Bend is one of the most intriguing cities in central Oregon, with its trendy downtown area, natural attractions and unique volcanic geographical features. Some of the most popular things to do in Bend and its surrounding areas include exploring lava tube caves, visiting the High Desert Museum and discovering the charms of the Old Mill District.
The city has art displays, amazing restaurants, spas and a popular ale trail. The Bend Ale Trail is the largest beer trail in the West. For nature lovers, the Three Sisters Wilderness and the Deschutes River offer opportunities for outdoor exploration. So bookmark the best things to do in Bend for your next vacation.
20 Things To Do In Bend
1- Explore A Lava Tube Cave
Bend and its surrounding area are known for volcanic rarities.
From cinder cones to extensive cave systems, there are plenty of opportunities for exploration.
Deschutes County includes more than 1,000 lava tubes forged thousands of years ago by volcanic activity.
Exploring a lava tube is a truly unique experience that can’t be missed.
You can venture deep into delicate ecosystems with a flashlight, a helmet, and a thirst for the thrill.
However, if you want the best experience, I recommend booking a lava tube cave tour to learn about the caves’ volcanic activity, geology and ecosystems from your guide.
Plus, they’ll provide a helmet and flashlight for you. You can book a tour here.
2- Kayak Or Canoe On The Cascade Lakes
Oregon has gorgeous water features, from rivers to waterfalls to creeks to ponds and Cascade Lakes is no exception.
The series of 12 lakes along the Deschutes River are a 45-minute drive from downtown Bend and absolutely worth the visit.
The shimmering waters are best experienced from the middle of the lakes rather than the shore.
Kayaking and canoeing are wonderful opportunities to experience their magic.
Beyond the glittering water, you’ll see panoramas of pine-covered mountains and lush greenery.
For a memorable experience, book a canoeing tour combined with a beer tasting here.
3- Check Out Volcanic Fields
The Bend area has plenty of unique geographic and volcanic attractions, from black obsidian rock to volcanoes.
Don’t miss checking out the volcanic fields in the area.
Like the lava tubes, these fields were created thousands of years ago yet still remain today.
Touring these volcanic fields, you can learn about Central Oregon’s geographic history.
While you learn, you can see a lava flow, Paulina Lake, and plenty of natural scenery along the way. Book a tour here.
4- Snowshoe In The Cascade Mountains
Skiing might be one of Oregon’s most popular winter activities, but snowshoeing in the Cascade Mountains is also a fantastic sport to experience the snow.
From the evergreen trees weighed down by powdery snow to the sparkling snow banks, the Cascade Mountains are truly a winter wonderland.
The mountains extend from British Columbia to Northern California.
The mountain scenery is best experienced in the backcountry, making snowshoeing an optimal way to explore the area.
Snowshoeing is also an excellent activity for people of all levels and abilities, making it a perfect family activity.
5- Ride An ATV Through The Deschutes National Forest
If you’re not visiting Bend during the winter and want to experience the magic of the Central Oregon wilderness, driving an ATV through the Deschutes National Forest might be your answer.
The forest comprises roughly 1.8 million acres (728,434 ha) of land along the Cascade Mountains.
There are plenty of ATV roads in the backcountry, so you can zoom through rich forests, up steep mountains, and above the High Desert.
The views from the mountainous trails are nothing short of extraordinary.
If you’re just visiting Bend, you might not have your own ATV.
If you book an ATV tour, you can drive one as long as you have a driver’s licence.
Tours operate rain or shine, so bring the appropriate clothing and the trailhead is just 15 minutes from Bend. You can book a tour here.
For more about the Pacific Northwest, read:
6- Visit The High Desert Museum
Five minutes south of Bend, the High Desert Museum is one of the area’s greatest treasures.
This museum has diverse exhibits that educate visitors about the high desert religion of the West.
You can get close to wildlife such as reptiles, birds of prey, river otters and porcupines.
There are indoor and outdoor nature exhibits along the museum’s scenic nature trails.
Additionally, the High Desert Museum features almost 30,000 artefacts from the Plateau, Pacific Northwest and Great Basin regions.
The Native American collections include clothing, tools, archeological materials, baskets and more.
One of these collections is the Doris Swayze Bounds Collection of Native American Artifacts, which consists of paintings, drawings, sculptures, horse saddles, beaded bags, moccasins, breastplates and headdresses.
The museum also houses many artefacts from the pioneer days, including clothing, firearms, photographs, frontier medicine artefacts and furniture.
The High Desert Museum is at 59800 US-97, Bend, OR 97702.
