What if there were a place where you could wake up in the morning and ski, whitewater raft in the afternoon, and enjoy a round of golf or hiking in the early evening? There is.
Bend’s location in the high desert — with the Cascade Mountains to the west, open desert to the east, and volcanic monuments to the south —puts this central Oregon city at the perfect confluence of mountain, forest, river, and plain, making it one of the few West Coast locations suitable for nearly every outdoor sport you can imagine.
Here are the best outdoor things to do in Bend, as well as the best places to stay, eat, and drink while you’re in this secret sports mecca.
When it comes to outdoor recreation, Bend is a big hitter. Check out all its many options, from rafting to biking to hiking.
White Water Raft the Big Eddy
The Deschutes River is a major tributary of the Columbia and is responsible for draining almost all of the Eastern flank of the Cascade Mountains. That means water, and lots of it. In the spring, when snowmelt rushes down from the peaks of the Cascades, the river runs especially high, creating the perfect proving ground for novice and expert whitewater rafters alike. Bend’s Sun Country Tours will pack you up, provide you splash suits, and drive you to the Deschutes’ best rafting sections: the Big Eddy. There, experienced guides will lead you on an three- (or more) mile adventure through still spots bound by beaver dams and ancient lava flows and over rushing, white-knuckle Class III rapids. The water’s cold, the scenery is beautiful, and the trip is a perfect way to spend an afternoon.
Ski Down a Volcano
Bend’s closest ski resort is located at the base of Mt. Bachelor, a dormant volcano. Because of the mountain’s steady cone-like topography and elevation over 9,000 feet, Mt. Bachelor is one of the only mountains in the world that you can ski down every single face — and from the summit, no less. Yes, a chairlift will take you within a short hike of the mountain’s peak, where you can head north, south, or east down the slopes. Challenging enough for expert skiers with plenty of lazy green runs for beginners, Mt. Bachelor is the type of place you can take the whole family. And, with over 450 inches of snow a year and a steady mid-winter base of 150 inches, Mt. Bachelor can be skied from fall to late spring. In fact, Bachelor’s 2018 closing date was May 27.
Mountain Bike Dense Forests
Next to skiing, there’s no better way to careen down a steep mountainside than on a bike. Just outside of Bend, Cog Wild tours will take you on a few downhill doozies and cover transportation, bikes, and snacks. Cog Wild leads mountain biking enthusiasts on a full-day run from Mt. Bachelor all the way down to Bend. Trails are mostly composed of packed, Central Oregon dirt and weave through new- and old-growth forest. With plenty of options for every skill level, Cog Wild works with you and your biking companions to create the most appropriate, thrilling, and adventurous trip possible. Not into biking in the heat? They also offer winter fat bike tours.
Play a Round of Golf (or Two)
It may come as a surprise to some that there are over 30 golf courses in Central Oregon, many of them just outside of Bend proper. One of those is located at Tetherow Resort, a recent addition to Bend’s resort lineup and one that takes its design cues from lodges, cabins, and the high desert. Open from April to November, the 18-hole championship, semi-private course was designed by David McLay Kidd, the award-winning architect of Bandon Dunes and Castle Course in Scotland. Another great golf option in the area is Sunriver Resort. For all your options, take a look here.
Hike on Dragon Glass
It’s easy to think of Jon Snow from Game of Thrones when hiking at Newberry Volcanic Monument, just south of Bend in Deschutes National Forest. From massive, obsidian (dragon glass!) flows that you can walk on (just don’t take the rocks!), to lava tubes (which you can tour with Wanderlust Tours), to standard forest and hill-hikes, the 54,000 acre National Monument is a geology buff’s dream. And, at 12,000 acres (about the size of Rhode Island), the volcano is still very much alive and well. Think about that when hiking up to the caldera.
After all that hiking, biking, whitewater rafting, and golfing, stomachs will be empty and food will be needed. Luckily, Bend — like Oregon’s best-known city, Portland — is an up-and-coming food town. From steakhouses to breakfast joints, there’s something for every person and palette.
Think Parisian bistro meets local neighborhood diner-cum-steakhouse, and that’s close to the atmosphere, food, and service at Drake. With dishes like citrus- and brown sugar-brined pork chops, grilled beef tenderloin, and buttermilk fried chicken, Dungeness crab cakes, and salt-roasted marrow bones, Drake offers up expertly cooked meats in a quiet, casual atmosphere. Drake is also no stranger to elevated mixology. The proof? A sazerac composed of duck fat-infused rye, absinthe, sugar cube, and Peychaud bitters.
What happens when an old blacksmith shop (which is reportedly haunted) becomes a modern, from-scratch kitchen and steakhouse? You get Bend’s Blacksmith. Leather booths and banquettes, along with low-lighting and dark walls, make for a very old-boys club feel. The food also adds to this atmosphere in the form of steak and fries, surf and turf, and the Blacksmith Signature Tomahawk, a 24-ounce, bone-in ribeye that is bacon-glazed and topped with foyot and gremalade with preserved lemon, lavender, and minced shallots. Looking for a drink to go with that giant steak? Try the Austin’s Anvil, a take on the Manhattan with Bulleit Rye whiskey, Bordeaux cherry juice, orange bitters and simple syrup over ice with a cherry and orange garnish.
