Summer is always about packing in as much as possible. From sun up to sun down, adventure, fun, food and entertainment abound, and the test is to see how much you can do before fall. This year more than ever, we’re beyond ready to soak up every summer experience we can. Here’s our round up of some of the very best, tried-and-true, don’t-miss experiences to be had in Central Oregon during the sunny summer season.
Some said this would be the summer the music died. COVID-19 took a huge toll on the music and performance scene this spring, and it’s still true that this summer, we will not be lining up to get the perfect spot at Les Schwab Amphitheater for what once looked like a pretty awesome concert season.
But music, it turns out, is way too important to our hearts and souls to stay down long. Many local venues and musicians created music to share digitally throughout the spring, and many are beginning to dip their toes into delivering live music—safely, with social distancing, and adhering to state requirements—this summer.
Here are a few options that were popping up at press time to get you your music fix this summer.
River’s Place Taphouse and Food Cart Yard plans to host regular live music from its small outdoor stage a couple of times a week.
The Tower Theatre has considered many creative options, including a drive-up movie night or a local musician’s showcase. Watch the website.
Sisters Folk Festival debuted The Bandwagon, a flatbed trailer on which bands play for small socially distanced crowds, while touring neighborhoods. Stay tuned for more events like this.
Volcanic Theatre Pub opened their doors in early June after months of closure, with small events planned throughout the summer.
Surf or Float
Build a surfing wave in the middle of town? Five years ago, Bend Parks and Rec said, sure, why not. Now the Bend Whitewater Park in McKay Park near the Colorado Bridge is the place to be on a hot summer day. The sandy beach or the footbridge are great places to watch the action (mind Parks and Rec guidance for social distancing). Surfers line up to hop on the wave, catching a ride for as long as they are able before splashing out into the current.
Maybe you’re one of those surfers—in that case, bring your board, your wetsuit, your patience and your courage and get in line. For just a taste of the whitewater, rent or buy a floatie, follow the rules of the river and float your way from the Old Mill District to downtown. The mellower rolling rapid for floating courses right by the wave park, giving you a close-up view of the surfers of Bend.
A tried and true Oregon tradition, a summer without camping is like a campfire without s’mores. When some campgrounds reopened in late May, outdoor lovers rejoiced. Try these three camping spots for tent, RV or car-top tent camping this season.
Camp Sherman, a mere 45-minutes from Bend, is a reliably peaceful getaway for its old-timey feel and cell-service free airwaves. A series of small campgrounds run by the US Forest Service front the scenic Metolius River. Make reservations in advance and fish and relax under a canopy of trees.
La Pine State Park fronts the Deschutes River under ponderosa and lodgepole pine. Plenty of sites and small crowds make this place popular. Bring your mountain bike and hit one of the nearby trails.
Tumalo State Park is tucked under rimrock along the Deschutes River northwest of town. Plan ahead and score one of seven yurts onsite, or bring a tent or RV.
Desert rivers were made for trout fishing. Tour these four awesome fishing rivers around Central Oregon and see how many trout you can catch this summer.
The Crooked River winds through a sagebrush desert under stunning rimrock between Prineville Reservoir and Prineville. Stay upstream towards the dam for the best luck at catching this river’s fine desert rainbows.
The Deschutes River is Central Oregon’s main attraction, and offers plenty of places to fish along its banks and in its waters. Choose a spot along Cascade Lakes Highway to try your fly, or head north to the lower Deschutes for lots of action. Between Trout Creek and Maupin you’ll find some big water and even bigger rainbow trout.
The Metolius River winds past Camp Sherman and is as beautiful as it is tricky to fish. Here you’ll find bull trout and some rainbow trout, as well as a narrow and brushy river with super clear, cold and flat water. The trout here are really great at hiding from you, so if you catch one, your bragging rights are well-earned.
The Fall River is one of the lesser known in the area, though it boasts a fish hatchery that makes its rainbow trout count plentiful. There are plenty of quiet, lovely places to cast your line here, under giant ponderosa pines.
Sometimes you just want to let someone else show you the sights and thrills. If that’s the case, there are plenty of tour operators ready to take the wheel and show off what Central Oregon has to offer.
Guides with Bend’s Wanderlust Tours offer guided hiking trips or can take you on the water somewhere new. Check out the Brews & Views canoe tour, where a naturalist will show you around a pristine mountain lake and you’ll get to sample brews from Cascade Lakes Brewing Company.
For a high desert rambling experience, book an ATV tour with Bend’s Outriders Northwest. Tour operators will guide as you drive through old lava flows and show you where to spot wildlife near Bend, Sunriver and the Newberry National Volcanic Monument.
For a tour with less adrenaline, The Bend Tour Company offers walking or open-air electric car tours of downtown and the Old Mill District, with guides full of knowledge about the city’s history, arts and culture—even a local will learn a thing or two they didn’t know before.