7- Paddleboard On The Deschutes River
Many parts of the Deschutes are tranquil, creating ideal conditions for stand-up paddleboarding and a great place to get on the river is the sandy shore at Riverbend Park, near the Old Mill District.
If you paddle upstream, you can head under the Bill Healy Memorial Bridge and venture away from the urban scenery.
You’ll enter a forest of beautiful pines that surround the mesmerising water or, if you would rather head downstream first, you can drift past the bustling Old Mill District.
Either way, just make sure you follow Oregon law and bring a whistle with you, otherwise, you risk a hefty fine.
Riverbend Park is at 799 SW Columbia St, Bend, OR 97702.
8- Ski At Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort
22 miles (35.4 km) west of Bend, Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort offers endless thrills for adrenaline chasers.
The ski resort is the sixth largest in North America., with more than 4,300 acres (1,740 ha) of terrain accessible by lifts.
It features 101 runs, with its longest run measuring in at four miles (6.4 km).
Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort has long ski seasons, dry and light snow and diverse skiing terrain.
With roughly 462 inches (11.7 m) every year, it’s no surprise that Mt. Bachelor is a destination for skiers around the world.
When you’re done skiing or snowboarding, grab a bite to eat at one of the resort’s lodges, cafes, restaurants or outdoor food carts.
Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort is at 13000 SW Century Drive, Bend, OR 97702.
9- Shop At The Old Mill District
The remnants of Bend’s past timber production still stand today in the city’s heart and along the Deschutes River.
The Old Mill District features smokestacks and old brick buildings from the early twentieth century.
The Old Mill District isn’t just a historical site as it has been transformed into one of the city’s busiest and most dynamic hubs with restaurants, cafes and a movie theatre lining the street.
More than 40 big-name stores and boutiques make it a popular shopping destination for locals and visitors.
A bonus: there is no sales tax in Oregon!
The Old Mill District is at 450 SW Powerhouse Dr, Bend, OR 97702.
10- Hike In The Three Sisters Wilderness
The Three Sisters Wilderness covers a vast 286,708 acres (116,027 ha) of land in the Deschutes area.
There are roughly 260 miles (418 km) of trails in the wilderness area.
Major peaks along the trails include the North Sister, Middle Sister, and South Sister, plus Broken Top.
When you hike these trails, you’ll pass through alpine meadows surrounded by ponderosa pine trees and see the abundant wildlife living among the mountains.
There are several fantastic trails in the Three Sisters Wilderness.
Trailheads closest to Bend include Broken Top, Crater Ditch, Devils Lake, and Elk Lake.
If you want to check out Mirror Lake, take the Sisters-Mirror Trail.
11- Picnic At Hollinshead Park
Bend has several beautiful public parks, but Hollinshead Park is one of the city’s lesser-used yet most charming parks.
As a former pioneer ranch, it features original outbuildings such as the Share Croppers House (now a museum) and the Hollinshead Barn.
The park has a dog park and a walking trail among the lush greenery.
There are two gardens, a demonstration garden and a community garden, which include colourful flowers and aromatic herbs.
There’s also a space for picnicking, making Hollinshead Park perfect for those who want to picnic after exploring all the park offers.
Hollinshead Park is at 1235 NE Jones Rd, Bend, OR 97701.
12- Visit The World’s Last Blockbuster
For many, Blockbuster evokes feelings of nostalgia and happiness.
The movie rental service, which had thousands of locations across the U.S. in the early 2000s, was popular throughout the country.
Due to the rise of new platforms, such as video streaming, Blockbuster was forced to file for bankruptcy and close its stores. All but one that is.
That’s right, there’s one Blockbuster that still exists today, and it’s located in Bend.
If you were a Blockbuster fan back in the day, don’t leave Bend without visiting the last store in existence and you can still rent a movie there.
The World’s Last Blockbuster is at 211 NE Revere Ave #3, Bend, OR 97701.
13- Ice Skate At The Pavillion
October to April is ice season at the Pavilion. The ice rink provides opportunities for ice skating for the public, making it a popular winter destination.
The rink rents out skates and lends helmets and skate assists, so you don’t need to bring anything yourself. And, on Tuesday nights, The Pavilion offers Cheap Skates, an opportunity to get on the rink and rent skates for a discounted price.
If you are new to skating, don’t worry, join an ice skating lesson.
The Pavilion has lessons for kids and adults of all skill levels.
The Pavilion is at 1001 SW Bradbury Dr, Bend, OR 97702.
