Top things to do in Bend, Oregon - Gateway to the outdoors

Located in the High Desert of Central Oregon and surrounded by the Cascade Mountain Range Bend is well-known as Oregon’s true outdoor paradise. The city is nestled between the Deschutes National Forest, volcanic lava flows and the Deschutes River, whose winding course initially gave Bend its name. The city is famous for its local craft breweries, beer festivals and flourishing coffee scene. But the actual attractions are the snowy peaks, cascading waterfalls, alpine lakes, volcanic lava flows – calling thousands of adventure-lovers year round. Bend makes a great weekend getaway from Portland, but you could easily spend a week or two exploring the great outdoors.

Smith Rock State Park Oregon from above
Tumalo Falls near Bend, Oregon
Tumalo Falls

If you want to narrow down what’s so great about Bend, Oregon, it’s the sheer variety of outdoor activities that make this area worth visiting throughout the year: Hiking, biking, trailrunning, rock climbing, rafting, skiing, snowshoeing, also surfing – you name it. Here are my top things to do in Bend, Oregon. And yes, this wasn’t a typo: You can even go surfing in Bend – scroll down to find out where:

Lava Lake and Little Lava Lake Oregon

Things to do Downtown Bend

Although Bend is famous for its surrounding outdoor opportunities, the city center also is worth visiting. I would recommend you to allocate at least one afternoon for a stroll around Downtown and Old Bend.

Breweries, coffee shops & window shopping

Downtown Bend is lined with plenty of independent stores and coffee shops where you could easily spend a casual afternoon. Stroll around Bond Street, Minnesota Avenue and Wall Street for some window shopping. Crab a coffee at Thump Coffee, or head to one of the multiple breweries that make Bend a true pub crawl destination. Bend Brewing Company and Deschutes Brewery are located downtown. Sunriver Brewing and 10 Barrel Brewing can be found on the West side of the river, opposite Old Bend.

Things to do in Downtown Bend
post office Downtown Bend

Shopping at Old Mill District

If you are looking for proper shopping, check out the Old Mill District for brands like lululemon, American Eagle or Dick’s Sporting Goods as well as plenty of dining options.

Walk the Dechutes River Trail

The Deschutes River runs through the heart of Bend opening up a great opportunity for riverside walks without leaving the city. The 3 miles (4.8 km) long Deschutes River Trail starts at Southern Crossing and runs past the Old Mill District to Downtown Bend. Walk along the flat promenade and admire the cute houses with river access that are reflecting in the calm waters of Mirror Pond. Encounters with wildlife are also common in Bend.

Deschutes River Trail Bend
wildlife in Bend, Oregon
reflections at Deschutes River Trail in Bend

Thanks to Bend Whitewater Park even wave surfing is an option – although Bend is located in Central Oregon, 4 hours away from the Oregon Coast.

surfing wave at Bend Whitewater Park

Things to do around Bend

True adventures of Bend await in the surrounding areas between the high desert, the Newberry National Volcanic Monument and the Cascade peaks between Three Fingered Jack, Three Sisters, Mount Bachelor and Paulina Peak.

Smith Rock State Park

Things to do in Bend: Vissit Smith Rock State Park

The 30 million years old towers of volcanic ash crossed by the Crooked River make Smith Rock one of the most scenic rock landscapes in Oregon – no surprise that Smith Rock State Park is one of the 7 Wonders of Oregon (listed next to Mt. Hood, Columbia River Gorge, the Oregon Coast, Painted Hills, Wallowa Mountains and Crater Lake). The park is an El Dorado for rock climbers attracting people from across the country. But even if you aren’t into bouldering you can explore Smith Rock via 12 hiking trails.

sunset at Smith Rock drone shot
Smith Rock State Park, Oregon
enjoying Bend Brewing at Smith Rock

Misery Ridge Trail

The most rewarding way to explore Smith Rock State Park and enjoy its beauty to the fullest is hiking the Misery Ridge and River Trail. This 3.7 miles long trail starts steep (if you do it counterclock-wise, the way I would recommend it) and therefore is rated as hard. But already by climbing up the ridge you will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the entire Smith Rock State Park and the Crooked River, snowcapped mountain range in the distance and spot rock climbers pushing themselves up Monkey Face. Trust me: After you’ve passed the peak the hike is mostly flat and not difficult at all anymore.

