The Top Things to See and Do in Bend, Oregon

Bend is the largest urban area in central Oregon. With a permanent population of around 77,000 people, the modestly sized city is a testament to just how sparsely developed and unspoiled this beautiful region of the Pacific Northwest really is. Bend makes an excellent base for visits to the area, which draws large numbers of tourists each year. Central Oregon has a wealth of outdoor activities to enjoy, with Bend also serving as a noteworthy hub of local history and culture.

If you’re planning a visit, here are 12 activities you’ll want to make room for in your itinerary:

12. Trek Through Smith Rock State Park

This 651-acre state park is open all year round, and features a network of gorgeous hiking trails that offer stunning views of the unspoiled wilderness that extends for miles in every direction. Part of Oregon’s high desert plateau landscape, the park has an elevation of around 3,000 feet, delivering incredible vantage points you’ll remember for a lifetime.

Smith Rock State Park is also a rock climber’s paradise, with well over 1,000 climbing areas. Bear one thing in mind as you plan your visit: conditions can be very hot in the summer, and daytime temperatures can break the 100-degree barrier. Spring and fall are generally the best times to visit.

11. Drive the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway

Also known as Forest Route 46, the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway is one of the most beautiful drives in the western United States. This 66-mile route passes eight beautiful lakes, where you can pause to take pictures or spend a few hours exploring. Breathtakingly beautiful Cultus Lake is a particularly appealing place to spend some time, as it has well-developed tourism and visitor facilities including a lodge and restaurant as well as boat rentals and overnight cabins. If roughing it is up your alley, you can also pitch a tent and camp.

10. Hit the Slopes at Mount Bachelor

The Mount Bachelor skiing area is a short drive from Bend, and is reachable from the scenic Century Drive Highway. With a total area of more than 1,000 acres, the Mount Bachelor ski area is Oregon’s largest, and it features one of the most generous skiing seasons of any resort in the country. Visitors can hit the slopes anytime between the middle of November and the end of May, though weather conditions can affect slope availability, especially in spring.

Mount Bachelor is well-known for its high-quality, naturally dry snow, and the mountain averages over 450 inches of snow per year. During the summer, the Mount Bachelor ski area transforms into a mountain biking hotspot, so you can enjoy its beauty no matter what time of year you visit.

9. Head Out on the Water at Elk Lake

Once you’re finished at Mount Bachelor, you can head about 11 miles further down the road to Elk Lake, which offers some of the most beautiful mountain scenery you’ll find anywhere in the world. The lake’s crystalline waters are ideal for sports and boating, and it is a particularly popular place to go fishing.

If you’re looking for a laid-back good time in a peaceful natural setting, Elk Lake is perfect. Motorboats are banned to help maintain the lake’s sense of calm tranquility. Elk Lake also boasts a beach with excellent swimming, amazing sunsets, miles of hiking trails, and a convenient on-site restaurant that serves some of the best burgers in Oregon.

Photo by: Elk Lake Resort and Marina Facebook

8. Check out the Newberry National Volcanic Monument

Designated in 1990, the Newberry National Volcanic Monument is housed within the beautiful Deschutes National Forest area. It covers about 50,000 acres of unique landforms, including volcanic caldera lakes and obsidian lava flows. Its Lava River Cave and Lava Cast Forest are especially popular tourist draws, with the forest resting atop a lava flow that’s about 6,000 years old. Its haunting molds make excellent photo opportunities.

The site’s Newberry Caldera serves as a camping, hiking, and outdoor recreation base. Campgrounds, indoor lodgings, and an excellent trail network encircle the scenic volcanic lake, which is accessible throughout the year.

7. Tour the Oregon Badlands Wilderness Area

If you want to experience another area filled with fascinating landforms, the Oregon Badlands Wilderness area beckons. Part of the National Landscape Conservation System since 2009, the Oregon Badlands Wilderness is a desert area that houses ancient Native American pictographs, arid canyons, centuries-old juniper trees, and formations of ancient igneous rocks that bear uncanny resemblances to castles. You can also enter the Oregon Desert Trail from the park, as its western end point exits into the badlands.

