Four Seasons of Bend, Oregon


December 1, 2011
Filed under Camping Destinations, Top Stories, West Camping

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Bend, Ore., has been a desirable place to call home ever since Native Americans favored the area for its mild winters, abundant waters and inspiring scenery. With 300 annual days of sunshine, snow-capped volcanic peaks and year-round recreation, Bend (population 80,000) and Central Oregon make an outstanding destination for adventure-seeking families.

Bend offers white-water rafting, floating, canoeing and kayaking along the Deschutes River. French explorers called it “Riviere Des Chutes” or “River of Falls,” referring to its unruly character as it emptied into the Columbia River. A popular summer float trip is from Riverbend Park to Drake Park, with “Ride-The-River” bus shuttles running between the two parks.

The Deschutes River Trail is also a trail for water enthusiasts. Highlights include “Big Eddy” rapids, which are best experienced on guided rafting tours. Bend’s Sawyer Uplands Park and Shevlin Park both sport scenic hiking trails. Tumalo Falls/Bridge Creek Loop Trail west of town leads to nearly 100-foot-high Tumalo Falls, while Pilot Butte State Park’s trails lead to commanding views of Central Oregon’s high desert country.

Central Oregon offers world-class rock climbing at scenic Smith Rock State Park.
Bicyclists can enjoy more than 200 miles of riding in Bend with year-round tracks outside of town, but check locally regarding conditions and routes to consider based on your family’s biking skill. Phil’s Trailhead on the west side is popular in summer, as are trails off Cascade Lakes Highway. Mount Bachelor (9,065 feet) welcomes downhill skiers, snowboarders, inner-tubers and cross-country skiers, the latter drawn to more than 30 miles of cross-country trails. Hoodoo Ski Area, 40 miles from Bend, offers weekend night skiing, groomed cross-country ski trails and an inner-tube park. Also, SnoParks at Santiam Pass near Hoodoo and en route to Mount Bachelor provides access for winter enthusiasts purchasing daily or season SnoPark passes.


Santiam Pass lies just northwest of Bend and has long been a Cascades gateway connecting the Willamette Valley with Oregon’s interior. In 1900 the town of Sisters was established east of the pass, and named for the Three Sisters peaks to the southwest: North (10,085 feet), Middle (10,047 feet) and South Sister (10,358 feet). The area’s cooler summers, refreshing waters and abundant pine forests have been attracting families ever since.

A family hikes at Smith Rock State Park.

Near Sisters are the pristine, spring-fed waters of the Metolius River, or “River of the White Salmon” as it is known to the Warm Springs tribes. Its nearly 30-mile length is open primarily to fly-fishing, and nearby lodging and campgrounds provide comfort for outdoor lovers. Near Camp Sherman, Smiling River Campground (38 tent and RV sites), Allingham Campground (10 tent/RV sites) and Candle Creek Campground (nine tent/RV sites) offer prime fishing and hiking access along the East Metolius Trail. A few miles upstream (south) is the Headwaters of the Metolius Trail, which leads to the source of the river bubbling to the surface, and views of massive Mount Jefferson (10,497 feet).

Five miles north, Allen Springs Campground (nine tent and seven tent/RV sites) is great for exploring the East Meto­lius Trail and Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery, which incubates and rears kokanee salmon, spring chinook, and brook, cutthroat and rainbow trout. Canyon Creek Campground offers access to the West Metolius Trail and a more remote setting.

Black Butte (6,436 feet) is a prominent local landmark. Hikers reach the summit via Black Butte Lookout Trail (3.8-mile return hike), but bring plenty of water along. At the top, explore for remains of an old fire tower lookout, and watch for elk that inhabit the area. Round Lake Trail farther west also makes for a great family hike, as does the four-mile Canyon Creek Meadows Trail.

Hosmer Lake is off Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway in Deschutes National Forest; South Sister and Broken Top mountains can be seen in the background.
West of Black Butte, glacial Suttle Lake offers kokanee salmon, brown trout and whitefish, plus Suttle Lake Lodge, boat rentals and a lakeside loop trail. A Forest Service campground (seven tent and 31 tent/RV sites) is open May through September. Osprey, bald eagles and spotted sandpipers are common summer visitors, and nearby Cache Lake Trail passes through northern spotted owl habitat.