Rock climbers at Monkey Face in Smith Rock State Park
Smith Rock State Park: rock climbers on top of Face
  • Access: Open year-round from dawn to dusk
  • Fees: $5 parking fee or use your Oregon State Park Pass

Tumalo Falls

Tumalo Falls is a 89-foot (27 metres) tall waterfall, located 20 miles East of Bend in the Deschutes National Forest. The Tumalo Falls viewpoint is located just 0.25 miles off the parking lot. From there you can explore Tumalo Falls on several routes:

  • hike up to the top of Tumalo Falls to get a view from above – 0.25 miles
  • combine Tumalo Falls and Double Falls – 2 miles
  • hike to Tumalo Falls via North Fork Trail – 6 miles
  • hike to Tumalo Falls via Tumalo Creek Trail – 6.5 miles
  • combine Tumalo Falls with Double Falls and Bridge the Creek Falls – 6.8 miles loop
Things to do in Bend: Hike Tumalo Falls
Hiking trails at Tumalo Falls, Oregon

Tumalo Falls in winter

The Tumalo Falls Road leading to the small parking lot is closed in winter as it’s covered in snow. Park your car at Skyliner Sno Park, then do the 3 miles (one way) as your actual hike to Tumalo Falls Viewpoint in winter. It’s an easy and flat walk. You might need microspikes or snowshoes if you want to go past Tumalo Falls and hike one of the longer trails above.

$5 parking fee – or use your Northwest Forest Pass / America the Beautiful Pass

road to Tumalo Falls in winter
view from top of Tumalo Falls

Watch out: Don’t get confused with „Tumalo State Park“, located off Highway 20, North of Bend! This is not the location where you’ll find the waterfall pictured here. The signs along the Highway are confusing and you don’t want to drive to the wrong way first as it will add 35 minutes to get to the real Tumalo Falls, 20 miles away. The last parking spot might be taken by then…

close view from top of Tumalo Falls, Oregon

Cove Palisades State Park

If you’ve been to Smith Rock for a couple of times already or are just passing by Bend, Cove Palisades might be a good alternative. Located just off Highway 97, between Madras and Terrebonne this less known State Park is three times bigger that Smith Rock. Cove Palisades State Park encompasses the Deschutes and Crooked River, creating a dramatic deep canyon. Cove Palisades isn’t visible from the distance, but the high desert canyon reservoir is a great playground for watersports and hiking. In case you want to extend your stay: Two campgrounds provide space with 306 sites.

Cove Palisades State Park, Oregon
walking at Cove Palisades, Central Oregon

Trails:

  • Tam-a-láu trail – 7 miles roundtrip
  • Crooked River Rim Trail – 2 miles
  • Wetland Nature Trail Loop – 0.25 miles
Cove Palisades State Park, Oregon, from above
  • Open for day use year round
  • Open for camping: June – October
  • Fees: $5 parking fee or use your Oregon State Park Pass
  • More info

Things to do in Bend in Winter

While Bend is a hiking, mountain biking and water sports El Dorado during summer the area turns into a winter wonderland between November and March, some areas are even covered in snow until May. Most of the things to do in Bend are activities not limited to any season, but there are certain areas that are especially attractive either in summer or winter:

Jeep driving through Deschutes National Forest near Bend in winter

Mount Bachelor Ski Resort

Located 20 miles East of Bend, just South of the Three Sisters lies the Pacific Northwest’s premier mountain destination and the 6th largest ski resort in North America: Mount Bachelor Ski Resort. The inactive stratovolcano offers 4,300 skiable acres and 21 unique runs, miles of nordic trails, tubing lanes and endless opportunities to enjoy this winter wonderland. Mount Bachelor Ski Resort is open from late November through May, which makes one of the longest seasons of any ski resort in the Northwest. Combined with the predictable clear skies and sunny days it’s obvious why winter activities at Mount Bachelor are one of the top things to do in Bend, Oregon. For more information visit or read this article from OregonIsForAdventure

Mount Bachelor ski resort, Central Oregon
snow-capped Mount Bachelor view through car mirror

For those who aren’t into skiing or snowboarding – like myself – Bend also offers some great snow parks for winter hiking and snowshoeing.

snowshoeing in Deschutes National Forest, Oregon
drone shot from Deschutes National Forest in winter

Snowshoeing at Edison Snow Park

Located in Deschutes National Forest, close to Mount Bachelor, Edison Snow Park is a great destination for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Various routes between 2 and 4 miles length lead through dense forests and areas with wider open prairie. The orange-brown logs of the huge douglas firs make for a beautiful contrast to blue sky and snow-covered grounds.