6. See Stars at the Pine Mountain Observatory

About 25 miles southeast of Bend, you’ll find one of the region’s premier places for gazing up into the heavens. The University of Oregon’s Pine Mountain Observatory serves as one of America’s leading astronomical research centers, and it is open to the public during the summer months. Several powerful telescopes deliver wondrous close-ups of celestial objects, which you can experience for yourself on weekends. The observatory is accessible on Saturdays and Sundays between Memorial Day and the final Sunday in September.

Photo by: Pine Mountain Observatory Facebook

5. Experience the Dreamlike Serenity of Mirror Pond

Central Oregon is brimming with natural lakes, but this artificially created pond is one of its most interesting places. Well worth a visit, Mirror Pond was formed by construction activities dating back to the early years of the 20th century, when the Bend Water, Light & Power Company built a dam to power Bend’s first electricity services. Mirror Pond is now a serene, quiet place to relax, and is surrounded by deciduous and evergreen scenery with snow-capped mountain peaks rising in the background.

4. Enjoy Local Food and Shopping in the Old Mill District

If you’re looking to head indoors for a little while, Bend has a wide range of shopping and dining options, especially considering the city’s relatively cozy size. Its Old Mill District is a great place to start, as this historic quarter of town occupies a pretty perch on the banks of the Deschutes River and houses an intriguing lineup of restaurants, locally owned shops and boutiques, galleries, and bars. Many of the area’s original buildings have been preserved and repurposed into award-wining and innovative mixed-use facilities.

Photo by: Old Mill District Facebook

3. Visit Bend’s Educational Museums

Bend has a long and interesting history, and the city’s story is well-told at the Deschutes Historical Museum and the High Desert Museum. The Deschutes Historical Museum is housed in a heritage schoolhouse, and features exhibits that cover the region’s history from prehistoric times to the pioneer era and beyond. The High Desert Museum is an excellent place to learn more about central Oregon’s deserts and badlands, and it’s a great place to visit either before or after you visit these unique geological regions in person.

Photo by: Deschutes Historical Museum Facebook

2. Attend the Bend Film Festival

If you’re in town during October, the Bend Film Festival is a highly recommended cultural activity. With screenings featuring the latest offerings from the region’s most renowned independent filmmakers, the festival also prioritizes cinema education through a fascinating lecture series.

Known for its staunch support of artistic expression over commercial objectives, the Bend Film Festival is a breath of fresh air on the annual movie circuit. Screenings take place in a range of interesting venues, including state-of-the-art projection rooms as well as historic theaters and eclectic performance spaces.

Photo by: BendFilm Festival Facebook

1. Delve into Oregon’s Storied Past

Bend has 10 sites that are part of the United States’ National Register of Historic Places, with several standouts that reward curious visitors. The Drake Park Historic Neighborhood district is a fantastic place to go for a walk if you want to see some great residential architecture, while the one-of-a-kind Goodwillie-Allen House is the oldest house within Bend’s city limits. Other noteworthy entries on this list include the N.P. Smith Pioneer Hardware Store, which dates to 1909 and stands as a rare and authentic glimpse into the old ways of bygone years, as well as the Gothic Revival-style Trinity Episcopal Church.

Photo by: Ian Poellet via Wikimedia Commons

The Best Places to Live in America

From sea to shining sea, America is a beautiful country filled with varied landscapes, eye-popping attractions and friendly people everywhere you go. Imagine being a new-comer to America and trying to decide where you’re going to call home, a tough task considering there are so many great options. Thankfully the readers of Outside magazine have done the tough work for us, Outside surveyed American’s from all walks of life to find out exactly what makes their hometown so special in order to come up with this list of the 16 best adventure places to live in America this year:

16. Seattle, Washington

Seattle natives aren’t shy to tell you why their city is so special, but spend some time there and you’ll figure it out for yourself pretty quickly. A world-class city in a location that’s abundant with trees, mountains and water, that’s something pretty special. Seattle, known as the Emerald City, has 465 city parks along with Mount Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic National Park, plus six ski resorts within a three-hour drive. Seattle is truly an outdoor-lovers paradise.

