If you read my last post about Bend, you’ll know that it’s a bustling mountainous craft beer city in Oregon. But fantastic craft beer aside, it’s also a wonderful place to explore that is known for its adventure activities and beautiful scenery, no matter the season.
The visitor center in Bend uses the tagline: “Bend, Oregon. It’s where you go to play!”, and I couldn’t agree more. Whereas Ashland is centered on theatre and has a slightly older crowd, Eugene is made up of students and hippies, and Portland with the fashionable hipsters, Bend felt like the place people go to have adventures.
From the moment I drove through the little downtown area, I could tell it was a laid-back, gregarious, and fun place to explore.
I visited Bend for just 2 nights and 3 days at the height of their busy summer season, so this post is going to cover summer activities specifically, but the place is also known for versatile winter activities as well and a penchant for snow-based things.
In fact, Bend’s wintertime and skiing activities started in the early 20th century with the influx of Norwegian and Swedish immigrants who worked in the local timber mills. These Scandinavian immigrants made both alpine and cross-country skiing staple activities in Bend’s winter culture. Bend actually has the highest skiable elevation in the Northwest!
With an average of 462 inches of annual snowfall, other popular ways to spend your time in the winter months include dog sledding, snowmobiling, ice skating, snowshoeing, tubing, and Bend’s annual WinterFest in February. I’m already looking forward to the colder months just so I’ll have an excuse to go back.
But enough about winter, I’m here to give you some tips on how to spend a lovely summer weekend in Bend.
In addition to the mountains that give Bend its uniquely elegant scenery, the city and its surroundings also boast cascading rivers, high desert, and pine forests. In other words, all the ingredients for the best outdoor activities. With almost 300 days of annual sunshine, it’s a great place to get out and enjoy the outdoors and reconnect with nature.
The town was originally called Farewell Bend (there is even still a hiking trail named after this), because travelers were so disappointed in having to continue on their journey and leave Bend behind.
Walk Around Downtown and the Old Mill District
When you first arrive in town, grab a coffee from one of the local cafes and just walk around downtown. This was one of my favorite things to do with my downtime between checking out another brewery or on my way to a low-key hike.
There are countless boutique shops, popular restaurants, and colorful alleyways to wander down. I even came across a little farmer’s market when I was just allowing myself to get lost in downtown.
The Old Mill District is slightly south of the city (you’ll probably have to drive or bike there from downtown), and also an area that I enjoyed walking around. There are little signs around the area telling you about the history of the place and the old local timber mills.
The Old Mill District is the place to find a lot of chains and department stores if you’re a fan of shopping, and I mainly saw chain restaurants as well. I would recommend drinking and eating in downtown, but at least strolling around and exploring the Old Mill District. The Deschutes River is right there as well if you wanted to relax by the water.
Go on a Craft Beer Tour
It’s no surprise that Bend has a great craft beer scene, it’s even considered one of the best craft beer capitals in the country. With the great water quality and local brewing talent coming out of Bend, there are more than enough breweries to keep you satisfied while you’re in town.
If you want an all-encompassing look into Bend’s craft beer scene, check out the post I wrote about it here.
Personally, I just did my own little craft beer tour to save money, but there are a bunch of different guided tours you can take that are a bit more social. There is the Cycle Pub, similar to the BrewCycle tour in Portland, and there’s also the popular Bend Ale Trail Beer Tour guide to help you do your own personal tour of the breweries.
Land Sports (Mountain Biking, Hiking, Rock Climbing)
Bend is a haven for outdoor adventurists. Mountain biking, hiking, and rock climbing are all popular activities within the city as well as just a short drive away.
When I was in town I hiked part of the Deschutes River Trail near The Old Mill District, but there are countless other options that I wish I would’ve had the chance to explore while I was there. Outside Magazine has labeled Bend the #1 trail running town in the United States, and with over 200 miles of single track trails, it not hard to see why. A few other favorites to find besides the Deschutes River Trail would be Phil’s Trailhead, the Farewell Bend Trail, and Pilot Butte.