14- Learn About Local History At The Deschutes Historical Museum
To learn about local history, the Deschutes Historical Museum is the place to go.
The museum’s goal is to “preserve, promote, and celebrate” the history of the Deschutes area.
Its exhibits highlight prehistory, Native American history, fur trapping and early exploration of the region, the High Desert, the logging industry, and general life in the Deschutes area over past years.
The museum also curates the Deschutes Historical Museum Antique Fair, which allows attendees to find treasures among collectibles and antiques.
Admission to the antique fair, which features music and food vendors, and the museum is free.
The Deschutes Historical Museum is at 129 NW Idaho Ave, Bend, OR 97701.
15- Check Out The Metolius Balancing Rocks
The Metolius Balancing Rocks aren’t just any rocks.
The formation of stone spires is unique, and as the name suggests, the rocks appear to be balancing on each other.
The rocks are a remainder of the state’s volcanic history and are unique, with the smaller rocks appearing to balance on the tall stone pillars.
To get to the Metolius Balancing Rocks, go to the Perry South Campground in Cove Palisades State Park.
Then, you’ll take a trailhead 13.7 miles (22 km) west of the bridge over the Deschutes River arm.
The GPS coordinates of the rocks’ location are 44° 34.672 N, 121° 25.315 W.
16- Overlook The City At The Pilot Butte Scenic Viewpoint
The Pilot Butte State Scenic Viewpoint is a magical spot in the centre of Pilot Butte Neighborhood Park.
The point offers a stunning panoramic view just 10 minutes east of downtown Bend.
From the viewpoint, you can see the eccentric city of Bend in front of the snowcapped Cascade Mountains.
In particular, you’ll see Black Butte, Mt. Hood, and the Three Sisters.
I recommend visiting at sunset when you can see the downtown lights start to glimmer as the sun’s orange glow reflects off the clouds.
To get to the viewpoint from Pilot Butte Neighborhood Park, park and then take one of the three cinder cone trails up the summit.
The Pilot Butte State Scenic Viewpoint is at 1310 NE Hwy 20, Bend, OR 97701.
17- Go To The Bend Farmers Market
The Bend Farmers Market has been held for more than 40 years, every Wednesday from early March to mid-October.
The market’s mission is to provide support for local producers and farmers and to emphasise nutrition, sustainability and community health.
Currently, vendors sell flowers, fruits, vegetables, baked goods, beverages, products from local fisheries and ranches, and sweet treats.
Stop by the market for a pastry for breakfast and spend the rest of the day shopping around the vibrant produce stalls.
The Bend Farmers Market is in Brooks Alley, between Minnesota Avenue and Franklin Avenue.
18- Go White Water Rafting
If you want to experience the Deschutes River but are seeking more of a thrill than paddleboarding the slow-moving waters, go white water rafting instead.
Although the river is calm in many areas, the Lower Deschutes also has plenty of rapids that make for a great group rafting trip.
Class I and III rapids make for an exciting journey for adults and kids.
However, white water rafting isn’t too safe if you’re not experienced, so to be safe, book a white water rafting adventure with Sun Country Tours or Ouzel Outfitters.
That way, you won’t have to deal with equipment and you’ll have an experienced guide.
Sun Country Tours is at 531 SW 13th St, Bend, OR 97702. Ouzel Outfitters is at 63043 Sherman Rd, Bend, OR 97701.
19- Eat, Shop, Or Go To An Event Downtown
Downtown Bend is one of the most vibrant areas in the city and popular among both locals and visitors, for good reason.
The downtown area includes numerous tasty bars, restaurants, and cafes. From sushi to Mexican-Peruvian food to artisan gelato, there’s sure to be something for your tastebuds.
There are plenty of local shops to shop at and public community events all year round.
The heart of Bend also features 100 outdoor flower baskets that bring colour to the streets, adding to the area’s ambience.
Downtown Bend is in the city’s centre, just north of the Old Mill District.
20- Hike To Tumalo Falls
Tumalo Falls is a 97-foot (30-metre) waterfall in the Cascade Mountains along Tumalo Creek, about a 25-minute drive west of downtown Bend.
Access Tumalo Falls from the Tumalo Falls Day Use Area, which features a trailhead to the falls.
The hike is relatively short, requiring a quarter-mile (0.4 km) trek.
There are picnic tables at the day-use area, so remember to bring snacks or lunch for your day outdoors.
To access the Tumalo Falls trailhead from Bend, travel 11.6 miles (18.7 km) west on Skyliner’s Road, followed by 2.6 miles (4.2 km) west on Forest Road.