If you’ve spent anytime in Bend at all it should be perfectly obvious that this small city is anything but average. Sure, there are plenty of places across the country where you can tackle powdery ski slopes come winter, with golfing, hiking and biking to round things out in summer. But in Bend there’s also world-class rock climbing. And rafting. And world-class fly fishing. And boating, craft brews, crisp desert air, trail running, caving, star gazing, rock hounding, horseback riding and enough sightseeing possibilities to make your head well, spin.
Best of all, Bend changes so much seasonally that it’s almost like two different destinations between winter and summer. As if you needed an excuse to make this your year-round vacation destination. Really, there’s good reason real estate is at a premium in these parts - once you get a glimpse of what’s on offer here it’s likely you won’t want to leave Bend either.
It’s no secret that Bend’s winter draw is its proximity to Mount Bachelor, one of Oregon’s two big ski mountains. Sure, Bend is pretty dusted with snow but don’t kid yourself: it’s the slopes that suck in skiers and snowboarders by the thousands. The snow is light and dry, the vertical drop 3,365 feet and the ski season runs from November to May. There are also more than a dozen machine-groomed cross-country trails. Collectively, this makes the 22 mile drive from Bend well worth the trip.
Any rock climber worth their chalk can tell you that for routes in Central Oregon it’s hard to better the welded tuff of Smith Rock. Part of a 651 acre state park roughly 25 minutes north of Bend, Smith Rock offers up more than 1800 mapped climbing routes. Happily for even the non-climbers, this is also a fine place to hike, camp and enjoy lofty views of the Crooked River. You’ll find dedicated climbers here in sun or snow, but the most comfortable climbing seasons are generally spring and fall.
Live out your “A River Runs Through It” fantasies at one of the nation’s top-rated fly-fishing destinations: Bend. As if you needed more convincing, there’s even a fly-fishing casting park (Orvis Old Mill Casting Course)in town where you can work on your technique. If you’ve already made the cover of “Fly Fisherman”, you’ll want to spend most of your time instead on the Deshutes or the Metolius Rivers, two world class waterways but a cast away. In addition to these angling A-list spots find plenty of local lakes, reservoirs and remote creeks.
There are more than 25 golf courses in the Bend area, including an indoor golf center for those blustery days. Which should suit most golfers to a tee. Less than 15 miles from Bend is Sunriver Resort, a noteworthy golf destination home to not one but three championship courses. Okay, so it might not be golf technically, or even in the golf family, but there also happens to be an 18-hole disc golf course in Bend, which hosts the annual Lava Launch tournament. This one closes seasonally, so plan accordingly.
Feeling ambitious? Trade your skis in for a pair of hiking shoes once spring sunshine thaws the snowpack on Mount Bachelor and head to the top. It’s a 9,065 foot summit on a good day, so if you’re not feeling quite that energetic consider hopping the Pine Martin lift up to 7,775 feet. If you’d rather forgo such heights altogether, stick to the comforts of 3,600 feet and do some footwork on easy trails like loops in Pilot Butte State Park or Farewell Bend Park. Some of the most scenic trails score Smith Rock State Park, an easy drive to the north. Bend also gets a big thumbs up when it comes to trail running. Fear hiking won’t get you from point A to point B quick enough? Swap those heavy hiking shoes out for a pair of trail shoes and get to it.
It is so easy to wax eloquent about the mountain biking around Bend that one might be tempted to say nothing at all in the interests of keeping trail traffic down. Seeing as we’ve already let this particular cat out of the bag, let it be noted that there is an abundance bike shops, bike tours and all other things bike in this free-wheeling Central Oregon town. But it’s not all mountain biking; there are also a number of routes that are road biker friendly, including a 19 mile ride on Route 22 around Bend. Which is a good way to get a feel for the area, if anyone’s asking.
7. Bend Ale Trail
Where else but Bend can you combine craft beer with cardio? Well, there may be places but for the sake of argument, let’s just assume that the Bend Ale Trail is your dream hike. As it should be, if you like beer at all. Bend is home to seven craft breweries within (easy) walking distance of one another. Even if you’ve already had a few. The Visit Bend Welcome hands out souvenir Bend Silipints (this durable, reusable silicone pint glass is made by a local company) to those who get their beer passport (available in the Discovery Map of Central Oregon) stamped at all seven breweries.
8. White Water Rafting
You may have gotten a glimpse of the Deschutes river while bird watching, fishing, hiking or biking. But for a really personal river encounter the obvious (and obviously seasonal) choice is a rafting run down one of its hairier stretches. Local operators offer everything from short, two-hour floats to multi-day expeditions on the Lower Deschutes and North Umpqua. Not slavering yet? Then consider the Raft and Brew events - think microbrew and river mayhem. Are we there yet?
9. Bird Watching
Between mountains, high plateau desert, lava flows and riparian habitats, birders in the Bend area are spoiled for beaks. Bohemian Waxwings flitter around local birding hotspots like Pilot Butte, while it’s elusive Pygmy Owls that flutter in the foliage of Shevlin Park. Oregon birding trails include a number of stops in the peaks to the west, like Swampy Lakes, in Deschutes National Forest, and Round Mountain.
Should your days of hiking, biking, beer tasting, skiing and star gazing leave you stiff in places better left loose, consider splurging on a long day of me-time. Spas around Bend boast a full arsenal of highly experienced professional therapists who can work out even the tightest kinks and leave one well prepared to return to the hiking, biking, beer tasting, skiing and star gazing that knotted things up in the first place. This is one cycle that’s totally vicious - in a really good way.