Nearby Three Creek Lake also makes a great base camp. Two- to four-mile-long hiking loops meander along the lake, and Three Creek and Trapper meadows erupt with wildflowers starting in mid-June, including elephanthead, monkeyflowers and Indian paintbrush. The road to Three Creek Meadow Campground (11 tent sites, June through October) is not recommended for RV travel, but closer to Sisters with better RV access is Cold Springs Campground (22 tent or RV sites, May through October). The Santiam Lake Loop Trail winds through areas that were affected by the 2003 fire, but still offers stunning views of Three Fingered Jack (7,841 feet). Hikers, bikers and horseback riders use this route, which starts at Santiam Pass Summit’s Pacific Crest Trail access.

White-water rafting is popular on Deschutes River’s Big Eddy.
The McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway promises high Cascades scenery, plus access to the Willamette Valley and the Pacific. Santiam Pass (4,817 feet) stays open year-round, but McKenzie Pass (5,325 feet) has an early July-to-October driving window. This 82-mile auto loop route along Highway 242 takes three to five hours, not counting explorations. Dee Wright Observatory at McKenzie Pass has interpretive trails leading through old lava flows, and inside the rustic observatory, “peak finders” help visitors identify mountain summits visible on clearer days.

If returning to Sisters via Highway 126 and U.S. 20, short hikes to Proxy, Koosah and Sahalie Falls await.

Backcountry skiing at Tumalo Mountain offers fantastic views.
Eugene-bound travelers on Highway 126 could rejuvenate at Belknap Hot Springs on the McKenzie River, but McKenzie also offers exciting guided rafting adventures. Corvallis travelers along U.S. 20 could hike the Iron Mountain Trail, while Salem and Portland-bound folks may opt to relax at Breitenbush Hot Springs.


Cascades Lakes Highway is a warm-weather gateway to the Three Sisters Wilderness and provides year-round access to Mount Bachelor, but the road is closed beyond Mount Bachelor from November through late May. Kayaks and canoes can be rented in Bend for exploring non-motorized Sparks Lake’s far shore and more isolated campsites. Elk, Hosmer, Lava and Cultus Lakes are next; the latter two lakes are especially family-friendly, offering fishing, hiking, swimming and boating possibilities. Cultus has 55 tent/RV sites, and wilder-feeling Lava Lake Campground (10 tent sites) has hiking and horse-riding options to Matthieu Lakes via a six-mile loop trail. Little Lava Lake is considered the headwaters of the Deschutes River.

This dramatic view of Ship Rock is from The Cove Palisades State Park in Culver. Ancient area inhabitants carved strange symbols into a massive boulder called Crooked River Petroglyph. The boulder lies near a group camp below.
Crane Prairie Reservoir attracts great blue herons, sandhill cranes, bald eagles and ospreys. South Twin Lake has a resort and marina, while Sheep Bridge Campground (23 tent/RV sites) on Wickiup Reservoir provides good fishing and boating access. Pringle Falls and Fall River Fish Hatchery are also close by, depending on one’s eventual return route to U.S. 97 south of Bend.

Continuing south, Sunriver offers paved trails, horseback riding, canoeing and the Sunriver Summer Music Festival (August). Sunriver Nature Center and Observatory features geology and ecology hikes, plus night-sky viewing programs. Nearby, Lava Lands Visitor Center (early May through mid-October) orients visitors to Newberry National Volcanic Monument and the geologic forces that still shape Central Oregon. Families can see a 7,000-year-young lava flow, and drive (or walk) to Lava Butte summit. Across U.S. 97, Lava River Cave has a constant temperature of 42 degrees; wear warm clothing and rent a lantern for safer exploring. Southeast of here, cooled lava entombed an ancient grove of trees, creating the Lava Cast Forest.
Farther south is Newberry Crater, the heart of Newberry National Volcanic Monument, with more than 50,000 acres of lava flows. Paulina and East lakes lie within the 5-mile-wide caldera, with camping, horseback riding, fishing, boating and even cross-country skiing here.

