Nestled beside Deschutes National Forest in the eastern foothills of the Cascade Mountains, Bend, Oregon, is a dream come true for lovers of the outdoors. Whether planning to fly fish in the Deschutes River, to hike the trails of the Three Sisters Wilderness or to ski the slopes of Mount Bachelor, adventurers often begin their quests from this little city in the heart of Central Oregon’s high desert. No wonder the population nearly doubled during the first decade of the millennium, reaching nearly 77,000 by the 2010 census.
Hard times hit with the real estate bust in 2008, though, crushing Bend’s housing prices faster than any other area in the country. Although the locals jokingly refer to their town as “poverty with a view,” the great news is Bend is gradually emerging from this tough period. Tourism remains as strong it ever was, as the Bend area lays claim to more resorts than any other area in Oregon thanks its picturesque landscape and dry weather, huge selling points for those escaping the rain-soaked corridor west of the Cascades.
Among the top attractions in Bend area are winter sports. Mount Bachelor, 22 miles west of town in Deschutes National Forest, boasts almost 3,700 acres of skiable area, making it one of the largest ski sites in the Pacific Northwest. Downhill skiers share the mountain with cross-country enthusiasts, snowboarders and tubers. And for those in search of something a little different, there are even dog-sled rides!
In warmer weather, life vests and paddles replace skis and ski poles. The Deschutes River, which flows through town, is a major tributary of the Columbia River. Class Three rapids through breath-taking desert vistas of sage and basalt make this river one of the most popular in the state, and a top attraction in Bend.
This largest Oregon town east of the Cascades is not merely a jumping-off spot for outdoor adventures. Balloons Over Bend offers an eclectic blend of adventure, food, music and art. Every year in June the fun begins with a morning launch of 30 balloons, which infuse the sky with a floating palette of bright colors and lively patterns. The festival finale is “Night Glow,” a mega garden party where tethered balloons serve as huge lanterns, while live music, food and beer round out the evening. This all takes place at the Old Mill District, Bend’s picturesque shopping center fashioned out of a historic lumber mill.
Downtown Bend, with its trendy boutiques, hip art galleries and quirky-but-quaint restaurants, offers an alternative to shopping centers. The First Friday Art Walk creates a convivial atmosphere, as patrons stroll through galleries, viewing art, sipping wine and swapping stories. When downtown, be sure to visit Mirror Pond in Drake Park, a jewel in the midst of the city. Ducks, geese and swans populate this charming setting. You might want to start your journey, however, by getting your bearings atop 511-foot Pilot Butte, a volcanic cinder cone that yields a spectacular vista of the high desert and Bend below.