The city of Bend lies in the high desert area of central Oregon. Our timeshare has properties there and we decided to go. I wondered if there would be enough things to do for an entire week. After getting there the problem was narrowing the list of activities to make them fit into a week.
Deserts evoke the feeling of desolate, isolated, hot, and pretty monochromatic. The Central Oregon high desert contains something for just about everyone including trails, rock formations, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, forests, shops, galleries, museums, outdoor artwork, and wildlife. I cannot possibly list all of things to do in the Bend area. Rather, I will describe some of the things we did and include additional links.
I highly recommend purchasing a good guide book such as Bend, Overall by Scott Cook. This book contains 99 places with detailed descriptions, directions, and photos. Note that this book was published in 2010 so prices and some details may no longer be accurate. Use the book to get ideas or places to see and then check online for current details about those places. The places described include trails of all types and skill levels, museums, parks, stores, etc. There are probably other excellent books but this is one that we purchased and use.
I also have a National Park Passport book. The book contains details about the National Parks and also blank space for stamps. Ranger stations normally have an official stamp with the park name and date. Sometimes they have other stamps with emblems or logos for that area. Be sure to stop at the Ranger Stations to get a stamp. While there ask the Rangers about things to see in the area. Rangers usually know their area very well and can give you insights about things to do and places to see. They are a tremendous resource so be sure to visit them and ask questions.
Trails, Trails, and More Trails
The high desert offers trails at almost every turn. You can find easy and scenic trails all the way to extremely challenging trails. You can hike to waterfalls, around lakes and streams, up mountains and rock formations, through forests, and everything in between. Skilled hikers and climbers will find challenging and difficult hikes. Those who are less adventurous can easily find easy hikes with nice scenery. The city of Bend also offers many very nice urban hikes including the river walk.
Central Oregon offers so much that my feeble recommendation list does not do justice to this area. We have only seen a fraction of the sights but here is a list of my favorites from the limited number of attractions that I have seen.
- The Deschutes River Trail includes the Deschutes River and Old Mill Town shopping area. This extremely popular trail offers something for everyone including the old, young, very young, and the dogs. The trail also has lots of structures, benches, artwork, rock formations, plants, etc.
- The town of Sisters is a quaint town with shops, galleries, eateries, and bakeries. It is a nice destination spot or a stop to/from some of the many trails.
- The High Desert Museum has exhibits, videos, animals, live presentations, several buildings, outdoor exhibits including a 1904 sawmill, etc. Their café also made the best grilled cheese sandwich that I have ever eaten.
- The Paulina area has lakes, nice waterfalls, trails, and the Big Obsidian Flow (our favorite).
- Waterfalls including Sahalie/Koosah Falls (same trailhead — seen these), Proxy Falls (not seen this one but heard that it is spectacular, Chush Falls (not seen it), Tumalo Falls (very nice), Benham Falls (more like severe rapids but still nice), Cline Falls (right in the city of Redmond), and many others.
- Petersen’s Rock Garden is a fun and quirky place with handmake sculptures of bridges, buildings, and other objects. The garden has seen better days but we really like mosaics and places that are fun and unusual. Friendly cats and peacocks roam freely and often pose on the sculptures.
- Anyone who likes spectacular rocks, fossils, geodes, and crystals should visit Richardson Thunderegg Ranch when in the area. The store contains items for sale as well as museum-type pieces. For a few dollars you can purchase uncut thundereggs and geodes and have them cut. We picked three different types of geodes and each had an interesting interior when cut. Trick: the lighter geodes are usually more interesting inside.
- The Crooked River Canyon Drive scenic byway winds along the Crooked River and through majestic canyons. This byway contains several campgrounds and lots of amazing scenery.
- The Painted Hills display colors and patterns rarely seen in nature. Most have short trails (<0.5 mile) around the hills to to view points. Getting to the hills is a bit of drive and it can get very hot so plan accordingly.
- Newberry National Volcanic Monument contains the Lava Lands Visitor’s Center, Lava Butte, Benham Falls, a lava tube, numerous trails, and lots of things to see and do. Be sure to visit the top of the butte. The views from the ground are very nice but the views from the top of the butte are spectacular.
- While in Redmond be sure to visit the Peter Skene Ogden Scenic Viewpoint. The park contains some exciting views of the river and gorge. One view point lies below an old-school steel railroad trestle. I would not make a special trip here but when you are passing by be sure to stop for a few minutes.
- The Ochoco Viewpoint overlooks Prineville and is definitely worth a stop if you are in the area
This is NOT a comprehensive list and the area offers many more activities and attractions. Find the activities that suit you and be sure the area offers PLENTY of things to do. Ask the locals and park Rangers for their opinions about what to see and do.
Driving in Bend
Bend is fun place to explore but the roads are goofy. My impression is that a 1960s hippie who indulged in too many psychedelic drugs, flunked out of art school, took up civil engineering, became senile years later, and then designed the roads in Bend after smoking a truck full of weed. Very few roads are straight (the roads in Bend actually do bend), roundabouts abound, and some one-way streets add to the confusion. I could not get from our room to the freeway without a GPS. One night we were trying to find one of their cool supermarkets (Market of Choice) and the car GPS and phone GPS could not get us there. We finally found an Albertson’s and shopped there. After leaving the parking lot we drove for about a minute right past the other market.
In rush hour the roads can get REALLY clogged due to the roundabouts. I mean backed-up for about a 1/4 mile. One exit off I-95 requires a left turn onto a major busy road and it took us about five minutes to get across. The only way I got across was a nice police officer was stuck in the left turn lane of the perpendicular street. He made a gap a gap for and waved us through when their was a break in the opposing traffic.
Do not be afraid to get off on a wrong exit. Let your GPS route you to your destination and take the opportunity to look around. Bend has public artwork all over town but especially in the roundabouts. Take alternate roads and look for artwork (see Roundabout Art Route) and other interesting sights. We even found a brochure describing various public art pieces and their locations. In short, if you get lost in Bend don’t panic. Just drive slowly, look around, and enjoy looking at the nice home, the cool landscaping, and the fantastic public artwork.
Length: 2-3 miles roundtrip
Elevation: 4,800′ (low), 5,200′ (high)
Permits: Wilderness permit required
From Sisters, OR take Elm Street (Road 16) south for 7 miles
Turn right on Road 1514 for 4.8 miles to Road 600
Follow Road 600 for 2 miles
Turn left on Road 680 and continue for 0.3 miles
Length: 1.5 miles one-way to Falls
Permits: Wilderness permit required
From Sisters, OR take Hwy242 (McKenzie Scenic Highway) for about 28 miles to the parking area
From Sisters, OR take Hwy 22 south for 15 miles (towards Detroit) of Hwy 22/20 split
Turn on Marion Creek Road at MP 6.5
Continue 3.3 miles to FS 850 and the green gate is the access point for Gooch Falls
Trailhead is about 1 mile past the gate