Welcome to Bend, an adventurer’s paradise and cool kids’ hangout for culture, food and drink. With countless great shops, boutiques and restaurants popping up every year, and endless outdoor activities year-round, Bend has become the place to be. Add frequently sunny skies, the walkable shopping districts and some of the best local brewing in the nation, and it’s no wonder so many people come to visit every year—and then move here for good.
Now that you’re here, how do you make the most of it? We’ve rounded up a collection of fun facts about Bend—what visitors want to know, and locals think they should already know. Here you’ll learn everything from how to deal with a roundabout, how to float the river and what’s with that volcano in the middle of town?
Where am I?
Bend is near the middle of the state of Oregon, which is sandwiched between Washington and California on the West Coast. This town of around 100,000 is situated at the base of the eastside of the Cascade Mountains, in the rain shadow (Google it). Bend sits on the borders of the Deschutes National Forest and Central Oregon’s high desert, meaning we’re surrounded by a uniquely diverse array of outdoor activities.
Using the town as a home base, visitors and locals alike can get to some of the most beautiful spots in Central Oregon in less than an hour’s drive, like Smith Rock to the north, Mount Bachelor and the Cascades to the west, and the Newberry Volcanic area deep in the Deschutes National Forest to the south, just to name a few. Lots of people choose to remain in Bend, where there is more than enough to keep you occupied.
What’s with all the logging references?
In the beginning, there were trees. And then, there were lumber mills. The Old Mill District is called that for a reason—two huge lumber mills sat on the banks of the Deschutes River in the early decades of the 1900s, and their efforts fueled the town. Ranchers and farmers were here on the curve of the Deschutes River known as Farewell Bend then, too. (Did you catch that just now? That’s how Bend got its name).
These early workers were pioneers, laying the foundation of what would become an amazing little city. Their history and the history of Bend can be seen on the plaques that scatter our parks, as well as on the walls of some historic downtown buildings. To learn more about our pioneer past, check out the Deschutes Historical Museum downtown and the High Desert Museum just south of town.
Why is everyone so friendly?
Well, why not? The attitude you’ll find around town is reminiscent of Bend’s small-town roots. People are friendly and offer help when they think you need it. It would be a challenge to push a dead car through downtown without a crowd of people coming to push alongside you. We’re wary of big businesses, and, especially during this pandemic, we try to support locals as much as possible.
It’s the unique locals of Bend that make this place so great. This town is full of creative and hardworking people who are making strides in industries new and old, from the exploding brewery scene to local artisans crafting their art. We also care a lot about our landscapes and taking care of them, and we hope you will too.
So, is Bend rural or urban?
A little bit both. With rural roots, and a population explosion in the past twenty years, one can expect to find a uniquely blended culture around town. Visitors find steakhouses next to vegetarian restaurants, micro-breweries next to sports bars, and Western line dancing and axe throwing next to neon lit nightclubs. Bend is a little country, a little trendy, and we like it that way.
There are a lot of people in the river. How do I do that?
A) Rent or buy a floatie. B) Don water-friendly clothes including footwear and a personal floatation device. C) Get in the river somewhere in the Old Mill District (Riverbend Park is a great choice). D) Float, splash, laugh, safely navigate the water park! E) Use the convenient Ride the River shuttle, which loops between downtown and the Old Mill District in the summer, to return to where you started.
While you’re in the river, keep these things in mind. It is illegal to jump off bridges into water in Bend. It is equally illegal to drink alcohol or consume drugs—legal or otherwise—in the river. Leave no trace and take your garbage home. And wear a life jacket, for Pete’s sake!
Trails and Trails and Trails
The mountains are calling, and I must go. Are there trails up there?
So many! The trails in the Cascades are amazing! But here’s what you need to know—a new permit system has been put in place this year to cap the number of people on the trails in the Central Cascade region of the Deschutes and Willamette national forests. In this new system, which applies to all trails in the region from May 28 to September 24, visitors must purchase a day-use or overnight hiking pass. Don’t worry, it’ll only run you up to six dollars. There is a daily cap on hikers per trail, so check for a permit a week before your planned hike. Why is this new system in place, you ask? This is just one extra measure put in place to help make sure that we can all enjoy Bend’s nearby trails. Take a map, too, and food and water. We want you to come back safely.
And a word about poop.
Whether you are in the company of a horse, a dog or some other furry friend out around town or on the trails, be sure to have a plan to deal with their business when they answer the call of nature.
Okay, I’m ready to go play. Where shall I go for a walk?
This town was built with trail networks in mind. In town and out, trails can connect people with some of the most beautiful landscapes, views and parks around. Hiking to the top of Pilot Butte will give you a 360-degree view of Bend and the surrounding landscape, while the twelve-mile Deschutes River trail provides a look at how urban developments and the natural environment come together. Shevlin Park has 652 acres to explore with paved and unpaved trails. Finally, a stroll through Drake Park might be one of the most relaxing things you can do in town, and the Old Mill District is full of scenery and action alike.
Anything to know about trail etiquette?