Watch out for snow mobiles crossing the trails!

Snowshoeing: Top thing to do in Bend, Oregon
snowshoe trils at Edison Sno Park, Oregon

Benham Falls

Benham Falls were created by the eruption of nearby Lava Butt, 6,000 years ago. The 25-foot (8m) drop can rather be described as rapids than a waterfall. Nonetheless Benham Falls are worth a hike.

hiking trails to Benham Falls, Deschutes National Forests
Benham Falls between Sunriver and Bend, Oregon

The mostly flat trail leads along the Deschutes River through old groth ponderosa pines to several viewpoints. Benham Falls are located between Bend and Sunriver and mark the Southern end of the Deschutes River Trail. It’s a 1.5 miles long trail starting at Sun-Lava Path. You can extend the hike to 6.4 miles by starting in Sunriver or include Dillon Falls (6.8 miles).

Deschutes River close to Bend, Oregon
Hiking trails Deschutes River Trail

$5 parking fee – or use your Northwest Forest Pass / America the Beautiful Pass

Things to do in Bend in Summer

Drive the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway

With the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway starting Downtown, Bend is the gateway to one of the most beautiful scenic routes in Oregon. The 66 miles long byway passes 14 alpine lakes and takes between 3 and 5 hours to drive. Cascades Scenic Byway is closed between late October and June – depending on snow conditions. Giving only a window of 4-5 months to explore crystal clear lakes, it’s needless to say that driving the Cascades Scenic Byway is one of the top things to do in Bend during summer.

Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway
Things to do in Bend in summer: Drive the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway Oregon

In winter you can drive up until you reach the Mount Bachelor ski area. But the true beauty of this area only unfolds within the summer months when you can enjoy the beautiful vista points along the route and stop at Sparks Lake, Lava Lake or Waldo Lake for a refreshing dip in the waters of these gorgeous alpine lakes.

Cascade Lakes Central Oregon
Sparks Lake, Central Oregon

Daytrips from Bend

Besides being an outdoor paradise itself, Bend is the gateway to more adventures in Southern and Eastern Oregon. These destinations are worth visiting for a day – or even better: as part of a diverse roadtrip through Oregon.

  • Crater Lake – Oregon’s only National Park – 90 miles/ 145 km – 1.5 hrs
  • Mount Thielsen & Diamond Lake – 95 miles / 153 Meilen – 1.5 hrs
  • Umpqua National Forest – 120 miles / 194 km – 2 hrs
  • Painted Hills & John Day Fossil Beds National Monument – 90 miles / 2 hrs
  • Alvord Desert & Steens Mountain Wilderness – 230 miles / 370 km – 4hrs
soaking in Umpqua Hot Springs, Oregon
Umpqua Hot Spring, Oregon

Still not convinced about Bend as Oregon’s outdoor go-to destination? Then maybe these facts will eventually make you want to visit Central Oregon and check out all the fun things to do in Bend:

  • Bend has the highest average number of sunny days in the state, according to VisitBend. „Clear days average 158 days per year with an additional 105 days that are mostly sunny.“
  • Bend is 150 miles away from Portland. The easy 3 hour long drive along the Columbia River Gorge or through Mount Hood National Forest makes Bend a great weekend getaway
  • Cute towns closeby expand the options to find places to stay and discover further places outside of Bend:
    • Sisters is a great place, if you are looking for a smaller town to stay and want to be close to The Three Sisters, Mount Washington and Three Fingered Jack
    • Sunriver is the place-to-be if you are traveling in a group of some friends looking for a larger house with hot tub to rent. Sunriver is close to Mount Bachelor and Newberry National Volcanic Monument
find a cabin with hot tub in Sunriver, Oregon

More winter adventures in Oregon:

5 reasons why the Oregon Coast is your perfect winter travel destination
Heceta Head Lighthouse: Sleep extraordinary at the Oregon Coast
Samuel H. Boardman – A photography guide to Oregon’s Wild Coast


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QUESTIONS & COMMENTS?

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Winter activities Bend, Oregon

Things to do in Bend in winter

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