Seattle washington

15. Durango, Colorado

Three-time Olympic mountain biker and Durango resident Todd Wells says that people don’t move to Durango for a job. They move here for the world-class biking, kayaking or other outdoor activities and they figure out a way to make it all work. Considering that the average home cost is around $360,000, it will take a bit of work, but Durango is certainly more affordable than many other Rocky Mountain meccas. Whether you’re into hiking, biking, rafting or just appreciate being in the great outdoors, Durango has it all.

Hiker Colorado Trail Durango, Colorado

14. Grand Marais, Minnesota

With a population of only 1,327, Grand Marais doesn’t seem like much at first, but once you understand its location it all starts to make sense. The tiny one-stoplight town sits between Superior National Forest and Lake Superior and is the only municipality in all of Cook County. This makes it the gateway to the 1.1 million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness which lies in the forest to the North. Name pretty much any outdoor activity and you’ll find it going on somewhere, but Grand Marais also has plenty of shops, restaurants and microbreweries for those days when all you really want to do is relax.

Grand Marais, Minnesota

13. Ketchum, Idaho

If you’re a skier, you’ve likely heard of Sun Valley, America’s first ski resort and site of the world’s very first ski lift. Well, Sun Valley is right next door to the town of Ketchum, so naturally it’s a snow-bunny’s paradise. The local’s don’t just stick to the tourist-packed ski areas either; the Pioneers, the Boulders, the White Clouds and the Sawtooth mountain ranges all surround Ketchum providing endless opportunities for world-class skiing of all varieties.

Ketchum, Idaho

12. Bend, Oregon

Imagine a small-scale version of Portland, except with less hipsters and more outdoor adventurers, this is the kind of vibe you’ll get from Bend, Oregon. The city has grown to a population of almost 90,000 and now has 16 microbreweries, a whitewater park and an $11.4 million dollar recreational center, not to mention the resident volcanoes in the Cascades Range. In-town, a hike up Pilot Butte is always a popular activity, while a short drive outside of town will bring you to Mount Bachelor, South Sister and a little further north, Mount Washington. Skiing, mountain biking, hiking and more, Bend provides small city amenities in a picture-perfect outdoor setting.

Bend, Oregon

11. Gunnison, Colorado

When a town’s elevation is higher than its population, you know there’s going to be some great adventures to be had here. Gunnison is located 30 miles north of the famous Crested Butte Mountain Resort, so naturally skiing is a big draw for this town, but it’s not the only activity to be found. the nearby Hartman Rocks is located only a few minutes from town and offers over 8,000 acres of prime hiking, biking and climbing land while Gunnison Whitewater Park is a mecca for paddlers. Recover from all those activities with a beer at High Alpine Brewing Company in town.

Gunnison, Colorado

10. Hanalei, Hawaii

If alpine skiing and snow isn’t really your thing, perhaps the tropical paradise of Hanalei, Hawaii will sound a little more appealing. This town of only 450 people doesn’t have a lot of amenities; you’ll find a grocery store, some cafes, a few board shops and not much else, but what it does have is a lifestyle centered around the ocean. Surfing is a way of life so it’s not uncommon to see locals getting a session in before and after work, but there’s also plenty of other vacation-esq activities like SUP, horseback riding, hiking to waterfalls and of course there are plenty of beaches where you can just sit back and relax.

Hanalei, Hawaii

9. Bellingham, Washington

This small, west-coast city’s nickname doesn’t do it much justice; Bellingham, aka the ‘City of Subdued Excitement’ is actually surrounded by amazing things to see and do for adventurers of all varieties. A short ferry ride away you’ll find the San Juan Islands which provide excellent whale-watching and sea kayaking opportunities, while a 90 minute drive East will get you to the peaks of North Cascades National Park. Combine that with the city’s proximity to other outdoor meccas like Seattle and Vancouver and you can see why this small city has big appeal.

