A sanctuary for nature lovers and a beacon for the microbrew scene, Bend proves that good things really do come in small packages.
Nestled between the Cascade Mountains and Central Oregon’s desert plateaus, the quaint, former lumber town offers myriad ways to play outside year-round along with a dizzying array of craft breweries. Whether you visit Bend to explore the hiking trails or the ale trail, be forewarned, many who visit return, often for good.
Hit the Trails
You don’t have to plan a day trip to get in a good hike. The Deschutes River Trail is easy to hop on from almost anywhere in the city, making it one of the most popular spots to run, walk, and bike. The path runs along both sides of the Deschutes River from Meadow Camp to Benham Falls, ranging from paved areas in town to single track dirt paths through the forest. The full loop (over eight miles) can be easily shortened by taking one of the many bridges that cross the river, a life force that flows through the city.
Another hike that offers a quick reward for your efforts is Tumalo Falls (Tumalo Falls Rd.), where a majestic view of the 100-foot falls is just a few steps from the parking lot. Continue your waterfall hunt on the North Fork Trail toward Happy Valley. Show some love to your feet with a quick dip in the gurgling springs you meet along the way.
The gorgeous Green Lakes Trail, one of the most popular in the area, is just an hour from downtown, off the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. Photo-worthy waterfalls and ancient lava flows will happily distract you on your ascent through the forest to the alpine meadows surrounding the lake. Breathe in the hard-earned view of Broken Top and South Sister’s impressive peaks reflected off the lake as you pause for a picnic or a swim before heading back.
For a totally different experience, explore the Lava River Cave (off Cottonwood Rd.), formed from an eruption around 80,000 years ago. The one-mile trail gives you just a taste of the 5,211-foot lava tube, the longest of its kind in the state. Temperatures drop as you descend, so bring a jacket and flashlight along with your sense of adventure – some sections open into high-ceilinged echo chambers, while others require crawling on your knees.
When snow and ice take over the hiking trails, hit the slopes instead. The beauty of Mount Bachelor is that it acts much smaller than it is. The sixth largest ski area in the U.S. does without the fancy frills of major ski resorts. Without the distractions of lodging and a ski village, Bachelor invites skiers and snowboarders to escape into nature for a day truly spent out on the mountain.
Epic adventures aren’t the only way to enjoy a little fresh air in Bend. Pack a picnic for a leisurely day spent admiring Mount Bachelor’s reflection off Mirror Pond at Drake Park (777 NW Riverside Blvd.). As the event-packed summer months lead into the fall, the park’s iconic view is made all the more awe-inspiring by the kaleidoscope of colors gracing the trees.
Shevlin Park (18920 NW Shevlin Park Rd.) is another prime picnicking area. There you can fish or take a walk along the extensive network of trails and pathways, perfect for cross-country skiing during the winter.
When tired of land, get on the water. Bend Whitewater Park (near the Old Mill District), created from a renovated dam on the Deschutes River, breaks into three channels: a floater channel for tubers and stand-up paddle boarders, a whitewater channel for surfers and kayakers, and a wildlife preservation channel. For a relaxing river rendezvous, hop in on a tube or board at the Riverbend Park in the Old Mill District and wave at the jealous onlookers as you float down river, ending downtown at the picturesque Drake Park.
Though you may spend your day on the trails, when hunger strikes you’ll be able to find much more than gorp. Start your outdoor adventure with breakfast on the lawn at McKay Cottage (62910 O. B. Riley Rd.). Whether you choose the classic or creative versions, like the Baja Chicken Hash Stack, the eggs benedicts are always crowd favorites, along with the marionberry scones and pecan sticky buns.
By the looks of Palmer’s Cafe (645 NE Greenwood Ave.), you’d never tag the dated diner, hitched to a motel as a local gem. But you’ll feel lucky if you actually score a parking spot and even luckier after the first bite of their breakfast classics. Comfort food at its best.
