Located in Central Oregon, Bend is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the state. In the winter, there’s plenty of skiing on nearby volcanic peaks and in the summer people flock to the river, the mountains, and the waterfalls. It truly is an outdoor lover’s paradise and there are so many things to do in Bend!
We recently had the chance to spend a few days in Central Oregon and stayed at Sunriver Resort, near Bend. While it’s not technically IN Bend, it’s only about fifteen minutes away so it’s totally possible to combine visits to Sunriver and Bend when you’re exploring Central Oregon. So without further ado, let’s get to all the fun things to do in the Bend area!
NEWBERRY NATIONAL VOLCANIC MONUMENT
Before planning this trip, I didn’t realize that most of the mountains in the Pacific Northwest are actually volcanoes. I mean, I knew about Mount St Helens and Mount Rainier, but I didn’t realize that many of the other peaks (Adams, Hood, Baker, etc) were also volcanic. When I saw that Wanderlust Tours offers a Volcano Tour of the Newberry Caldera, it became the #1 thing on our list of places to see – and I’m SOOOO glad that we went.
First things first, Wanderlust Tours is absolutely phenomenal – and if you’re staying at Sunriver Resort, they can pick you up right at the lodge instead of meeting in Bend. All of their tours are given by highly qualified naturalists. Our guide, Kiana, was great with the kids, kept them engaged the whole time, and knew so much about the area we were exploring. Again, highly recommend Wanderlust Tours if you’re visiting the Central Oregon area!
So back to Newberry National Volcanic Monument. It’s made up of over 50,000 acres of land and runs from just north of Lava Butte (where the Lava Lands Visitor Center is) to the Newberry Caldera at the south. For our tour, we focused on the Newberry Caldera area – and for those that aren’t familiar, caldera refers to the crater at the top of a volcano that is created when the sides of the volcano collapse as the magma chamber is emptied. The Newberry caldera covers 17 square miles and the volcano itself covers roughly 1200 square miles – about the size of Rhode Island! – and is still active seismically and geothermally. The Newberry caldera was formed about 75,000 years ago during a massive eruption, and as the crater collapsed, East Lake and Paulina Lake were created inside the caldera.
With our trusty guide, we ventured out to the Big Obsidian Lava Flow Trail. The Big Obsidian Lava Flow formed just 1300 years ago and it’s the youngest lava flow in the state. The one-mile trail takes you up several flights of stairs and across rocky terrain as you climb 200 feet through the lava flow of obsidian (black glass) and pumice. But the views are amazing, especially seeing the juxtaposition of volcanic rock against the green of the forest.
Because it’s part of the national park system, you cannot take the obsidian that you find in Newberry National Volcanic Monument. If you want to find some to take home, head to Glass Buttes where you can legally collect the volcanic glass.
Unfortunately for us, the blue skies quickly turned gray so we did not do the drive up to Paulina Peak – the highest point in the park. Instead, we headed over to Paulina Lake and hiked several miles of the 7.5 mile Paulina Lake Loop Trail. Well, first we took a break on the shore of Paulina Lake and had a quick snack, and enjoyed the peace and quiet.
While I was originally upset that we didn’t spend more time on the lava flow (due to weather), I am so glad that we had the opportunity to check out this trail. The lake is absolutely GORGEOUS and we learned so much about the ecology and geology of the area from our guide. The kids now know how to tell what kind of pine tree it is by the needle configuration – something we never would have learned without a guide!
The kids all have these packable jackets from Amazon and they are perfect for traveling. They roll up super small and have their own carrying bag so they take up minimal room when we’re traveling. They’re water-resistant and warm enough for cool fall days – though I would definitely pack something heavier for winter travel.
Mount Bachelor, on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, is a popular skiing destination in Central Oregon, and the slopes are less than half an hour from Bend or Sunriver Resort. If you’re visiting in the summer, you can ride the scenic chairlift and check out the views of the neighboring Three Sisters peaks, Broken Top, and some of the Cascade Lakes as you make your way up Mt Bachelor.
At the top, the kids enjoyed playing in the end-of-season snow, but the real highlight was the views. Well, the views + the thrill of riding the chairlift! I’d love to come back at some point in the future and take the kids skiing (or snowboarding, depending on the kiddo!).
Less than half an hour from Bend, Tumalo Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in the Bend/Sunriver area. At almost 100-feet (its height is contested and measurements range from 89-97 feet), it is the tallest waterfall on Tumalo Creek and is quite impressive. You can easily see the falls and Tumalo Creek from the lookout right by the parking lot, but it’s even more impressive the closer you get to the falls.
To get a better look, you can hike up to the Tumalo Falls Viewpoint overlooking the top of the falls. It’s about a half-mile roundtrip, on the well-established North Fork Trail, though it is pretty steep. On our way up, we got to a trail junction and the big kids opted to take the unmarked, but well-worn, trail behind the base of the falls. There are no guardrails or anything, so definitely do this one at your own risk.
BEND FOOD TRUCKS
The food cart/truck scene is craaaazy in Bend! I read somewhere that there are more than 200 different ones in Deschutes County (where Bend is located). But these food trucks don’t just pull up along the curb in the downtown area, they congregate in pods so you can visit multiple trucks in one evening. Or, in our case, I just handed each kid $20 and told them to go get whatever they wanted to eat. Nick opted to visit the Himalayan Bites food cart and thoroughly enjoyed his Nepalese/Tibetan food.
One of the great things about these pods is that have open space for running around or laying out a picnic blanket, and many of them have picnic tables and firepits plus beer, wine, and other refreshments! This food cart pod is called On Tap and is located on Bend’s Eastside – it was voted the best food truck lot in 2020!!
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN BEND
Not surprisingly, we didn’t have time to do it all while we were in Bend. You could easily spend a week exploring the area and STILL not see it all. If we had more time, we definitely would have made sure to:
- FLOAT THE DESCHUTES – This is a quintessential Bend activity! You can rent a tube + personal flotation device or bring your own. Tumalo Creek has packages available that include your tube + PFD along with a shuttle so you don’t have to walk back to your car when you’re done. Make sure to bring along water shoes, sunscreen, and plenty of water if you’re going to float the river!
- HIGH DESERT MUSEUM – Learn all about the native wildlife and the history of the high deserts of Central Oregon at this impressive museum. The High Desert Museum is great for both kids and adults and the Autzen Otter Exhibit is a can’t miss!
- LAVA CAVES – There are several different lava caves to explore in the Bend area. Lava River Cave is part of Newberry National Volcanic Monument and has a self-guided tour of the mile-long lava tube – it’s also the longest one in the state! Wanderlust Tours also does tours of lava caves, though not at Lava River Cave, and I definitely would have signed up for one if we had time.
So, have you visited Bend or Central Oregon before?? Have any favorite places to visit that we missed?? Leave us a note in the comments with your faves!!