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7 Ways to Stay Cool This Summer

Cliff jumping at Steelhead Falls in Central Oregon

On the hottest days of the summer, here are seven ways to beat the heat in Central Oregon.

Cliff jumping at Steelhead Falls in Central Oregon
Photo by Adam McKibben

Central Oregon is known for its almost unnaturally cool summer evenings, but the days are another story. Come July and August, the High Desert begins to live up to its name. If you don’t have air conditioning, it can be tough to beat the heat. (And who wants to sit inside, anyhow?) Thankfully, our wealth of rivers, streams, reservoirs and high alpine lakes offer boundless opportunities to soak, splash and even surf.

Hit the Lakes

Dozens of lakes are scattered across Central Oregon, and are popular hangouts on hot summer days. At a lower elevation than other alpine lakes, Suttle Lake is perfect for swimming. Just up the hill is tiny Scout Lake, which is typically brimming with floaties because its small size means warm water (for high lake standards). Off Cascade Lakes Highway, Elk Lake has a large beach area with views of Mt. Bachelor to boot. Further down the road you’ll find Cultus Lake and the charming, old school Cultus Lake Resort. Keep driving and hit Wickiup and Crane Prairie reservoirs, popular spots for camping, swimming and fishing. You can also get away from the crowds by hiking to a lake. Lucky Lake is only a short hike from Cascade Lakes Highway. Park at the Senoj Lake Trailhead and hike just over a mile to reach the lake, and solitude.

Relax Poolside at Sunriver SHARC

Indoor and outdoor pools and a disc golf course make SHARC (Sunriver Homeowners’ Aquatic & Recreation Center) a fun place for families to spend an afternoon, or a day, and are easy ways to cool off in the heat. You can buy passes for the day, or get a multi-day pass for a deal. When you’re ready for a break, check out some of the great food options that families will enjoy, such as Sunriver Brewing or Blondie’s Pizzeria.

Float the River

Floating the Deschutes River is almost a rite of passage in Bend. On hot days, you’ll see crowds of people on the water. If you don’t have your own floatie, you can rent one at Riverbend Park, where you begin the float. Skirt the dam in the newly revamped safe passage adjacent to the Whitewater Park before the final stretch down a calm bend in the river brings you to Drake Park. There’s a shuttle you can ride back to Riverbend Park for a small fee. There are also a few rules about life jackets, alcohol and what you can float on, so look for signs at Riverbend Park to be in the know.

If you don’t want to battle the throngs in Bend, there are a couple of other options within a short drive that allow you to escape the crowds. Tumalo State Park offers access to a lazy float on the Middle Deschutes River that meanders past downtown Tumalo and offers a great excuse to hit The Bite, Tumalo’s cozy food cart pod. If you’re willing to venture south, the Sunriver area offers access to several floats on the upper Deschutes river and a chance for an apres float beer and appetizers in Sunriver.

Go Rafting

When an urban innertube float isn’t enough adventure, book a raft trip on the Deschutes River. These guided day trips are unforgettable, and take you to parts of the river you can only see by raft. Seventh Mountain Resort, Sun Country Tours and Ouzel Outfitters are based in Bend. In Maupin, a hub for whitewater rafting less than two hours north of Bend, you can book trips with All Star Rafting, High Desert River Outfitters, Imperial River Company, Sage Canyon River Company, Deschutes River Adventures and River Drifters and spend a day rafting with the experts.

Find a Waterfall

Central Oregon has no shortage of waterfalls. Most are accessible and have close-in parking and paved pathways to viewpoints, where you can cool off with the mist from the falls and hike along the water. Close to Bend, Tumalo Falls is one the most popular and photographed viewpoints in the region. After you take in the ninety-seven-foot falls from a couple viewpoints, you can extend the adventure into a hike. Dillon Falls and Benham Falls are a little farther from town. The hiking trail that leads to both falls is easy for families. Paulina Falls is probably the least trafficked of the bunch. The falls is about eighty feet tall and is inside the Newberry National Volcanic Monument.

Jump off the cliffs at Steelhead Falls

Speaking of waterfalls, on the hottest days of the summer, jumping off the twenty-foot cliffs at Steelhead Falls into the cold water is one of the most refreshing and adrenaline-pumping experiences in the region. Jump feet first into the water (do not dive) and consider climbing down the cliffs to test the water first. There’s also no shame in wearing a life jacket, which will help you get back to the surface of the water more quickly. Wear water shoes to help you with the climb back up the cliffs.

Catch a Wave

Bend’s whitewater park offers locals and visitors a chance to catch a surfable wave without leaving town. Hardcore surfers and kayakers can be found playing on the standing waves at the Colorado bridge almost anytime of year. Come summer, the series of curling whitewater drops draws kayakers, surfers and boogie boarders in droves. If surfing isn’t your thing, you can watch the thrills and spills as they unfold from the nearby footbridge where spectators gather for photo ops and the occasional catcall.

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