Although I’m not a mountain biker, there are so many options for cyclists that I couldn’t leave it off the list. There are over 300 miles worth of bike trails and everything from easy to “not for the faint of heart” options. There are also a bunch of bike shops in town that offer tours if you’re like me and have never mountain biked before.
Outdoor rock climbing is another activity that I’m not that familiar with, but that Bend is quite popular for as well. Great spots include bouldering at Smith Rock on the Deschutes River Trail, and the famous Smith Rock State Park that is only a short drive north of Bend, where you’ll find the photogenic Monkey Face climb. Again, as with mountain biking and most other outdoor activities, there are tour groups that are willing to take you out if you’re a beginner.
Water Sports (SUP, Tubing, Whitewater Rafting)
I first tried standup paddle boarding in Oahu, and I’m bummed I missed out and didn’t have time to experience it in Bend. This is another activity that has blown up in recent years, and you can usually find SUPers out on the Deschutes River on any given day of the week. You’ll find vendors renting boards near the Old Mill District.
Grabbing an inner tube and floating down the river is a favorite American pastime and Bend is no different. While I was walking along the Deschutes River, towards the Old Mill District, I saw so many families and groups of friends in inner tubes lazily floating down the river, drinking beer, and just having a jolly good time. It’s definitely on my list next time I visit Bend.
Whitewater rafting is a highly popular sport in Oregon in general, so it makes sense that Bend is known for this adrenaline pumping activity as well. Sun Country Tours and the Seventh Mountain River Company are two popular tour groups that offer whitewater rafting excursions from late spring until late fall.
Have a Lake Day Picnic
Although there are a ton of scenic spots to choose from a short distance outside of town, one of the most beautiful has to be the Cascade Lakes just a 40 minutes drive away. Pack a picnic and make a day of exploring this photogenic area, and enjoy the view along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway.
Go on a Stroll through Endless Green Meadows via Horseback
In its versatility, Bend has also been named one of the top 5 equestrian communities in the nation – is there anything Bend isn’t good at? Horseback riding goes back to the lumber mill days in Bend and has been an important part of life since the town’s beginnings.
Popular spots for horse trails include Park Meadow, Deschutes National Forest, and the Three Sisters Wilderness. There are plenty of options for day tours within town.
Find the Many Public Art Pieces Around Town
One of the aspects I love about Bend is the abundance of art around town. I would walk down an alleyway and there would be public art displays on a brick wall or an intriguing statue across the street. It’s fitting that the best art you’ll find is displayed outside and not in a museum.
This can be a part of your coffee break in downtown, but grab a nice drink and simply get lost looking for art around town, you may be surprised at what gems you’ll find hidden around the city. If you’re after more art, make sure to stop by the visitor center to get a map and find out about the Roundabout Art Route too.
Go to a Free Summer Concert
When I was in town, I kept hearing from locals about this great summer concert series at the Les Schwab Amphitheater. The concerts happen every Sunday afternoon from June to July and they’re free! I love events like these that include music and a general bringing together of the community with nice weather and good vibes. Another one to put on my to do list when I come back to Bend.
A Note on Accommodation
If you’ve never tried Airbnb before, Bend is a great place to do it! The locals are unbelievably friendly and the Airbnb I stayed at in North Bend was such a great experience. It was much more luxurious than any hotel at the same price would’ve been.
If you’re interested in staying at the same one I did, check it out here. Stan and Peggy were great hosts, and they have a ridiculously cute Blue Heeler by the name of Marcus.
Bonus – they live just down the street from the BEST breakfast place in Bend, McKay Cottage (lemon ricotta pancakes!!). By the way, I promise I didn’t get paid or have a free stay or anything for saying any of this, it was just truly that good of an experience and I wanted to pay it forward.
Is there anything I missed for a full weekend in Bend? Any other great summer activities you would recommend for this part of Oregon?