snow-tubing and dog sledding also on offer.
While it is famed for both its dry snow and long ski season, Mt. Bachelor is also well worth visiting in the summer for its hiking and mountain biking. In addition to this, several restaurants and bars are dotted about the mountain which offers up phenomenal views over the Cascades.
1. Newberry National Volcanic Monument
The highlight of any trip to Bend is undoubtedly the incredible Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Lying just twenty minutes drive to the south of the city, it has lava-scarred landscapes to explore with striking scenery and views.
Set within Deschutes National Forest, the magnificent monument is named after the cavernous Newberry Caldera that lies at its heart. Formed around 300,000 years ago during a violent volcanic eruption, it now contains two glittering alpine lakes with dark obsidian flows, cinder cones, and a lava river cave also found nearby.
Aside from hiking to the summit of the 7,985 foot high Paulina Peak, and enjoying breathtaking views of the monument, you can mountain bike or horseback ride here and there are a couple of campsites you can stay in.