Top Outdoor Things to Do in Central Oregon
With many days of sunshine each year and plenty of public lands for making the most of those sunny days, we could fill two internets with all there is to do in Central Oregon’s outdoors. Instead, we’ll run down the top outdoor activities—along with when and where to enjoy them.
Hiking and Backpacking: Take your pick: hike into arid river canyons and alpine meadows, alongside emerald-green waterways, through high desert terrain, and amidst lush forests of ponderosa pine or Douglas fir. Whatever your preferred topography, you’ll find plenty to love on hikes and backpacking trips throughout Central Oregon. Best of all: That wide variety of ecosystems makes hiking a year-round thrill. If you’re looking for an escape to nature without a long drive, consider a jaunt on the Deschutes River Trail at the southern edge of Bend. If you’re ready to hit the trail, learn more about hiking in Central Oregon.
Downhill Skiing & Snowboarding: By Thanksgiving, Bendites are waxing their skis, watching the forecast, and not-so-patiently awaiting fresh powder on Mount Bachelor—the largest ski resort in the Pacific Northwest and the sixth-largest in North America. Bachelor boasts more than 4,300 skiable acres—and is home to 101 runs with up to 3,365 feet of vertical drop. Another popular resort is Hoodoo Ski Area outside Sisters; Hoodoo boasts a family-friendly skiing and tubing experience—and is the only resort for night-skiing in the region. (Looking for other winter sports? Check out our roundup of the best outdoor winter activities in Central Oregon.)
Mountain Biking: Just a short ride from downtown Bend, the network of mountain bike paths at Phil’s Trail are the stuff of legend: Beginner routes and more technical sections—where some paths are covered with rocks or boulder gaps—intermingle for an experience that demands repeat rides. South of Sunriver, the trails at LaPine State Park offer easy riding through a stately forest of ponderosa pine. Learn more about mountain biking in Central Oregon.
Paddling: Truth is, we could write an entire article on where to go kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding around Central Oregon—but we’ll do our best to narrow it down. The lakes that give the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway its moniker are naturally popular (especially Sparks Lake, boasting views of South Sister, and the turquoise Devils Lake), as is the Deschutes River through the heart of Bend. For a quieter experience, head to Lake Billy Chinook at The Cove Palisades State Park near Madras, where three rivers come together in a manmade reservoir, or one of the two lakes within the Newberry Volcano caldera.
Floating the Deschutes River: When summer arrives, there is no better way to beat the heat than with a float on the Deschutes River. If you have your own tube and a ride, head to the quieter reaches near Tumalo State Park; otherwise, it’s easy to rent a tube in Bend, float through the heart of town, enjoy a shuttle back to your starting point—and then do it all over again. Interested in other flavors of summertime fun? Learn more about top outdoor activities in Central Oregon.
Road Cycling: All over Central Oregon, road cyclists get to enjoy a variety of experiences that can’t happen anywhere else. Each spring, for instance, the McKenzie Highway near Sisters opens to cyclists several weeks before automobiles get to enjoy the scenic drive over McKenzie Pass. That gives riders a safe opportunity to pedal alongside towering snow drifts, through fields of basalt lava flows, past alpine lakes, and into the heart of towering Douglas fir forests. Wondering what else awaits around the next bend? Learn more about road cycling in Central Oregon.
Rock Climbing: Not far from Redmond, Smith Rock State Park famously gave birth to sport climbing in the United States and today hosts nearly 2,000 routes on its cinnamon-hued rock formations—earning widespread acclaim as one of the top climbing destinations not just in Central Oregon, but in the United States. Beginners, meanwhile, gravitate toward the quieter Meadow Camp climbs beyond the southeastern edge of Bend; there the basalt cliffs range from 20 to 40 feet high and are almost entirely vertical.
Whitewater Rafting: Whether you’re looking for a thrill ride close to town or something a bit more remote, you’ll find plenty to love around Central Oregon. The Big Eddy Thriller, for instance, boasts exciting class III rapids just outside of Bend—and is among the most popular rafting trips anywhere in Central Oregon. Further downstream, the Deschutes churns to a boil near the community of Maupin, where whitewater rafters tackle the river’s adrenaline-pumping rapids—some appropriately imbued with ominous names like Devil’s Hole and the Elevators. (Interested in a guide to lead your next outdoor adventure—on or off the water? Learn more about guided tours in Central Oregon.)