Before hitting the slopes or the rapids, a full stomach is a requirement. McKay Cottage can easily help with that. The best place for breakfast in Bend, McKay’s morning menu consists of all the favorites done especially well. From the standard American breakfast of eggs, bacon, potatoes, and toast to sweeter fare like lemon ricotta pancakes with fresh summer berries to heartier dishes like salmon hash to any kind of omelette that can be imagined, McKay’s Cottage will not disappoint when 7 a.m. rolls around and there’s a full day of mountain biking ahead. Fun fact: The cottage was moved to its current location in 1973.
In Oregon, it should come as no surprise that some of the best restaurants used to be food carts. Spork is no exception. Beginning life in an Airstream Tradewind, it wasn’t long before Spork’s popularity necessitated a more permanent location. Now, with a brick-and-mortar location and a huge line out the door for every dinner service, Spork is one of Bend’s most in-demand restaurants. A discordant, but altogether pleasant mash-up of Latino, African, and Southeast Asian foods comprise the menu. Think dishes like spicy pork noodles (warm rice noodles, fish sauce, fried pork shoulder, peanuts, cilantro, fried wontons, bean sprouts and more) and pozole rojo (a Mexican stew). In short, head to Spork for wild flavor combinations available nowhere else in the Pacific Northwest.
Breakfast sandwiches, lunch sandwiches, pastries, and bread. That’s all Sparrow Bakery does and that’s all they ever need to do. A cult favorite of Central Oregon, Sparrow Bakery’s beignets are a miracle and the baguettes could bring a Parisian to tears. We recommend the chouquettes, aka sugar topped pastry puffs.
What is food without drinks? For the parched, Bend has plenty of breweries, bars, and beer halls to slake your thirst, but the following two destinations are standouts.
Crux Fermentation Project
Good beer, good food, and a great location all contribute to Crux Fermentation Project being our pick for the best brewery in Bend. With every type of beer imaginable (sour, saison, IPA, pilsner, imperial IPA, American stouts, lagers, and porters), Crux has a pint for everyone. On top of the badass brews, Crux Fermentation also offers up some of the best pub grub in the area. Do not leave without ordering the charcuterie board and the pretzels. Trust us on this one.
10 Barrel Brewing
Since its opening in 2006, 10 Barrel Brewing has expanded to include brewpubs in several other states (Colorado, California, and Idaho) in addition to its flagship brewery in Bend and a few outposts in Portland. Year-round beers include Apocalypse IPA, Joe IPA, and Out of Office (a hoppy pilsner). With a fantastic outdoor patio and pub food (think pizza, burgers, fish and chips, and other sandwiches), 10 Barrel Brewing is the perfect spot to drop in for a little apres ski (or raft or hike or bike). Order the cast iron cookie pie to top it all off. Don’t worry, all those calories can easily be burned off in Bend.
While there are plenty of great places to stay in Bend’s city center, the best places are found outside city limits, closer to the mountains, rivers, and trails.
Located between Bend and Mt. Bachelor, Tetherow Resort is a combination hotel, vacation rental, and permanent community. Flanked by the previously mentioned golf course and with pristine views of the Cascade Mountains, Tetherow is the perfect place to lay your head if you’re heading up the mountain for skiing, snowshoeing, or other snow sports. Each resort room offers plenty of storage space for your skis, boots, and other winter gear without spilling into the room’s living space. A clubhouse, three restaurants, fitness center, and outdoor pool and hot tub round out the Tetherow’s amenities.
With 300 days of sunshine a year, Sunriver Resort, just south of Bend, is another great option to rest your weary bones between running rapids and bombing down hills. Much like Tetherow, Sunriver offers hotel rooms, vacation home rentals, and permanent living communities. A fantastic spa with men’s only hot tub, steam room, and sauna provides ample options for relaxation, while the resort’s multiple eateries fill even the emptiest of stomachs. Rooms include fireplaces, balconies, and rustic charm all wrapped in a clean and modern package.
Riverhouse on the Deschutes
Built on either side of the rushing Deschutes River, Riverhouse on the Deschutes is located just five minutes north of downtown Bend and 30 minutes from Mt. Bachelor. Rooms are spacious and many having direct views to the river (which also means the calming sound of water if you open your window); all have fireplaces. Riverhouse’s restaurant, Currents, is a fantastic dinner option with an unbelievable view of the river and local dishes such as stuffed Oregon rabbit loin and Oregon albacore tuna make the most of the state’s bounty of beautiful ingredients.
Bunk and Brew Hostel
For a place decidedly less fancy than the above, check out Bunk and Brew Hostel. As one of our writer’s described Bunk and Brew: “This sustainable retreat is a part of the City of Bend’s Registered Historic Society and was remodeled by its new owners (and avid explorers at heart), Frankie and Jota (or “J” in English) to become an affordable lodging option for wanderlust travelers …. Book a room or bunk for as little as $39 a night, plus free breakfast — hello fresh-baked bread — free city maps, and linens and towels included.” For traveling on the cheap, you can’t get much better than this. Take heed, ski bums!
In Bend during the winter months? Our guide to Central Oregon in winter can help with that.