Also in town, several companies offer tours of the local brewery scene, including Cyclepub, which offers the fun experience of pedaling through town from one tasting to another.
For a short but steep hike with a payoff of amazing 360-degree views of the Cascade Range, make the climb up Black Butte. Find the trailhead west of Sisters and power up the 1.9-mile trek to the summit, gaining 1,600 feet of elevation along the way. It’s not an easy hike, but it’s worth it. Travel through ponderosa pine and wildflowers and peer down to the golf courses of Black Butte Ranch below as you get higher, eventually arriving near the base of a fire lookout actively used today. Complete the full loop for a 3.6 mile hike.
For a hike on a trail along rushing waters, follow Century Drive out of town to the Meadow Camp picnic area, which is a good starting point for the Upper Deschutes River Trail. Take the full 8.5 mile trail to Benham Falls, or opt for just a section from Meadow Camp to Lava Island, Lava Island to Dillon Falls or Dillon Falls to Benham Falls for shorter hikes. All the options have lots of shade and parallel the river.
For great views within Bend, follow the road or trail that spirals around Pilot Butte. At the top, informational signs point out the mountains of the Cascade Range and all of Bend can be seen in the foreground. To the east, see the Paulinas and the Ochocos. Take a break on a bench and enjoy the breeze before heading back down to complete the 1.8 mile out-and-back hike.
There’s a reason Bend is often named among the best mountain biking cities in the country, and hitting the trail should be a must on the summer to-do list. Grab a helmet, dust off your bike or pick up a rental and find a new trail to explore.
Set out on an all-day adventure riding from Paulina Peak down the Newberry Crater Rim Trail, through lava flows and thick forest. Or head out to Smith Rock State Park to power over hard-packed clay and sand and among towering rock formations.
Stay tame with a relatively flat trek along the Deschutes River Trail as it winds south out of Bend, or ride into the Phil’s Trail network, southwest of town, for endless combinations of riding on hundreds of miles of trails.
Go big with downhill biking at Mt. Bachelor Ski Area, where lifts will drop you at the top of about a dozen miles of trails to explore, including the resort’s new advanced jump line trail, Redline, a flowy track full of berm jumps, rollers and table tops under the Red Chair lift.
When it’s hot it’s good and when it’s cold it’s…good. What’s summer without a dip in a chilly alpine lake? These five lakes are the best for swimming.
Elk Lake’s South Beach is a perennial Bend favorite, which means it can also be busy. Get there early and stake your claim on a little piece of beachfront paradise, Central Oregon style. The flatwater means paddling as well as swimming is easy here.
Suttle Lake’s beach hugs the lake all around its eastern end, offering a view down the length of this oblong-shaped body of water. Wade out quite a ways before it gets deep, or kick your inner tube out a little deeper.
South Twin Lake is great for kids. It’s shallow, warm and small. Rent a pedal boat and some life jackets and keep your offspring entertained and happy. Grab a burger at the restaurant after.
Scout Lake is another hidden gem that’s great for families. Also small and shallow, the kids can practically walk the whole thing later in the summer when the water gets low. Set them loose with a float ring and relax on shore.
Lake Billy Chinook holds the biggest water around, so here’s where you go to jump in and dive deep. This lake is known for motor boating, boat houses and leaping in for the biggest splash of the day.
Drinking craft beverages outdoors in Bend is a well-honed artform, and not all patios are created equal. Here are some of our favorite places for grabbing a drink outside.
West Bend’s GoodLife Brewing is tucked away in a small development off Fourteenth Street, but behind the tall fence is a huge yard, with ample room for food trucks, a fire pit with adirondack chairs, lawn games and space for spreading out with friends, kids, dogs and of course, with a good beer in your hand.
Enjoy beers and great food at 10 Barrel Brewing Co., a modestly-sized brewery on Galveston Avenue. In the summer, bartenders flip back and forth between serving the indoor bar and open bar window outside.
Bring your own blanket or plan to snag a picnic table on the lawn at Crux Fermentation Project, where you can sample a variety of brews, Crux cider or the latest barrel-aged varieties on tap. Order from the food trucks alongside the lawn, or from Crux’s own menu of sandwiches, pizza, salads or a pretzel.
Monkless Brewing offers tasty Belgian beer flights or specialty cocktails with a fun view. Grab a spot on the back patio, up above the Deschutes River near the Box Factory and Old Mill District. Peer over the balcony to see tubers prepare to splash down the rapids and enjoy tasty eats like bratwurst or a schnitzel sando.
Downtown’s Bend Brewing Co. pops up a tent outside in the summer for serving a few of their signature brews, or you can stop inside for the full selection. Claim a picnic table on the lawn for a big group, park yourself at the high top open seating along the building’s outside wall or be seated on the back patio for full restaurant service.