If I had to pick only one place to visit every summer for the rest of my life, it would be Bend, Oregon. There is enough top-notch hiking, biking, climbing, relaxing, and craft beer near this Central Oregon gem to keep outdoor adventurers busy forever.
If you’re looking for active, outdoorsy things to do in Bend, this guide is for you. Explore with buddies, venture out solo, enjoy a romantic adventure vacation, or bring the kids. There’s something in Bend for everyone who wants to bask in that summery glow of sunshine, sweat, and a little well-earned dirt.
How To Get To Bend, Oregon
Bend is in central Oregon, about three hours southeast of Portland and three hours north of the California border. It’s a pleasant drive from any direction through high desert or forest. For those with more time on your hands, you’re in prime road trip territory. Consider visiting Bend as part of a longer west coast road trip to really appreciate all the region has to offer.
If flying to Oregon, the cheapest option is likely flying into Portland’s PDX airport, three hours away, and renting a car or taking a bus from Portland to Bend. Keep in mind that to appreciate all Bend has to offer, you’ll want a car while you’re there anyway. There is a closer airport in Redmond, but flight selection is limited and likely to be more expensive.
This post focuses mainly on the town of Bend and its immediate surroundings, and there is more than enough here to keep you busy! But if you’re looking to explore the surrounding area as well, there are plenty of other things to do in central Oregon just a bit further afield.
When to Visit Bend
The town of Bend sits just over 3500 feet in the high desert, which means its weather varies substantially with the seasons.
Winter brings some snow (all the better for skiing at Mt. Bachelor), spring and fall bring some sunny days but crisp temperatures, and summer brings those hot sunny days that beg for a float down the river.
To take full advantage of Bend’s mountain surroundings, visit in the summer when most trails are dry and snow-free and temperatures are warm. Of course, this is when everyone else wants to visit too, so things are more crowded and expensive. September is often a good compromise between weather and crowds/prices.
If you don’t mind cooler weather and don’t plan to hit up the high Cascades, spring or fall might work for you.
Where to Stay In Bend
Hotels and B&Bs
Bend, being the awesome place that it is, is not always cheap. If your budget allows it, you’ll find no shortage of charming B&Bs and comfortable hotels. Airbnb is also a good way to go and can be cheaper than motels depending on your choice.
If Motel 6 is more your style, you’ll find a selection of budget motels in the area around SE 3rd Street / route 97. I’ve had good luck using hotwire.com to get an even better deal on this type of motel.
Camping Near Bend, OR
Pretty much the ONLY thing Bend is missing, in my opinion, is plentiful camping close to town. A bit north of town, Tumalo State Park has a campground right on the river that looks really nice. I wouldn’t know though, because online reservations are required and I’ve never been able to snag an available site during the busy summer months. They do have a hiker/biker area if you arrive without a car, which doesn’t require reservations and probably won’t turn you away.
If Tumalo State Park is full (likely) and you want to camp near Bend, your closest developed options are either at Smith Rock (The Bivy or Skull Hollow), or free dispersed camping in the national forest 15-20 miles west of town on the Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway (route 372). As always, follow the local regulations and pack out what you pack in.
The town of Sisters, 20 miles to the northwest, has several campgrounds designed for car camping. You’ll also find RV parks scattered throughout the area if that’s how you roll, including Scandia RV Park on the south side of town.
For self-contained folks traveling by camper or RV, the national forest just outside of Bend is a dispersed camping paradise. Check out the area off China Hat Road to the east, or around Tumalo Creek or the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway to the west, for plenty of dirt road pullouts where you can camp for free (no bathrooms or other amenities). This is a generalization but on the eastern side you’ll find more scrubby desert, RVs, ATVs, and the occasional target shooting. To the west you’ll find more trees, camper vans, and mountain bikers.
Things to do In Bend
Pick your sport! Fancy yourself a mountain biker? Bend’s sweet flowy singletrack is famous. Backpacker? The Cascade mountains are right next door. Prefer it vertical? Smith Rock State Park has your climbing needs covered.
After you’ve worn yourself out playing outside, hit up one of the plentiful craft breweries or go for a refreshing tube float, kayak or SUP paddle down the Deschutes River. Bend will even help you get going the next morning with some seriously high-quality cold brew coffee.
Here’s everything you need to inspire and plan the perfect multi-sport adventure vacation in Bend, Oregon.
Hiking Near Bend
With both Willamette and Deschutes National Forests just outside of town, the hiking options in Bend are truly too numerous to name. One of the most popular short hikes, and therefore also quite crowded, is the trail to the dramatic Tumalo Falls overlook.