Thanks for asking! Rules of etiquette exist on our trails to ensure that everyone can use the trails equally and fairly.
Mountain bikers are supposed to yield to hikers, but they are also often going much faster and it is sometimes safer for the hikers to yield. In the case of encountering a horseback rider, it is generally best to let the horse have the right of way, considering that it is the most unpredictable of the three modes of transportation.
Among just hikers, it is polite to yield the trail to the group going uphill, because many people can get into a hiking rhythm, and might not be in the mood to stop halfway up a steep climb. If you are caught behind a group of hikers and want to pass, feel free to give a little “hello” or “hey there” just to alert the other group of your presence.
And remember, when in doubt, just treat the other person (or animal) on the trail with respect. The golden rule goes a long way and can help preserve the trails—and Bend’s reputation for friendliness—for future generations.
I have a car. But I am terrified of roundabouts.
Don’t fret—you are not alone! First off, yield to those already in the roundabout, and then enter when there is a break in traffic. Then what? A roundabout is like an intersection; you can go straight, left or right. However, instead of being told to turn or go straight, most GPS systems will treat a roundabout like a highway, and tell the driver which exit to take, relative to where the car entered the roundabout. In general, drivers should treat roundabouts like a highway; they are expected to signal when switching lanes or picking an exit, and they should read road signs carefully to know which lane they need to be in to get to their chosen destination, if the roundabout has multiple lanes. Always signal on your way out, and you’re on your way to the next destination!
Where do I park?
There’s lots of free parking around town, especially around the Old Mill District and near area parks. If you’re near or in downtown, pay attention—at best, you’ll find two-hour free parking, and some lots allow you to stay longer for a fee. Tickets are steep, so read the signs before you walk away from your car.
I like to bike. Can I bike?
We love to bike, too! Bend is a bike friendly city and you’ll find plentiful bike lanes and access all around town. We have several districts that are accessible completely by foot, once you’ve parked your bike. The Old Mill, Downtown, and the Box Factory are all great shopping and dining districts that can be traversed by foot; a highly recommended option when enjoying Bend’s brewery scene.
Any public transportation around here?
Sure! Catch the bus around town with info at cascadeseasttransit.com. Catch a shuttle to Mount Bachelor via Navigate Oregon, Cascades East Transit and local resorts. Check out cobreeze.com for rides to Portland, Madras and more.
While we’re talking about transpo, a friendly reminder to please stay out of our jails.
The beer in town is incredible (we know), but there is no excuse to drink and drive. Yes, the cannabis here is legal for those over 21, but public consumption is a no-no. And just like with the booze, consuming weed before driving is no bueno. Bend has Uber, Lyft, multiple taxi services and even a randomly appearing party barge that drives through downtown and the Box Factory, completely for free. Be a smart kid, please.
Okay, I’m hungry. Where do I eat?
So many choices around here! Find clusters of restaurants and breweries downtown and in the Old Mill District. But don’t be afraid to seek out hidden gems, tucked away on the east side, west side and in NorthWest Crossing. From fine dining to quick bites on the go and everything in between, Bend has great food. Ask a local their favorite and you’re bound to get a different answer every time.
I like to party. I like to get down.
You are in good company. Before the pandemic, there was a festival and celebration in Bend pretty much every weekend. We’re basically that cool friend with the rich parents that everyone wants to host the party. Things are a little mellower events-wise this summer, but a few options remain on the calendar.
The Les Schwab Amphitheater, on the banks of the Deschutes River as it meanders through the historic Old Mill District, just got a remodel to add 1,840 square feet to the stage. Concerts are scheduled throughout the season—grab a ticket and kick back on the expansive lawn with a brew from the beer garden and a bite from the onsite food trucks. Munch & Music is a free concert series hosted in Drake Park that typically features a calmer atmosphere than other fests, as well as artisan craft booths. The first Friday of every month, the local businesses of the Downtown District put up art and serve free drinks to passersby. Around town, farmers markets offer the freshest local goods around. Meandering through these stalls might be one of the best ways to get to know the flavors of Bend and the surrounding area; it is not uncommon to see local chefs perusing the stalls to find fresh ingredients for nightly specials.
I can’t find a food truck.
Oh, you’re a jokester, now, are you? Yes, Bend loves its food trucks. They pop up everywhere, from random parking lots to organized food truck lots to even the base of Mount Bachelor. Here’s your chance to experiment and try the creative solutions for take-out invented by some of our most artisan chefs.
You never told me about the volcano.
Oh, right! Look east from downtown. See that perfectly rounded small peak? That’s Pilot Butte. It’s named that because early settlers used it as a landmark on their overland migration west. It’s a cinder cone, which is a small volcano. One of the only volcanoes inside city limits in the United States, in fact. You can walk right up it if you want. Go ahead—it’s extinct. And the view up there is amazing.
Where can I learn more?
For more modern updates on Bend, look up some of these Instagram accounts to see what locals are talking about: @bendmagazine, @bend0regon, @thebestofbend, @visitbend, and if anyone is in the mood for some local humor, @memesofbend.