For a fast meal that doesn’t taste like fast food, grab a bite at Planker Sandwiches (824 NW Wall St.) downtown. The chutneys, spreads, and relishes that give their creations a creative pop are all made in-house, likewise for their roasted meat and braised pork. Mingle mid-day with a BLTA (bacon, lettuce, tomato, and avocado on ciabatta), tuna club, or pulled pork sandwich with apple chutney.
There’s more to love about happy hour at Barrio (915 NW Wall St.) than the drink specials. Along with a friendly priced margarita, you can also save on some of the highlights of their Latin American, Spanish-inspired menu, like the house paella, Sonoran hot dog, and selection of tacos. No one will blame you if you linger longer to check out the delights on the full dinner menu.
For American food with a southern twist, head downtown to Zydeco Kitchen & Cocktails (919 NW Bond St.). Give your taste buds a spicy wake-up call by kicking off your meal with the barbecue shrimp appetizer. Better yet, order a few starters to share. Sides, like the truffle mac and cheese and roasted vegetables that accompany the barbecued baby back ribs, hold their own, making you wish they weren’t just a side after all.
Do yourself a favor and do not leave Bend without discovering the Ocean Roll, even if you have to grab one at Sparrow Bakery (2748 NW Crossing Dr. #10 and 50 SE Scott St.) along with your coffee on the way to the airport. Like all of the bakery’s pastries, the rolls are freshly made from scratch. Buttery croissant dough is layered with cardamom, vanilla, and sugar; an interesting twist on a cinnamon roll that pairs well with strong coffee.
With more breweries per capita than any other city in Oregon, Bend has become a craft beer mecca. To make the most of your time while navigating the mind-boggling array of breweries, check out the official Bend Ale Trail map from Vistbend.com. Better yet, download the app.
For an insider’s view of your beer’s journey from the grains to your pint glass, start with a tour and tasting at Deschutes Brewery & Pub (875 NW Brooks St.). What began as a small public house in 1988 has bloomed into one of the largest craft breweries in the United States. Check out the seasonal pours along with classics like their Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Black Butte Porter, and Fresh Squeezed IPA. Be sure to balance your imbibing with some grub from the pub.
Or, head over to another classic brewery, Bend Brewing Company (1019 NW Brooks St.). Enjoy award-winning beauties like the Volkssekt Berliner Weisse, Black Diamond Dark Lager, and Baltic Porter along with your meal on the outdoor patio overlooking Mirror Pond.
What’s uniquely Bend is the surprising places you’ll find beer and cider on tap and often available to take home in a growler: a re-usable beer jug. Much more than a bike shop, Crow’s Feet Commons (875 NW Brooks St.) prides itself as a community hangout. Their taproom offers craft brews from around the corner and across the globe. Non-beer drinkers will appreciate the unique wine list, thoughtfully curated like their rotating selection of beers and cider. If you’re craving a different kind of buzz, grab a coffee and settle into an Adirondack chair outside for yet another memorable view of the Cascade Mountains and Deschutes River.
The old mill turned urban hub known as the Box Factory (550 SW Industrial Way) is home to a variety of new hotspots to drink, nibble, and shop. Visit Atlas Cider’s taproom to find out for yourself why they’re home to Oregon’s most popular craft cider. Enjoy a made-from-scratch meal along with a beer and, if your timing is right, live music at The Brown Owl, a former food truck favorite that found a stationary home at the Factory. If the stories behind local brewers leave you feeling inspired, head to Immersion Brewing where you can make your own beer (48 bottles-worth) using one of the brewery and pub’s 30 different recipes.
Whether you’re on the go or longing to take a bit of Bend home with you, Growler Guys has you covered. Check out their rotating selection of 30 beers on tap along with 6 kombuchas and fizzy fermented tea at the Chevron station on the West Side (1400 NW College Way). Fill up a growler along with your tank. Yes, that’s right. A taproom at a gas station.
For the inside scoop on the best places to eat, play and stay in Central Oregon, check out visitcentraloregon.com.