If you want some true alpine scenery and are visiting in summer, I personally recommend the Broken Top Loop hike. This 24 mile hike is a perfect 2-3 day outing (or a long single day) and takes in some lovely scenery. Be aware that a short section is off trail and requires route finding and/or a GPS track for navigating. I like the free Hiking Project app for this purpose, which you can find through the route link above, but always carry maps as a backup.
For the hardcore hiking enthusiast, Bend sits at one end of the work-in-progress Oregon Desert Trail route. That’s 750 miles of trail and cross-country travel heading east to the Idaho border!
Mountain Biking in Bend
Bend currently boasts a staggering 300+ miles of mountain bike singletrack. It’s no coincidence that Bend is also where I experienced my first taste of fun, flowy trail actually designed for mountain biking, a world away from the rocky hiking-oriented trails I’m accustomed to in the San Francisco Bay Area. Bend is where I first thought, “Wow, mountain biking is fun!”
Bend has numerous shops that will rent you a mountain bike for the day and/or shuttle you to a trailhead. This post has a good list and some other helpful info as well. For crafting your own routes, I use and recommend the MTB Project trail directory and app.
If you’re not sure where to start, it’s hard to go wrong by heading out to Shevlin Park or Phil’s Trailhead and riding the greens (easy trails) until you’re ready to take it up a notch. Riders of nearly any level can find something to appreciate there.
If you’re into downhill, Mt. Bachelor (the local ski resort) has lift-served access to 13 miles of downhill trails. And if you’d rather stick to pavement, here’s a list of popular road cycling routes in the area.
Smith Rock State Park: Climb, Hike or Bike
Smith Rock State Park, about 40 minutes north of town by car, is one of the US’s premier sport climbing destinations and one of central Oregon’s most striking geological wonders. The well developed park, with typically short approaches on well maintained trails and a campground called The Bivy, it’s easy to see why the 1000+ climbing routes at Smith Rock draw climbers from all over.
Do note that the climbs are not necessarily “bolt ladders” in that the bolts can be spaced fairly far apart and the first clip is often far from the ground. It might be smart to start with routes below your typical grade until you know you’re comfortable with the style of sport climbing that Smith Rock offers. Still, it’s a friendly area with routes for all ability levels.
For non-climbers or anyone wishing to get a taste of the area, Smith Rock also offers wonderful high desert hiking and mountain biking. For those with strong legs and a few hours to spare, I recommend the 7 mile Summit Loop Trail for a full tour of all the park has to offer. We went the opposite direction of what’s recommended in the linked guide, turning right after crossing the river, and liked getting the big climb out of the way early. You can even watch the climbers from the trail, if that’s more your style of climbing enthusiasm; the best spots for this are along the River Trail just southwest of the bridge.
For the ambitious hikers, bikers or trail runners out there, Summit Loop can even be connected to the Cole Loop Trail and Warner Loop Trail, via Gray Butte Trail, for a burly 37ish miles of additional trail! You can bet this one is on my to-do list for next time.
Parking at Smith Rock can be scarce on busy days, but we were able to find plenty of spots in the lot with bus and trailer parking when all the spots on the road were full.
River Floating in Bend
With the inviting Deschutes River flowing right through the middle of town, river shenanigans are a core part of summer in Bend. I dare you to try and stay out of the river on a hot summer day.
Popular toys for enjoying the river include the traditional donut-shaped float tubes, SUP boards, and both standard and inflatable kayaks, all of which are dead simple to arrange and rent in town.
Those looking for a bit more action can book a Deschutes whitewater rafting trip lasting anywhere from a few hours to multiple days.
From the city of Bend itself, here’s what you need to know about floating the Deschutes.
Breweries in Bend
For those who like to celebrate their outdoor exploits over a craft beer or three, Bend has you covered. Grab a burger and brew at Crux, 10 Barrel, or the Deschutes Public House for starters, or take your pick of countless other options.
For a more in-depth beer experience, the Deschutes Brewery offers brewery tours for $5. They’re fun, informative, and finish at the tasting room. Enough said.
For the budget option (it’s true that eating at breweries and restaurants can get pricey), simply check out the beer aisle of any grocery store in town and take some quality Pacific Northwest brew back to your motel, van or campground.
Enjoy Bend’s Outdoor Activities
Bend is no longer a secret, unfortunately. Word is out, and you won’t be the only adventurer in town. But this is part of its charm. A town full of people who came to hike, bike, climb, and relax in the summer sun? Yes please! Maybe I’ll see you there sometime.
You Might Also Like These
If the idea of a summer trip to Bend tickles your fancy, you might also be into these other outdoor vacation ideas:
- Outdoor Lover’s Guide to California’s Lost Sierra
- 6 Stunning California Desert Destinations
- Geological Wonders of Central Oregon
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