Newberry Crater Trail meanders around both lakes and the largest obsidian lava flow in the U.S., and visitors driving to dormant volcano Paulina Peak’s summit (7,984 feet) are rewarded with raven’s-eye views.

The Painted Hills, within John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Mitchell, Ore., have a dramatic beauty.


Redmond has been “The Hub of Central Oregon” since 1910, and the city’s Roberts Field Airport serves as the region’s commercial air hub today. Redmond’s Dry Canyon Trail is great for hiking and biking, while Cline Falls State Park four miles west of town, along with Tumalo State Park en route to Sisters, are both attractive Deschutes River destinations.

Close to town, Fireman’s Lake is open to anglers under 14 and disabled adults, and Haystack Reservoir is also popular for fishing. From late June through September, Redmond hosts free Wednesday concerts, and the unbeatable Deschutes County Fair is held in late July. A full-service campground nearby provides 106 RV and 10 tent sites.

Terrebonne, north of Redmond, is the gateway to Crooked River country. Just outside of town, Ogden Scenic Wayside overlooks the 300-foot-deep Crooked River Gorge. Visitors can cross the canyon using a steel arch bridge, in contrast to pre-1926 travelers, who had to descend the steep canyon to ford the river below.

Smith Rock State Park east of Terrebonne is well-known worldwide for rock climbing, and for its hiking and biking trails. Kayaking, canoeing and camping are also popular, as is watching climbers ascend sheer rock walls with names like Monkey Face and Misery Ridge.

Toward Madras, the town of Culver is close to Cove Palisades State Park and Lake Billy Chinook, a huge reservoir popular with watersports enthusiasts at the confluence of the Deschutes, Metolius and Crooked rivers. Downstream, the Lower Deschutes River re-forms, flowing north through remote desert country before emptying into the Columbia, and offering a lifetime’s worth of multi-day guided river journeys. In Cove Palisades Park, Alder Springs has desert canyon day-hiking options. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen and snacks along. Fishing, swimming and kayaking tours also attract park visitors, and Deschutes Campground (82 full-service RV sites and 92 tent sites) is near the scenic six-mile Tam-a-lau Trail.

East of Antelope lies part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument; and Maupin, on U.S. 197, is a popular Deschutes rafting town. Nearby White River Falls is breathtaking, not only for kayakers, but also for those watching them navigate a 90-foot drop. White River Wildlife Area is also well worth exploring.

East on U.S. 26 beyond Ochoco Pass is John Day Fossil Beds National Monument’s spectacular Painted Hills unit. South of town is Prineville Reservoir State Park (22 full hookup and 23 tent sites), while Jasper Point provides additional campsites, along with boating, swimming and fishing. Prine­ville Wildlife Area has five remote, primitive north shore campsites. Bureau of Land Management campgrounds also offer numerous primitive Crooked River sites between Prineville and Bowman Dam, but only Chimney Rock has drinking water.


U.S. 20 travelers east of Bend can see the Badlands Volcano near Milepost 13. Newberry Volcano is visible 20 miles south, and the two features are likely connected through shallow lava tubes. Continuing east, Badlands Wilderness Study Area is great for fall, winter and spring exploring, when rattlesnakes are less active. Flat Iron and Badlands Rock trails are both moderate six-mile hikes. The Badlands are remote — carry water, food and detailed maps, and watch for trails marked by rock cairns. Tremendous Cascade and high desert views await, with chances to see deer, coyotes and raptors. East and south of Millican is Pine Mountain Observatory, while eastbound travelers can reach Prineville Reservoir and the Crooked River via Highway 27 north. Two hours east are Hines and Burns, gateways to “Oregon’s Outback” Steens Mountain, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and other destinations worth exploring.

No matter where or when families travel in Central Oregon, there’s never a shortage of adventure, solitude or clear night skies shimmering under a multitude of stars. There’s abundant opportunity for families to reflect and reconnect with nature, and return home restored and renewed. Some simply find it easier to journey and stay here instead, and call Oregon home.


Visit Bend

Central Oregon Visitors Association

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

Oregon State Parks

Oregon Statewide Tourism
800-547-7842, www.traveloregon.com.

Oregon Highway Conditions
503-588-2941 (outside Oregon),
800-977-6368 (in Oregon), www.tripcheck.com.

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