Bend, Oregon, is a natural playground for families and nature enthusiasts alike. Named “The 2017 Best Multi-Sport Town” by Outside Magazine, Bend has edged out tough competition to earn this impressive title. Whether you are interested in summiting extinct volcanoes, mountain biking through majestic forest, whitewater rafting, indoor and outdoor rock climbing, skiing on Mount Bachelor, or fly fishing in the Deschutes River—Bend has an activity for you. It’s no wonder that people all across the country are visiting this small town year-round. According to a 2017 visitor survey, 37% of summer tourists to bend were in-state visitors, particularly from the Portland Metro Area. However, a handful of must-see places also exist just outside of Bend’s city limits!
As a local, avid outdoorsman, and the real estate professional, Peter Lowes, is frequently asked to recommend the best places in and around Bend to clients and tourists. In 1982 Lowes moved to the United States from Scotland and began working in investment real estate with Preferred Investments in Long Beach, California. After several years, Peter moved north to Bend, Oregon—the perfect locale for this avid adventurer. Today, he is the founder of Knightsbridge Realty, a top-rated firm in the area, and TEA Together (Teaching Environmental Awareness), a scholarship program for students pursuing science and environmental studies. As a lover of all things nature, Lowes is more than happy to reveal his favorite outdoor spots with readers. So, if you are up for an awe-inspiring day trip, consider buckling up and heading to one of the exciting attractions listed below.
Pilot Butte State Park (Deschutes County in Bend, Oregon)
Locals have referred to Pilot Butte as Bend’s North Star; observable from just about any point in town, it’s a handy navigational tool that can help you find your way. Interestingly, this topographic landmark aided wagon train immigrants eager to safely cross the Deschutes River. Pilot Butte is an extinct cinder cone that was produced during a volcanic eruption roughly 188,000 years ago. When the volcano erupted, lava began to spew from a vent in the ground, which later cooled and solidified. These remains created a 480-foot cone shape around the vent. Want to boast about climbing one of the few city-dwelling volcanoes in the nation? Well, you can! Visitors can choose between a mile-long paved road, a challenging nature trail, or a path that winds up the extinct volcano. Regardless of the route you take, once at the top, you will have achieved 360-degree views of stunning mountains, deserts, trees, and cityscape. Lowes recommends visiting in the spring to witness the wildflowers blooming, including sand lily, rock cress, paintbrush, blazing star, buckwheat, and monkeyflower.
Smith Rock State Park (26 miles northeast of Bend)
Smith Rock State Park has been dubbed one of the “7 Wonders of Oregon,” alongside the Columbia River Gorge, Crater Lake, the Oregon Coast, Mount Hood, Painted Hills, and the Wallowas—and for a good reason. Smith Rock State Park is the origin place of sport climbing in the United States. Cliffs of tuff and basalt are perfect for rock climbing, and there is no shortage of routes available to guests. Today, both seasoned athletes and new climbers visit the area to participate in traditional climbing, bouldering, hiking, and mountain biking. As a keen adventurer, Lowes can’t help but rate this destination high on his list of must-visits. With 300 days of sunny skies per year, this region is perfect for outdoor exploring and is located near other Oregon hotspots, like Newberry Crater National Volcanic Monument and Mount Bachelor. Not a fan of outdoor sports? Nature lovers will still gush over the opportunity to see various forms of wildlife, including golden eagles, river otters, beavers, prairie falcons, and more.
Newberry National Volcanic Monument (Bend, Oregon)
Newberry National Volcanic Monument is a stunning volcanic attraction located within the boundaries of Deschutes National Forest. While it’s commonly called Newberry “Crater,” it’s actually a caldera that spans across 17 square miles in the core of the volcano. This volcano, which is equal in size to the state of Rhode Island, is still seismically and geothermally active. Today, scientists are working hard to fully understand the “sleeping giant” that is Newberry Crater and watch for even the slightest signs of turmoil. Overseen by the United States Forest Service, the monument affords visitors the rare privilege of viewing more than 50,000 acres of lakes, molten rock, and other topographical formations. On your day trip, Lowes recommends waking up early to explore the Lava River Cave, the largest continuous lava tube in Oregon. Next, he suggests driving to Paulina Lake Road and participating in a hike up to Paulina Falls, a relatively easy and peaceful trek through nature. At this point, you’ve earned a tasty lunch, so head to Paulina Lake Lodge to enjoy a hearty meal and socialize with interesting people you may meet.
Crater Lake National Park (90 miles south of Bend)
Another one of the seven wonders of Oregon, Crater Lake National Park, tops Lowes’ list of splendid places to travel just outside of Bend. Famous for being the deepest lake in all of the U.S. at 1,943 feet deep, Crater Lake is also one of the cleanest bodies of water in the world. Mount Mazama erupted nearly 7,700 years ago, leading to the formation of Crater Lake. Legend has it that the Makalak people who were native to the area believed the eruption occurred due to a violent battle between the spirit of the sky and the spirit of the mountain. In general, most people come to this region to hike, as there are more than 90 miles of trail divided into four classes: easy, moderate, difficult, and strenuous. These paths include Cleetwood Cove Trail, Pinnacles Overlook, Watchman Peak, Garfield Peak, Sun Notch Trail, and Wizard Island Summit. Lowes’ favorite trail, by far, is Mount Scott. As the highest point in the region, Mount Scott offers the most spectacular panoramic views of the park. Additionally, this trail allows you to hike alongside gorgeous alpine wildflowers before coming to a cozy fire lookout. Lowes recommends that you use caution when deciding whether to attempt this summit as it is rated ‘difficult.’
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (90 to 210 miles from Bend)
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is made up of three areas: Sheep Rock, Painted Hills, and Clarno. “Visiting all three units in one day is difficult but not impossible,” says Lowes. However, if you only have time for one, then he suggests visiting Painted Hills. Less than two hours away from Bend, this stunning region is comprised of colorful banks of fossilized ash and clay in red, tan, orange, gold, and black hues. Essentially, these beautiful rock formations provide a record of plant and animal evolution, changing climate, and tell a story of past ecosystems dating nearly 40 million years ago. For instance, if you decide to visit, you will see a diverse collection of leaf fossils called the Bridge Creek Flora. While the fossil beds are beautiful at any time of day, you will get the best photos in the late afternoon during the ‘golden hour.’ Again, Lowes recommends visiting in the spring so you can get a clear view of the vibrant rock after the snow has melted.
As you now know, there is an abundance of natural attractions in and around Bend, Oregon. Found on most “must-travel” lists within the United States, Oregon is a place for passionate adventurers and nature enthusiasts. If you fall into one or both of these categories, consider putting these five locations on your next spring/summer bucket list, and you won’t regret it!
(Disclaimer: The article is sponsored, and hence promotes some commercial links.)