Bend is an exciting destination and ever-developing nook in central Oregon that is managing to hang on to the magic through its progression. Independent restaurants steal the chain eatery show, locals are conservation-focused, downtown is brimming with history, and it all is tucked against the breathtaking Deschutes National Forest. So where do you start in a place so diverse? We are here to help. These are the best activities to kick off your Bend experience.
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Deschutes River Horse Ride
The Deschutes River runs through the heart of Bend and beyond—by traversing its banks, one can learn a lot about the area. This Viator horseback tour offers a variety of rides along the river path, whether it be breakfast and coffee, or tapas themed outing. Some trips include fly fishing, while other guests will take a tube float down the river if the weather is warm enough. Whichever you choose, this horseback experience is a versatile way to participate in some key activities
Night Sky Private Photo Tour
Bend is an unfathomable destination for stargazing—low light pollution and clear high desert atmosphere means that the stars and moon can be seen at their optimal glory. A guide will pick you up at the hotel and take you on a nighttime adventure of capturing photos, and you’ll even get some tips on how to set your camera, for the very best pictures. Not feeling up to the excursion? Head to an observatory, like the one at Worthy Brewing, where you can see planets and stars after a locally sourced meal, and a smooth Strata brew.
30 Minute Bend City and Lava Lands Helicopter Tour
One can more greatly appreciate the impact lava flow and volcanoes have had on Bend and the surrounding wilderness when taking it in from the sky. Board this little helicopter for the best 360 aerial glimpses of the hardened rock, and how it even rerouted the Deschutes River. The tour typically runs from May to October.
Kayak Instruction and Brewery Package in Bend
Two things that are absolute “musts” when in Bend would be exploring the crystal clear waters, and tasting the crisp, complexly flavored beer produced by the nearly flawless water source from the top of the mountains. On this Viator tour, guests get to delve into both. Wanderlust Tours offers a Bend Brew Bus ride that hits several breweries and includes tastings, tours and snacks, while The Local Pour Tour is a good choice if wanting to go deeper into the brewery scene. Wanderlust also does kayak, canoeing, volcano, caving, photography and bonfire tours where groups stargaze and drink hot chocolate.
Tour Lava Lands with Outriders Northwest
Taking an off-road vehicle into the forest is the quickest way to see miles and miles of Deschutes beauty. Load up with Outriders Northwest in a 4-seat RZR XP 1000 with your friends, which you also get to take turns driving while following behind the guide’s ATV. See lava flow, overlooks and rivers—there will be stops along the way to soak it all in. Tours can vary, ranging from 2-4 hours.
Go Fishing with Fly and Field
From the Deschutes River to the bodies of water along the Scenic Cascade Lakes Byway, many opportunities to cast a line await. Bring your own fly fishing pole, or if learning, book a tour with Fly and Field. Guides patiently teach newcomers how to set up and cast, and you might just land some of the biggest trout of your life. Fisherman will also hear about conservation efforts to help keep these pristine fisheries in tip-top condition.
Taste the Vodka
While one can take a tour of several breweries, stopping by Crater Lake Distillery, or the in-town tasting rooms, gives a taste of the other side of Bend’s colorful craft booze scene. Vodka is made from volcanic filtered water and flavored by soaking regional ingredients with the spirit. Enjoy the warm flavor of hazelnut espresso vodka made from Sisters Coffee Company beans, or the lightly sweet local berry-infused variation.
Experience Craft Cannabis
Cannabis is legal in Oregon, but you have to enjoy it at a private residence. So if you have the go-ahead to do so, it’s an absolute treat to stop by a cannabis shop. It’s a completely different experience than one might expect, with knowledgeable people who can delve into the complexities of the beloved plant—smelling different strains and exploring edibles is comparable to a “craft” adventure for the senses. Cannabend is an accommodating place to learn. Be sure you know the law beforehand.
See it All from Pilot Butte
Climbing or Driving up Pilot Butte will allow travelers to catch a mesmerizing look at all of Bend, in one 360 degree turn. Beautiful at sunset or sunrise, there’s no better way to start or end a day. Be sure to check times the roads are open if you plan to drive. The walk is steep, but under two miles, and is rewarding both visually and physically.
Bend is overflowing with amazing food, much of which is locally sourced and inspired. Bangers and Brews serves hearty Argentinan sausages made from a unique variation of meats, served alongside monster piles of topped fries, and Riff Craft Food and Beverage not only has a killer cold brew coffee with hops but coffee-infused onion dip. McMenamins (which is a funky historic place one must explore) cooks up a noteworthy elk burger with creamy secret sauce. Don’t bypass the coffee shops either—Looney Bean’s killer bee latte with cinnamon, cayenne pepper and honey is sweet and exhilarating.