Bellingham, Washington

8. Boise, Idaho

Idaho isn’t all about the spuds, in the city of Boise you’ll find a population over 200,000 and many residents live there strictly for the amazing outdoor options. With a backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, the Boise Foothills provide residents ample opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors and the Ridge to Rivers system makes it easy. This interconnected network of trails and roads courses through the Foothills linking neighborhoods and public lands. with over 190 miles of trails there’s a perfect route and degree of difficulty for everyone.

Playboat Boise, Idaho

7. Ludington, Michigan

This small city of just over 8,000 occupies some of the best waterfront real estate on Lake Michigan and the idyllic lighthouses and sandy beaches are only the beginning. Ludington State Park and the adjoining Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area have a combined ten miles of lakefront property perfect for exploring sandy dunes, camping, hiking, biking, swimming and paddling. In town, the 64-mile Pere Marquette River is a blue-ribbon fishery that flows through Manistee National Forest before reaching the Great Lakes.

Ludington, Michigan

6. Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Colorado has some pretty notable ski and adventure spots, so while you might not have expected a smaller city like Steamboat Springs to appear in this list, residents say it’s the city’s laid-back approach to adventure and the outdoors that has the biggest draw. Of course there is skiing, though Steamboat’s hills are a bit mellower than places like Jackson Hole or Telluride, and the city is also adding to it’s increasing network of bike trails and singletrack. Outdoor companies like Big Agnes, Smartwool and Moots all call Steamboat Springs their home, which should be proof enough that this is someplace worthwhile.

Steamboat Springs, Colorado

5. Taos, New Mexico

Residents of this Norther New Mexico town say “It’s all about the landscape” and when you’re bounded by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains how could it not be? Located were the high desert meets the Rockies, Taos has outdoor fun happening no matter the season. In winter it’s the bone-dry powder at Taos Ski Valley that draws locals and visitors alike, while summer provides it’s own kind of adventure in the form of class IV boating on the Rio Grande or mountain biking on the famous South Boundary Trail.

Taos, New Mexico

4. Yachats, Oregon

Yachats is a significant step down the population ladder from the previously mentioned city of Bend, but don’t let this town of just over 700 fool you, there’s still plenty of action to be found here. If living along one of the most amazing stretches of Pacific Northwest coastline sounds like your kind of thing, or you enjoy fat biking on the beach or strolling the shores at low tide, Yachats is definitely the place for you. After a hike with ocean views along Cape Perpetua, you can head back to enjoy a pint at the newly formed Yachats Brewing and Farmstore.

Yachats, Oregon

3. Denver, Colorado

The capital city of Colorado happens to be one of the fastest growing cities in the country with transplants being drawn to the big city appeal and eye-popping natural setting. There are few places where you can find the amenities of big city life within easy reach of the Rocky Mountains and their world-class skiing, biking and hiking.

Denver, Colorado

2. Jackson, Wyoming

Jackson, Wyoming admittedly has a few negative things stacked against it; the winters are long and cold, it’s a bad area for farming and ranching and the average housing price is north of a cool million. Negatives aside, it’s a small price to pay for living in a place that acts as the gateway to two of the greatest national parks in America. Grand Teton National Park is a mere 7 minute drive from town and the famed Yellowstone National Park is under a 2 hour drive away. With skiing, hiking, mountaineering, fishing, hunting and whitewater all easily accessible, it’s no wonder Jackson lands at number two on the list.

Jackson, Wyoming

1. Billings, Montana

The scrappy city of Billings, Montana comes out on top defeating prime adventure meccas like Denver, Jackson and Bend to be ranked as the Best Adventure Place to Live in America. There’s good reason for this of course, the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area is only a short drive away as is the legendary skiing at Granite Peak. the Bighorn and Stillwater Rivers provide plenty of opportunity for fishing, boating and kayaking and Yellowstone Park is less than a three hour drive away. Locals say the charm of Billings comes from that fact that it’s still really a small town dressed up like a big city. Average housing prices here are still under the $200,000 mark, but don’t expect them to stay there for too much longer. Sorry Billings, your secret is out.

Billings, Montana